The International Museum of World War II is about the causes and consequences of war, that war is very personal and the whole subject very complex.
War is horrible for just everybody caught up in it, but we can’t forget that for some – Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo – it was a fulfillment, an evil fulfillment. For some others, notably their military commanders, it is their business. German generals had been in World War I and considered the German surrender a time out-time to reorganize and reload.
For everyone else it was a nightmare. Those on the East and West coasts of the United States, there was a constant and real fear of invasion. As that possibility subsided there was the nightmare of fear for their loved ones in the war-for sons, husbands, brothers and friends who might be gone forever.
But it was also an inspiring time. The human spirit of good people to unite to defeat evil won out. It is this spirit that I was determined to save from disappearing into the darkness of history in the years after the war. I was concerned that those involved had to see the war as glorious in order to try to quell the nightmares of reality. In the Museum I have seen the perspective of World War II veterans change from telling their children about the glory to explaining the terror to their grandchildren.
The Museum is all about reality-everything displayed is original and everything is from the time that it happened. There are no retrospectives. Human events are lived in real time, not retrospectively. I wanted to collect, preserve and finally exhibit, what they read, what they used, all of the information that they were seeing and experiencing with the full understanding that no one can experience their anxiety.
It is an old cliché that those that don’t understand history are condemned to relive it (and this is one basic observation that Churchill didn’t utter). Perhaps, in the context of the Museum, a more apt observation is that history shows us that people don’t learn from history because they think they are special, their country is different, their times are special, all the while not appreciating that every generation before them felt the same way.
The mission of the Museum is to have people gain a sense of direct contact with the World War II generation, to see them as people like ourselves today, to identify with their concerns and fears, to understand what caused World War II internationally, and how it was brought to an end at a terrible price.
I am always taken aback when people blithely comment that we won World War II. The United States lost 425,000 soldiers; the world lost over 60,000,000 people. No one wins wars; we just fought to destroy evil and save ourselves from even worse times.
For me personally, the most satisfying part of forming this collection and establishing this Museum, is the reactions of students. Our education program operates to the maximum every day, and contrary to what every adult thinks, kids are very interested in history when they are shown it in human and personal terms. They don’t need “virtual reality”; they experience “real reality”. Our interactive is the visitor’s own mind. The thoughtful descriptions students write about what the Museum has meant to them personally is the most gratifying part of my work.
Kenneth W. Rendell
Founder and Museum Director