The director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum resigned Tuesday, citing the “continuing controversy and divisiveness” over the exhibit of the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima 50 years ago.
Dr. Martin Harwit said in a letter of resignation to the Smithsonian’s secretary, I. Michael Heyman, that “I believe that nothing less than my stepping down from the directorship will satisfy the museum’s critics and allow the museum to move forward with important new projects.”
Harwit, director of Washington’s National Air and Space Museum since 1987, quit rather than accept a demotion to the post of senior scientist in astrophysics.
In a statement, Heyman credited the former Cornell University astronomer with guiding the restoration of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in August 1945.
Heyman noted, however, that the exhibit as planned by Harwit “has been fraught with controversy.”
The Enola Gay, named after the pilot’s mother, was to have gone on display this summer in an exhibit devoted to the atomic bomb’s role in the Japanese surrender.
But last year, veterans’ groups and some members of Congress complained that the proposed script and wall texts for the show treated the Japanese as innocent victims rather than brutal aggressors who started the war.
When congressmen began calling for hearings on the issue in January, Heyman and the Smithsonian board junked the proposed exhibit and ordered it replaced with a small substitute featuring only the fuselage of the bomber and a few artifacts from the mission.
“We made a basic mistake,” Heyman said at the time. “Veterans and their families were expecting - and rightly so - that the nation would honor and commemorate their valor and sacrifice. They were not looking for analysis.”