Round Three - Exhibit Denied: October 26, 1994 to March 1, 1995
It is important to be clear about what happened at the Smithsonian. It is not, as some have it, that benighted advocates of a special interest or right-wing point of view brought historical power to bear to crush and distort the historical truth. Quite to the contrary. Narrow-minded representatives of a special-interest and revisionist point of view attempted to use their inside track to appropriate and hollow out a historical event that large numbers of Americans alive at that time and engaged in the war had witnessed and understood in a very different — and authentic — way. -- Washington Post, February 1, 1995.
The climactic event of Round Three comes on January 30, 1995, when, under mounting pressure, Smithsonian Secretary Michael Heyman pulls the plug on the "Last Act" exhibit and NASM director Martin Harwit's "resignation" seems inevitable.
During Round Three we get the sense that, after five drafts and with only a few months before the opening of the exhibit, perhaps Harwit and the NASM feel that they have gone as far as they can go in trying to satisfy their critics, but we see the AFA still on the offensive with three more major articles.
In Round Three the historians arrive in force. The November 1994 issue of the Organization of American Historians Newsletter defends the need for protecting museums from government interference, and on November 16 a separate group of historians, who will soon become the Historians Committee for Open Debate on Hiroshima, terms the issue one of "historical cleansing," which raises the spectre of a kind of "holocaust" by OUR government.
The last straw occurs in mid-January 1995, over the politically charged issue of invasion casualties. Defenders of the need to drop the bomb often spoke of it as saving as many as a million American lives. Some historians had severely questioned that number as egregiously inflated after the fact to justify the Japanese death toll. On January 9 Harwit informs the American Legion, which NASM had worked hand-in-hand with on revisions throughout September and October, that the best historical evidence showed that only about 63,000 casualties were envisioned. That act is the death knell of the exhibit. The American Legion calls for cancellation, Congress gets into the act again, and Smithsonian Secretary Heyman capitulates on January 30.
Fallout from Heyman's decision in the press in late January and in February is mixed but still mostly approves the cancellation.