Men Moving a Freezer Into the Soda Shop at Magazine & Andrew Higgins

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I swear, you go out of town for a week, and they’ve added something else to the ever-expanding empire of the World War II museum downtown. After a day spent dodging rain, writing emails, and looking work in the face, I hopped on my bike and headed Uptown to meet A., C., and L. for dinner at the Ethipian place. On a similar ride last month I noticed the new “preservation pavillion” added to the complex–a big glass box of a building where some kind of ship or somesuch is being rehabbed. Today I noticed folks moving things into the Soda Shop, another nostalgic addition. I wonder if the audience for this museum will persist, if the nostalgia can be inherited on down the line, or if we’ll have a giant museum to remember our war in Iraq, a special building just for the Navy Seals who took down Osama bin Laden, a retro coffee shoppe serving Grande Light Mocha Frappucinnos. This museum is a huge tourist draw aside from just being an exercise in collective memory, which means there’s the money and the will to build, build, build. I wish we could extend that will to the neighborhoods of New Orleans, an exercise in collective memories of Fazendeville or the 7th Ward or West Baltimore. But those aren’t memories, they’re living communities, but I wish we could have the will to build there too. I continued my ride Uptown, then back downtown throught the Bywater, and home again. It’s good to be home.

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.