A couple of weeks ago, while I was recovering from surgery for two hernias, we took a short trip to the Smithsonian American History Museum. We hadn’t been there since it was closed a few years ago for a whole year for renovation. I have to say that I was underwhelmed, and think the American History museum has become ho-hum.
Why do I say this?
First it seemed that fully a quarter of the exhibits were closed. I found this interesting in a museum that just opened two years ago after having been closed for a full year. Secondly, the exhibits seemed really “dumbed down” to me.
On the top floor, where there are exhibits on American wars from the American Revolution to the present, I found many of the displays lacking in substance. There was an exhibit the size of a broom closet on WWI. The Vietnam display was 50% unrest, civil rights, and protests, and very little on the conduct of the war, phases of the war, campaigns, how a very professional Army went into the war, but how the long war eroded that professionalism, or how the majors and lieutenant colonels who came out of that war built back up the Army that amazed the world in Desert Storm. There was no display about the Cold War.
The display about our current wars in the Middle East consisted on one small room. For history class, my son is writing a paper about Iraq. I was struck by how little our young people know about our longest wars. If the job of museums is both to inspire and educate, I’d think that the Smithsonian should have significant, extensive, apolitical displays about these three wars. I don’t think I would have understood anything about Desert Shield/Storm, OEF, or OIF from these displays.
The new display of the flag that flew over Fort McHenry is very nice.
Finally, I was a bit put out that they pushed American citizens out of the way to entertain a bunch of visiting foreign dignitaries.
So, if you want to see Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Kermit the Frog, Fonzie’s jacket, of First Ladies’ dresses, this is the place for you. If you actually want to learn anything about our history or anything that really matters, seek other opportunities.