The difficulty with history’s truths

(U-WIRE) EAST LANSING, Mich. – To avoid controversy, a Grand Rapids museum recently agreed to leave out an important part of history in a World War I exhibit.

The Gerald R. Ford Museum pulled a painting by Adolf Hitler from its exhibit, “The Great War: World War I and the American Century,” after a message posted on the Jewish Defense League’s Web site accused the museum of honoring Hitler with the painting and reported plans to protest the exhibit on the day it opened.

The painting of a bombed-out German village was not the focus of the exhibit; hundreds of other artifacts were on display, including Harry S Truman’s World War I uniform and Kaiser Wilhelm’s naval coat and cape.

“We were trying to tell a story that laid out explicitly that because the world wanted to forget the lessons of World War I, it made World War II inevitable,” a museum spokesman said.

How ironic that in planning an exhibit that would have shown the dangers of forgetting significant historical events, museum officials would agree to leave out an object of considerable historical value.

The Ford Museum should not have acquiesced so easily to one group’s cries. It is understandable why the JDL would take issue with the painting – but only to a point. Hitler should never be glorified as a person, but society should learn as much about him as possible so the horrors he created won’t be repeated.

While the JDL has reason to be suspicious of anything pertaining to Hitler, it should realize that this painting would not have been used to sing Hitler’s praises, it only would have been used as an academic tool.

At times, exhibits offend people, but museums have a responsibility to be objective and tell the full story.

A similar incident happened in 1995, when veterans groups protested an exhibit recognizing the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. The groups protested portions of the exhibit that were critical of the decision to drop the bomb. After months of debate, the Smithsonian opened the exhibit, without certain protested portions of Hiroshima’s history.

History isn’t always pleasant. The Smithsonian should have had the conviction to step on some toes.

A museum is a teaching tool. Visitors view the exhibits and decide how they feel about certain issues. If information is left out, people cannot learn the whole story.

The Ford Museum wanted to illustrate that World War II was started during World War I. What better way to make this point than using a painting by a young Hitler after World War I? This small watercolor could have succinctly embodied the connections and parallels between the two wars.

Instead, knowledge was suppressed.

-Staff editorial from Michigan State University’s State News.

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