Chelsea Manning and Enola Gay

Harvard’s cowardly revocation of a Kennedy School fellowship offer to Chelsea Manning recalls another prominent lesson in where power resides when government and academic circles overlap. In 1995, when the Smithsonian Institution tried to mount a 50th anniversary exhibition at the Air and Space Museum about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, daring to broach the factual horror of Japanese civilian victims along with a display of the restored B-29 “Enola Gay” bomber, outrage from American military organizations and Congressional hawks not only succeeded in cancelling the show but in ousting the museum’s director, Cornell astronomer Martin Harwit. (Harwit’s book about the imbroglio, An Exhibit Denied, remains a profound narrative about politics and culture.)  The Enola Gay was and is a sacred icon for a triumphalist tale that many Americans–at least those emblematized by the Air Force Association–cling to regardless of how thoroughly it has been debunked by postwar scholarship. Analogous forces, this time centered in the CIA, evidently cannot abide recognizing Chelsea Manning’s principled exposure of dubiously classified information showing, shall we say, less than noble performance of American foreign policy initiatives. So now students and, perhaps more to the point, faculty at Harvard will be able to hobnob with such illuminati as Sean Spicer and Corey Lewandowski, unperturbed by the historical complexity that is Chelsea Manning. At moments like these, the role of the Smithsonian and Kennedy School as propaganda vehicles becomes clear as ice.

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