Revisionist Culture Poisons Young Minds
I am becoming increasingly alarmed attending theater and opera performances reflecting what could be called the "revisionist view of world history." What frightens me is the effect the recent trend in "altering what really happened" will have on generations of theatergoers. Nothing, but nothing -- well, maybe a radical imam -- can affect the minds of the young as much as an attractive media formula, as Marshall McLuhan noted a generation ago.
My current case in point is Doctor Atomic, the agitprop opera about Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer by John Adams and Peter Sellars. It is the first Adams opera of recent years without a libretto by fellow American Alice Goodman. (Her libretto of The Death of Klinghoffer was regarded by an outraged world Jewry as pro-PLO and some feel this is why she is now a Christian chaplain at Cambridge University, having converted from Judaism.) Doctor Atomic asserts in a relentless, two-act cacophony the notion that the men who worked on the wartime atomic bomb in the Manhattan Project were filled with angst and guilt. It is notable that Edward Teller was one of the proponents of the "super-weapon," the hydrogen bomb. In the opera, however, Teller is a doubter. When Oppenheimer's loyalty was brought into question in the McCarthy-era communist witch-hunts, General Leslie Groves testified to the scientist's loyalty and we know that Teller continued to promote the super-bomb.
The English National Opera's home, the London Coliseum, was packed the night I attended Doctor Atomic; the appreciative crowd was buzzing during the interval. From snippets of conversation one could deduce this was a young, anti-war, and Guardian-reading audience. So I decided to engage with an elderly operagoer and he expressed his pessimism at the premise that Los Alamos was teeming with guilt-ridden scientists and anguished staff.
One of the mantras propagated every August is the "criminal behavior of the American government" at Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended the Pacific war but started the nuclear age. Pre-atomic, the carpet bombing of the Japanese mainland created a hellish firestorm. In The Fog of War, former American Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who was a young aide to General Curtis LeMay during this operation, observes that had the United States lost the war he and LeMay might have been had up for war crimes. These reflections are seized upon by contemporary revisionists to prove how truly evil the American military machine was, but it is accepted by most historians that had a ruthless campaign not been used against imperial Japan, a brutal land war would have been waged for decades with millions of fatalities on both sides.
At the end of the opera a deafening din is created to replicate the detonation of the first atomic bomb test in the New Mexico desert and we see words projected onto a thin screen expressing the anguish of a Japanese victim of Hiroshima. Having been the daughter of a World War II veteran who saw unspeakable things done to American and British prisoners of war, male and female (my mother visited the women in psychiatric hospitals, where they lived for the rest of their lives), this is classic revisionist culture. It is designed to make the world see America and its war allies as the true criminals. How glad I was that some people booed at the end of Doctor Atomic the night I went.