America’s Sunny Delusions

U-505 at Museum of Science and IndustryI am in Chicago, the Muggy City. Yesterday, we visited the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI). It’s an impressive museum, but its audience is the American family and I found myself bristling about its treatment of history. I know people would say it is done “for the kids.” But I don’t think so. Most of what I hated was there to make adult Americans bask in their delusions of superiority.

This is in contrast to the Chicago History Museum (CHM), where there was a great exhibit about the struggle for minority rights. It was excellent in presenting things as diverse as slavery, the Indian Rights movement, Japanese internment, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Similarly, the International Museum of Surgical Science was a horror show of medical progress topped off with an exhibit about the use of medicine in perpetrating the Holocaust. I’ve spent a great deal of time studying the Holocaust and I still broke down three times.

Vacation Is a Time to Cry

You might think this odd. I’m on vacation. Why would I enjoy being tortured by the villainy of humanity? Well, I’m not. I just don’t like being lied to.

For example, the CHM had a great and fun exhibit on Chicago blues. But it too didn’t shy away from uncomfortable truths. See the image on the right, “Help Save the Youth of America: DON’T BUY NEGRO RECORDS.” And this was a thing: record companies had race record lines — designed to be sold to blacks but clearly appealing to white youths.

I don’t like knowing this. But I actively dislike being lied to. And I most of all hate seeing American myths presented in museums as fact. And that brings us to the German submarine U-505.

U-Boat Sailors Are People Too

U-505 was captured by the US Navy in June 1944. It wasn’t the first U-boat to be captured. It wasn’t the last. But it’s interesting all the same. But it was presented in the museum the same way TV presented the Moon landing: America wins!

To me, the story of the U-boat capture is much more interesting from the perspective of those on the U-boat. There was very little of that. There was an enormous amount of information about the US attacks on it but almost nothing on what damage was done to the U-boat.

But more important, after the crew was captured, they were hidden so that the Nazis would not know that the Allies had the Enigma codes. But these were of limited value. So why exactly it was necessary to defy the Geneva Conventions is not clear to me.

I get why it was done. You never know. But it highlights the nonsense of the concept of the “rules of war.” And it is certain that this story would have been told very differently if the Axis powers had won the war.

No Nuance When It Comes to America

Regardless, at the MSI, there was little nuance. The decision to hide the Germans was presented as though there were no alternative. Indeed, the families of the German sailors were told they were dead. This was presented as a good thing in that they all had a great surprise when the families found out 3 years later that the men were alive.

I guess this all annoys me because as a child, I really believed all this American mythology. We were the Good Guys who never tortured and just wanted people to be Free! So I was devastated when I learned that the US was the biggest bully in the world only interested in its own gain. (See my article on Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.)

So beyond the fact that places like the MSI feed the delusions of American adults, I really hate the fact that children are lied to before they have any defenses against this corrosive nonsense.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “America’s Sunny Delusions

  1. I’m jealous. I was in Chicago a few years ago, and there just wasn’t time for any museum visiting. It was more of a pit stop on a road trip. Amazing city from a history/cultural standpoint, be fun to explore someday. Along with the 500 places I also want to explore and probably never will get around to.

    What a poster! “Screaming, idiotic words.” Yeah, like white pop music at the time was high literature. That poster has gotta be what, early 50s? Exactly what white musician was recording anything but lyrical garbage then? Maybe some Broadway cast albums, and Tennessee Ernie Ford’s cover of “Sixteen Tons.” Aside from those it was a lyrical dead zone filled by dreck like Pat Boone. I’d much rather my kids were listening to Fats Domino.

    Had something of a similar “science and industry museum” experience visiting the Smithsonian Air & Space one. It was a family trip with our nieces, who are Black, and I’d scored tickets to the African American museum. But I fucked up the travel dates. No way to get back on that free ticket waiting list in time, so we saw Air & Space instead. A huge letdown, frankly, all “American Ingenuity” rah-rah. Some of it pretty dusty, too. The highlight was our Deaf niece seeing an actual MX missile rocket, then asking with a hands-together-hands-wildly-apart sign if what the thing did was go “boom.” Yup. That is indeed what it does.

    • I assume it is from the 50s because it has the “terrified Jim Crow might be ending” feel to it.

      We went to the Art Institute yesterday. It had an underwhelming collection of medieval religious art collection but was still transcendent. And it had a good collection of American art. I discovered a couple of new artists that I’m looking forward to researching more.

      The Science and Industry museum shows how Americans are infantilized. It reminds me of this bit but Lee is wrong about Americans not reading or watching news. They do. It is just that no information that might be upsetting gets through.

      • Lee’s kinder than I would be.

        Either William Greider or Rick Perlstein, I forget which, once said it’d be a shame if America went from adolescence to senescence without ever experiencing normal adulthood.

        I think that is apt; as a nation, we’ve never been grownups. Adolescents blame their mistakes on somebody (anybody) else; the senile forget those mistakes ever happened.

        Responsible adults own their mistakes (they are fun to think about when trying to sleep), and, ideally, learn from them. I can’t think of a case in which America has ever learned from its mistakes. No example comes to mind.

        • That’s absolutely right. I’m not sure we’ve yet moved on from adolescence. I had a conversation recently in which the man was saying we should attack Iran because of all the money we lost when the drone was shot down. Such people are never concerned about the billions in tax dollars we lose from Exxon. It also goes along with the support for the death penalty because “I don’t want to pay for a murderer to live in prison!”

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