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"Enola Gay' exhibit's opening elicits praise, protest

More than 2,700 visitors and a contingent of protesters greeted the debut of the Enola Gay exhibit Wednesday at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

The Enola Gay Action Coalition protested all day in front of museum steps, complaining that the Smithsonian had censored the exhibit in order to appease U.S. veterans and Congress.

"It's terrible. . . . It's historically inaccurate," said protester Karl Smith.

The protesters said the exhibit lacked important details by not emphasizing the deaths caused by the bombing and the Cold War that followed.

Police arrested at least 20 protesters, including six inside the exhibit and a dozen who knelt in front of the entrance, refusing to move. All were charged with making a public nuisance.

Despite the controversy, the display proved popular with visitors who lined up to see the exhibit, which is built around parts of the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima 50 years ago.

One Japanese tourist, Hiroshi Yura, said that the exhibit was impressive but that it should have included more details about the history surrounding the bombing itself. "There's not enough information about the victims of Hiroshima."

Jim Short, a visitor from Visalia, Calif., disagreed. He said he didn't find the Japanese perspective to be relevant in an American history event. "They had their heroes that bombed Pearl Harbor, and I don't begrudge their war heroes."

Originally, the Smithsonian planned to offer a combination of history and analysis about the bombing. After an avalanche of criticism and opposition, Smithsonian officials decided to create a less subjective exhibit that would allow visitors to draw their own conclusions.

"What I feel is important is how the American people feel about it," Smithsonian spokesman David Umansky said.

The Enola Gay will be the most popular exhibit since the museum's Star Trek display, which attracted more than 800,000 visitors in 11 months, Umansky said. The Enola Gay will remain on display indefinitely.

Kouichi Yasui, a Hiroshima survivor, came from Japan to view the bomber that blew apart his world as he worked inside an Army barracks. Hospitalized a dozen times for his injuries, he has scars from shattered glass.

"Seeing this exhibit," Yasui said, through a translator, "no one can really imagine what these people went through."

_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.