Display of the Armada at the National World War Two Museum

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In all the hubbub of Mardi Gras, I almost forgot that I was on spring break. Huzzah! That means there is still more fun to be had, so after getting a little of this and a little of that done this morning, I hopped on the bike and headed toward the WWII museum to drop $23 on the exhibits and the Tom Hanks-narrated 4D (?) film, Beyond All Boundaries. I have ridden by this place literally hundreds of times, but B. is in town and wanted to go (he’s the kind of guy who always wants to go to whatever–I deeply appreciate that), so there we found ourselves, ready to learn how they wanted us to learn about the war. The displays themselves were an endless retelling of battle after battle with the persistent overtone of American Heroism, as is to be expected at a place like this. The film, dubbing itself an account of “the most important event of the 20th century,” tried, I think, to get us some of the embodied experience of the war: flashes of light signifying gunshots, a guard tower shining its spotlight on us, attempting to recall the guard tower of a concentration camp, a powerful flare that left a haze in the shape of a mushroom cloud in your eyes, and even fake snow–the Russians had it tough. I snapped this picture of a display of the armada, which I think was meant to overwhelm with its suggested size. The whole place is meant to overwhelm with America and pride and heroes, but there was a serious disconnect between that theme and the words of soldiers written out on displays, sounding in oral history booths, and narrating that truly odd film. Those words–about the brutality of war, the inhumanity of it, the way it required soldiers to break with their own souls in order to survive, the stories of the smell of death emanating up through the stratosphere and into the noses of pilots, the words of the man who refused to be called a hero for being one of the less than ten percent of his battalion to survive–that’s just chance, he said, those words undid the attempts of the museum to tell a story of American triumphalism. As one voiceover in the movie said, the quickest way to make a man a pacifist is to send him to war. The museum tries to recreate the war in some way for visitors, but it fails because it just isn’t an experience you can drop in and out of. And why would you want to? War is not a video game, and that’s how the museum seemed to represent it far too much. After that I needed a quiet ride in the cool evening air, and that’s what I got. I am immeasurably lucky to be here now as I am, and I know it.

5 thoughts on “Display of the Armada at the National World War Two Museum

  1. I’ve always felt that WWII was the last time the US absolutely had to go to war and in many ways it maybe deserves a bit more of that triumphalism than any US foreign military action since. Sure, we waited to the last minute (which maybe wan’t a bad thing) and, yes, war is a nasty thing that is romanticized way too much by people who don’t experience it. But I have plenty of pictures and stories from my grandfather (who served as an engineer in the Pacific) and his brother in law (a tank commander that helped liberated prisoners in a concentration camp) and watching my grandfather cry each time one of his compatriots passed away until he was the one to pass away. It’s really hard to not feel proud of what they did. I feel sorry for Vietnam vets; I feel proud of WWII vets. I can’t really explain it except that US involvement in WWII just seemed to have been necessary in ways subsequent wars were not. It also feels likt the last time the US sort of went out of its way in ways it didn’t have to, with it’s young country “can do-ism” that Europe is too ancient to have. It was cynicism that built and maintained concentration camps and allowed the Right Bank elites of Paris to look at Germans as just the new elites to invite to parties and publish their books, in German. It’s was optimism that won the war. That weird brand of American youthful optimism that we perhaps have since lost. Is that jingoistic?

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