Thursday, September 12, 2013

Planes and Perceptions

We recently visited the Pima Air Space Museum in Tuscon Arizona. At first glance, it appeared as big and impressive as it's much larger cousin down the road known as “The Bone Yard.” We were very excited to be there until the moment we stepped inside to see there in the front of the gift shop a t-shirt set picturing a nuclear explosion over Hiroshima with some distasteful slogan we won't bother to repeat here. As my host tried to argue in defense of the place that people have their reasons there. We'll we have not met any living Pearl Harbor survivors in the last twenty years but we do know Hibakusha and unlike the defenders of this left over war time resentment, the aging Hibakusha do not hold a grudge. But moving on, we thought ok this is just one tacky t-shirt I wouldn't wipe my ass with much less let ruin my visit to this otherwise impressive air museum.

Stepping foot into the museum, the first thing that caught my eye was an unexpected model display of the IJN Battleship Yamato. While I was happy to see her I was not happy to see a model of an American sea plane mounted in a way to suggest it was making an attack run. We would find two more Japanese displays each being depicted attacked by American forces. Sure these are only models and most people would likely not see anything wrong with seeing depictions of former adversaries but once we stepped over to see German displays flying the Swastika of Nazi Germany's murderous regime we could see a clear bias. 

In not one of the German displays did we see depictions of Americans attacking them. Nor did we see such in the Korean War displays. In fact, The Nazi displays of their V-1 Buzzbomb and Kriegsmarine was not only sans American attacks, they were listed with a degree of detail and information about the displays where in the Japanese displays we were left with not one shred of detail. But the best and worst was yet to come. 

We were both delighted and saddened by the lone display of a perfectly restored Nakajime KI-43 Haybusa. I think I had to be the only person there happy to see her as people stayed clear of the lone vintage Imperial Japanese Army warplane. She was in pristine condition presumably on loan from somewhere else. We say this due to the following part that pissed us off. While the “Peregrine Falcon” sat in a lone corner of the WWII hanger surrounded by walls of details about every bomb group and bomb run made against Japan in anger, not one shred of detail or information was given about this remarkable rare plane.

Not one mention of her role in the war, her development, not one Sentai listed or famous pilot who flew her mentioned, only Nakajima Ki-43 “Oscar.” Wow! That's it? As you can see from our photos the place is littered with information about every bomb group and every mission over Japan but not one mission or shred of technical or historical tid-bits that would tell us something other than this was the enemy's plane. It became quite clear that Arizona's questionable politics extends to its air museums. To me I had to ask “Why do the Nazi's get respect here and not the Japanese?” The prevailing attitude seemed like “Well the Nazi's were White like us but the Japs bombed Pear Harbor.” Are you freaking kidding me? We won the war did we not? So what's with the ancient grudges? 

We're not trying to say Japan's Army did not commit atrocities in China and elsewhere nor are we going to uphold this distorted saintly vision of our own country during that war. We're just pointing out the obvious. While some "Americans" couldn't give a rats ass about this plane, those of us who love history and surviving warbirds would want to know about the other guys planes as well. To not educate is to waste an opportunity. Had I not known so much about the Ki-43 Hayabusa, I would have felt utterly cheated.

Call it a perceived lack of interest or perceived prejudice, or just plain out laziness. Pima on the surface has an awesome A+ collection of Jet fighters and bombers from the cold war and some rare WWII planes from all sides of the conflict including Fascist Italy, But when it came to Japanese displays they get a grade D from us. It's not that they couldn't find any information about the Japanese forces of Imperial Japan, they just chose not to. Such war museums are meant to preserve and educate. Seattle's Air Space museum also has a Hayabusa but unlike Pima, they chose to give the visitor information about the plane and respectfully displayed her in her own corner in a manner that befit her remarkable history. We hope that Pima get's over the war or sends their lone Hayabusa somewhere else where it can be appreciated.

We'll that is our two cents worth and I will stick to my opinions. It seems everyone has one and whether you agree with mine is not really all that important. But this lingering rancor over the war from our side baffles me particularly from some (not all) ex-US Navy personnel born years after WWII who choose to hold a grudge for wartime events they themselves did not suffer from or participated in but what few people left from that era on the other side bear them no malice. Just display the airplanes and give the visitor an chance to learn about them for what they are not for events or the policies of their wartime nations. How hard is that?

There is something to be learned from the eyes of an elderly Hibakusha who watched their families die in the ashes of Hiroshima, that in war there are no winners. Only death. It's important for for future generations to learn the lessons of those wars so that future wars are not fought again. But we know we won't change any opinions and that's not our job to do so but for those out there that still want to re-fight WWII I will end this with my favorite and most poignant moment of the Viet-Nam War: At the end of the Paris Peace Talks in 1972, The last sitting American General still sitting at the table sat across from his North Vietnamese counterpart and waited to get one last word in. He leaned forward and said with a degree of spite “You know we beat you in every land battle on the field.” The Vietnamese General smiled and and curtly replied: “Well none of that matters now.” And then he walked away. If you feel like you need to re-fight these old wars and not as a reenactor (which is fine in my book) but for merely for the sake of fighting, remember that Vietnamese General, think about the logic of his statement. Then when you come to your senses, walk away.

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