In New Orleans, there is an impressive museum dedicated to World War II. The museum is presented according to the American point of view, which is fair enough considering what the war cost the country. But it does not evade some of the controversial truths: the imprisonment of the Japanese-American community in concentration camps throughout the war on suspicion that they would be on the Japanese side and act accordingly, the racism then prevalent in the United States, particularly against black Americans who lived lives of discrimination as they fought for their country, the use of weapons of destruction that took their toll on civilians and enemy homelands in startling and irreversible brutality as witness the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. It also presents the dilemma that the American political leadership faced vis-a-vis the dictatorships in Germany, Italy and Japan that were upsetting world order and the rules of civilization. A vast American public that was still feeling the effects of the Great Depression of a decade before had no appetite for viewing the outside world or seeing themselves playing a role in it. Meanwhile Germany and Italy under Hitler and Mussolini and Japan under a militaristic regime in the Pacific were embarked on territorial expansion and violence on populations they conquered and on their own people.
All of the above is meticulously depicted in interactive exhibits featuring film, graphics, maps, photographs, war materiel like planes, tanks, weapons, the innovative transportation vehicles like the jeep and the landing craft transports (LCTs) that became the means to win the war. The LCTs were designed by a New Orleans resident and most were built in New Orleans. These were used in the Leyte and Normandy landings among others. The LCT on exhibit actually had a former operator next to it explaining its intricacies and uses. This is the boat one sees in the photograph of MacArthur landing in Leyte.
The museum occupies two modern specially designed buildings (with one more coming up). It is the National Museum of World War II, federally-funded and nationally conceptualized with New Orleans being the host city. New Orleans residents are employees and volunteers.
The films on exhibit are particularly riveting. One is a 48-minute documentary by the actor Tom Hanks titled Beyond Boundaries that shows the evolution of events that led to the war, how it played out from a historical as well as personal level for nation and citizen. Another depicted the Nisei (Japanese-American) question in interactive ways as they put the problem to the audience and ask its opinion. Others were about discrimination in the armed forces, the rise of Hitler in Germany, etc.
I spent five hours at the museum (with a break for a New Orleans lunch at the restaurant). I concentrated on the Pacific theatre of the war. The Philippines is much in the picture with the Japanese Occupation and the fall of Bataan and Corregidor. the return of American troops after their defeat to reconquer the Philippines. These events are graphically shown in photographs, films, maps with appropriately informative texts.
On a student level, I finally learned to distinguish the naval battles that were fought in the Pacific after Pearl Harbor to defeat Japan. The Battle of the Coral Sea took place early on in the South Pacific with an allied victory that allowed its troops to conquer the area island by island as they marched towards Japan. The Battle of the Philippine Sea took place a long distance east of the Philippines when the Japanese Navy was stopped at Midway as it attempted to menace the US mainland from the Pacific. And finally, the dramatic naval battle of Leyte Gulf with the mighty navies of the US and Japan first feinting and dodging, then dueling in Philippine waters – the Surigao sea, San Bernardino straits and the Leyte Gulf. The kamikaze are born in Mabalacat as Japan’s Navy goes down in defeat with the suicidal Japanese pilots crashing their planes into US ships in a final act of desperation.
The photographs and films of the Battle for Manila are familiar and unfamiliar which denotes the extent of the exhibit. Here it was painful to see but it happened, it is history. We live with its results and feel for its victims, ourselves and our country.
The US National Museum of World War II is outstanding as history, education and the cause of humanity.