In a quiet hangar outside Washington, the Enola Gay still gleams as if the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the first atomic bomb in anger rolled off the production line yesterday.
Despite his announcing a historic visit to the site that its payload devastated in Japan, Barack Obama’s legacy as the president who would consign all such weapons to the museum looks rather more tarnished.
The White House hopes that his trip to Hiroshima – the first by a serving US president – will reaffirm a “personal commitment to pursue the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”.
“The United States has a special responsibility to continue to lead in pursuit of that objective as we are the only nation to have used a nuclear weapon,” wrote his national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, on Tuesday in a statement accompanying news of August’s visit.
But the most remarkable thing about such language is how closely it echoes the unmet promises of a fresher-faced Obama seven years ago in Prague when he first announced that his presidency would demonstrate “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”.
Presidential aides may hope that the visits to Prague and Hiroshima – at either end of his time in office – will look like bookends of a consistent, if admittedly so far inconclusive, strategy. Critics may wonder what happened to all the chapters in between.
Perhaps the clearest sign of how little progress has been made toward the promises of Prague came last month when the White House concluded its fourth and final nuclear security summit in Washington without the attendance of Russia, which is thought to have the world’s largest stockpile of such weapons.
The decision to stress that there will be no apology for the tactics of the second world war suggests sensitivity to Republican jibes that Obama apologises for America too much.
It certainly fits in with the agreed narrative that surrounds the Enola Gay, in its final resting place at the National Air and Space Museum.
The immaculately maintained B-29 sits surrounded by some of America’s most triumphant engineering accomplishments, from the space shuttle to the jumbo jet, in a hangar on the outskirts of Dulles airport.
But on the morning of the White House Hiroshima announcement, few seemed aware of its contemporary resonance and the exhibit was all but deserted.
“Unfortunately, in wars bad things happen,” explained a passing docent to a party of young schoolchildren. “At least this plane stopped more bad things happening,” he added, before spending more time explaining how the plane was named after the mother of its captain than what it did.