THE upcoming 50th anniversary of the end of World War II has already warmed up old memories - and heated up old arguments.
If the Holocaust still hangs over the war in Europe, the mushroom cloud still hovers above the war in the Pacific. The latest dispute involves the Smithsonian Institution, which plans an exhibit for next spring titled, ``The Last Act: The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II,'' featuring the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the A-bomb over Hiroshima. Veterans' groups have complained that the exhibitors are using the centerpiece to make an editorial statement favoring the Japanese as victims. The original script, now toned down, declared that ``for most Americans,'' the Pacific campaign was ``a war of vengeance.'' For most Japanese, ``it was a war to defend their unique culture against Western imperialism.'' Photos depicting Japanese casualties are reported to outnumber photos depicting American casualties by more than 10 to 1.
Obviously the bias of the exhibit is that the bomb did not have to be dropped on Hiroshima in order to force the Japanese to surrender. This opinion was shared by Dwight D. Eisenhower, who wrote: ``Japan was at that very moment seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of `face . It wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing.''
But a half century later the purpose of remembering World War II is not to rekindle old blame games, at least not by using exhibits deployed as a new battlefield. Even the Holocaust Museum, just beginning construction in New York, is not intended to point a finger but to prick the conscience. The 13,000 artifacts, including 650 videotapes and 3,000 audio tapes of concentration camp survivors, are designed, like the six sides of the building, to remind a forgetful world of the genocide of 6 million Jews, and to make ordinary men and women of all nations say: Never again to a Holocaust. Never again to an atomic bomb. Never again to the apocalyptic destruction of a modern war.
If we can remember the old arguments, the old hatreds, it should be possible to remember that state-of-the-art war is a common disaster falling upon the just and the unjust, not neglecting women and children.
Speaking of the Holocaust Museum, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo also seemed to call for all the memory-prompting possible on the indiscriminate horror of all war. He concluded: ``We need the reminder. We shouldn't. We need the museum. We shouldn't.''