New Orleans War Museum: Brings back memories of World War II
“In wartime, the truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.’’ Prime minister Winston Churchill, 1943.”
The National World War 11 Museum, located on 945, Magazine Street, downtown New Orleans, is a masterpiece. The seven-storey atrium, seated on 178,000 square feet and 100,000 more yet to come, chronicles what has been described as the mightiest struggle humankind has ever experienced. With a Master plan of six buildings, and opened on June 6 2000, the 56th anniversary of the D-Day, the museum is expected to be completed sometimes this year. It is located on a 3.5-acre site bounded by Magazine, Calliope and Camp Streets and Andrew Higgins Drive. There is a subway on the ground floor of the museum.
There are also the Restoration Pavilion, the Victory Theater and the Liberation Pavilion among others, which feature screens showing short documentaries of the beginning of the war and other key issues surrounding it, the brutality of the battles in the Pacific and the casualties of the European Theatre. The oral history studios enable visitors listen to narratives of the war.
There is also a fascinating creation depicting the aftermath of the crash of a CG-4A Waco glider in Normandy, in the early morning of June 6 1944. With the aid of special effects, a visitor can hear birds chirping and squirrels screeching in the background. It is said that the Boeing Company has made donations of planes involved in accidents to the museum to vividly paint the effect of crash scenes during the war.
Though a global war, the WW11, which was fought from September 1939 to September 1945, was one war America wasn’t keen on fighting, until the Pearl Harbour was hit. America’s initial reluctance was based on its experience with the First World War, but when the Pearl Harbour was hit in December 1941, Americans had no choice than to join the war, though it wasn’t as if they were entirely neutral, when the war broke out. By early 1942, all the world’s major countries had got involved in the most destructive war in history.
American history will not be complete without the narratives of the WW11 and so, the museum, which is said to have gulped $325million and still counting, is an epic survey of a war that was said to have been fought in over 50 countries, including Nigeria and all the great powers, which eventually formed two opposing military alliances— the Allies and the Axis and involved more than 100 million people.
Described as the mightiest struggle humankind has ever experienced, the war was said to have resulted in an estimated 50 million to 85 million fatalities, marked by mass deaths of civilians, including the Holocaust and the strategic bombing of industrial and population centres. The World War II is, indeed, the deadliest conflict in human history. It killed more people, cost more money, destroyed more property, affected more people, and caused more far-reaching changes in nearly every country than any other war recorded in history.
The number of people killed, wounded, or missing between September 1939 and September 1945 can never be calculated, but it is estimated that more than 55 million people perished.
The WW11 museum, which is also a theme park, displays the roll call of donors and sponsors of the project, as well as some veterans, who gave their all to the cause. On interlocks used on walkways around the museum are inscriptions of names of American veterans, who had fought gallantly and paid the supreme price.
The Guardian also observed that veterans and serving military are the first group usually called to board flights at American domestic airports, though it couldn’t be ascertained whether they are made to pay for the services or not.
The deep sense of preservation is also worthy of note in the WW11 museum. Aside the ubiquitous machine guns, rifles, helmets, uniforms, booth and other common war materials such as magazines, the museum has also preserved tyres used by trucks during the war and other things one would have thought are insignificant, such as packs of cigarettes, matches, socks, chewing gums, anti-seasickness pills, water purification tablets, penicillin, French language translation handbook. Interestingly, condoms used by the troops to keep sand and water out of rifle barrels were also on display.
With no tour guide, a visitor is able to move easily round the museum and understand what every artefact connotes. There are enough write-ups to be read to help conjure a mental picture of events.
The many 120-foot-wide screens mounted in theatres showed vivid pictures of events on the battlefield. A section of the museum also depicts heavy forest, where troops hid and shot at the enemies.
Churchill led the operation tagged ‘Bodyguard,’ which eventually recorded more positive result during the war. It was discovered that troops’ plans were foiled due to leakages. So, he devised a means of wrapping lies round planned operations, which helped the troops to succeed eventually.
The over-an-hour tour of the museum was a rewarding experience that will not leave anyone fatigued or bored. Theatre are strategically located around, where one could sit and watch some documentaries or listen to oral history. At no cost, the museum is said to have received over 3.5 million visitors since it opened in 2000.
There are enormous interactive video databases. Information about the war’s 464 Medal of Honor winners, the more than 700 government leaders, who were the veterans, including Presidents George H. W Bush, Gerald R. Ford, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, was also available.
Still a work in progress, when the edifice is completed, it will house the $35 million US Freedom Pavilion: the Boeing Centre. It will also act as a kind of interlude, a salute to the nation’s fighting forces during the war. A Boeing-17 Flying Fortress, a Corsair fighter also known as “Whistling Death” and other warplanes will be seen as the visitor stands at the atrium, while touch screens will allow for exploration of cockpits and controls.
There will also be a special-effect theatre with falling “snow,” vibrating seats to depict earth shakings, as missiles flew through the air. The whole essence is to allow visitors experience the sight, sound and emotion of going to war.
There are also newspaper clips on the progression of the war and when it eventually ended. In his victory message titled ‘cost of victory’ to allied troupe of Europe, General Dwight Eisenhower said:
“The route you have travelled is marked by the graves of former comrades. Each of the fallen dead, as a member of the team to which you belong, bound together by a common love of liberty’’.
An artwork depicting the graveyard of fallen heroes is rested on a large portion of a wall in the museum. The artistic piece showed rows of tombs with white cross on each of them. Indeed, a visit to the museum will enable those not born during the war to grasp more than 50 percent of the happenings during the war. It is hoped that the world will never again experience such monumental waste of human and natural resources.
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