In March of 2016 I had the extreme pleasure of a solid three-week vacation in the heart of my favourite American city, New Orleans. I broke up the monotony of constant great food, wonderful weather, unbelievable music, and steadily flowing drinks of all stripes with a couple of visitors. First, my friend Doug came down for about a week and then after a few solo days my friend JP came, which was about as much fun as you could imagine, and possibly more (depending, of course, on how creative you are).
Being a bit of a NOLA veteran, after showing my guests all of my favourite local haunts (which are legion) I left it to them to pick and choose any attractions or excursions that might fill our time in the bayou. And this is how Doug and I came to visit the World War II Museum on the 21st.
I had never been to the WWII museum before because, well, I didn’t think I’d be at all interested. I (like most people, I assume) find war to be wholly offensive and extremely distasteful, and even my interest in history and epic events doesn’t stir my interest enough for me to spend a day delving into the specifics of how to effectively kill your fellow man.
But Doug was down for it, so who was I to argue?
It doesn’t surprise me that the WWII Museum is the #1 attraction in all of New Orleans, given the American propensity towards the glory of dominance and the safe feeling that comes with conquering others (compared to the vibe I get back home in Canada, if i may be so naive). And to be completely candid I’ve visited the War Museum in Ottawa several times before (including one visit with Doug, who surprised me by being very interested in a special exhibit that was being presented on the Plains of Abraham, which taught me a whole lot).
And so through the door we went, where we found an absurdly long line; I mean there must have been four hundred people queued up for tickets when we arrived. We paid our dues and started on the tour, which began in a mock-up of a train, the likes of which unwary soldiers were transported away from their families and into the Great Machine.
And boy, if the first exhibit was to be any indication, the WWII Museum was going to be lame with a capital L. And it was.
Every exhibit focused on celebrating the winners and mocking the losers, with vast panels on the strategic successes of the American team and the obvious blunders of the others. Now don’t get me wrong; misguided, evil old Hitler and the hordes of people he duped were in dire need of vanquishing and I think even an unbiased observer (if there could be one) would agree that the good guys won the war.
But that said, these are events that are to be remembered, honoured, and memorialized, but I don’t think it does anybody much good to celebrate them. Sure, when WWII ended there was ample cause to celebrate the decisive victory of the Allies, but seventy years on I think the appropriate emotions are those that lean towards endless esteem and praise to the people who fought in such a horrible conflict, sadness and regret that the world could have ever gotten to the point of necessitating such a war, and a steady mindfulness that we don’t allow humanity to grow so inhumane again.
Of course as we neared the end of the museum tour we found plenty of information on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the only two nuclear bombs dropped in the history of war. I won’t say that these events were presented as crassly and pompously as they were when I had the dubious fortune of touring the Battleship Missouri in Pearl Harbor, where the two bombs were viewed as the crowning achievement of the American war effort, but I would certainly argue that the curators at the WWII Museum could have thrown a little more light on the fact that of the astounding 200,000+ people that died as a result of those two bombs the vast, vast majority were civilians. Regular, law-abiding, life-loving Japanese moms, dads, and children.
As I scanned the museum guide I was pleased to see that the tour ended with a collection of military vehicles. Now, I may not be into armed warfare but I certainly do have a soft spot for things with wheels so I was quite looking forward to seeing what they had. And y’know, had I never visited Ottawa’s War Museum (with their huge assemblage of trucks, tanks, planes, submarines, motorcycles, and so much more) then I wouldn’t have been quite as deflated with the WWII Museum’s relatively tiny vehicle collection, which I believe included a total of three airplanes and two tanks. But I had, so I was.
Of course I found the gift shop as offensive as the rest. One thing that struck me in particular was the fact that for $20 I had my choice of purchasing any number of baseball caps featuring insignias of each branch of the American military. I found it abhorrent that I (or any other non-service member) was welcome to buy and wear a hat that clearly suggested that whoever was standing underneath said hat was a veteran of the Army, Navy, or whatever. I mean, c’mon now, those things should only be available to verified veterans and service personnel through the VA office. Right?
The upside of the whole thing was that Doug wanted to see it and I was happy to defer to my guest’s wishes, and that once we walked out of the museum and back out on the street we were smack-dab in the middle of my favourite city in the United States of America, New Orleans.
And fortunately the world (or at least this part of it) was not currently at war.