Facing Threats, Real and Imagined, at the HMNS

A new exhibit from the National Spy Museum examines the friction between America and American ideals.

Photography by Nick Esquer September 29, 2015 Published in the October 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Image: Shutterstock

“If I could wrap this exhibit up in one word it would be friction. Friction between America and American ideals,” says David Temple of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, speaking of Spies, Traitors, Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America, which runs through January. On loan from the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, the exhibition explores the history of domestic threats—everything from the War of 1812 to Pearl Harbor to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks—as well as the responses they provoked and, says Temple, the resultant “friction in civil liberties and government spying.”

Temple, an associate curator at HMNS, says that Spies lasers in on nine separate moments when the country found itself under siege, with an eye toward evoking the mood of the populace and the hard questions they forced Americans to ask themselves. Chief among them, according to Temple: “At what point do we value civil liberties versus safety?”

After viewing objects like a photo of the KKK parading down Pennsylvania Ave., shrapnel from Japanese zero planes and copies of the FBI case file on Lucille Ball (then under suspicion for Communist sympathizing), exhibit-goers are invited to weigh in on the ethics of our responses to America’s many threats, with the help of polling stations developed by Gallup, Inc. Should the government have the authority to deport those suspected of supporting hostile groups? Should the FBI be allowed to investigate groups opposed to the US government? The questions are far from easy. “This requires some thought,” said Temple with no small amount of understatement. On the other hand, “this is a topic that should be on everyone’s mind.”

Spies, Traitors, Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America
Thru Jan. 17. Mon–Sun 9–6. $25; Children ages 3–11, seniors, students and military, $20. Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Dr. 713-639-4629. hmns.org

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