This paper presents findings from a two year field research project focusing on the public conflict that erupted over the Enola Gay exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM). This conflict did not end with people reaching consensus, ceremoniously signing documents, shaking hands and piling accolades upon one another for solving a serious problem. It can more accurately be described as a stalemate and ultimately a lose-lose proposition even in light of the many opportunities that arose that could have produced at least a partial if not total agreement. The reason for studying this "failed" public conflict is to point out the major benefits that such cases have in regard to our understanding of the factors, dynamics and observable patterns that are endemic of many types of public conflicts. In fact, it makes sense for scholars of conflict resolution to place as much emphasis on what works and what does not--for we ultimately learn more from mistakes than we do from success. I contend that as conflict scholars and practitioners, we have deliberately done ourselves and the public a great disservice by ignoring cases like the Enola Gay. This paper is not about failure but about the hidden riches of information, knowledge and wisdom we can gain from a critical examination of less than perfect cases. As conflict specialists, we do not have to be pressured to live in a world of the "thrill of victory or the agony of defeat" if we learn to accept the assumption I make here that there is likely more to be learned from so called "failed" public conflicts than from those that are deemed "normal" cases. Ironically, once a form of conflict intervention becomes normal or predictable it is likely to receive even less critical examination. We are, then, stuck with a paradox of thinking like naive empiricists, wherein we ignore the obvious and shun the uncomfortable, leaving us in no better a position than if we had done nothing at all. So here, I examine a supposedly uncomfortable, unpredictable, uncontrollable and uncertain public conflict to demonstrate analytically that it is none of these.

Author Bio(s)

Brian Polkinghorn is a faculty member in the Department of Dispute Resolution, Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Polkinghorn's primary research and teaching interest is in the development of environmental policy and environmental dispute intervention. He conducts field research in places such as Chile, Columbia, South Africa, Israel, the West Bank, Bosnia, Northern Ireland and across the United States.


affect theory, atomic bomber, conflict resolution, Enola Gay exhibit, Hiroshima (Japan), National Air and Space Museum (NASM)

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