‘Why War’ Offers Deeper Context to the Causes of Conflict

Many museums display the weapons of war, but few explore the questions of how conflict begins and why wars are fought. The genesis of Why War: The Causes of Conflict was the idea of giving a much deeper context to the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum’s world-class assemblage of rare and iconic military machines. Through interactive digital experiences, large-scale interfaces, and a one-of-a-kind collection of surprising artifacts, visitors and educational groups can “deep dive” into the reasons for, and terrible cost of, warfare.

The exhibit was sparked by an idea from the museum’s founder, Paul Allen, who thought it was important to add context to the military planes, vehicles and weapons on display.

Inspired by the works of author, educator, and historian Dr. Gregory Cashman, Why War reveals the tell-tale traits that boil to the surface well before the tanks and troops mobilize for battle. The exhibit illustrates that wars are not always unpredictable. Scholars have explored a number of risk factors that usually show themselves long before the shooting starts.

For many people, action is a key enabler for learning. Why War has many interactive experiences, including the nation’s biggest interactive data visualization station—a wall of eight massive 96-inch touch screens. Through this unique interface, visitors can navigate information, maps, and images from all of America’s major conflicts—from the Revolutionary War to Desert Storm.

The nature of warfare has changed over the centuries, but it changed radically with the invention of nuclear weapons. Atomic bombs made the stakes of just one small misstep incredibly high. The specter of complete destruction has led to a decrease in wars between countries.

Why War probes the concepts of the nuclear age, providing context for past events and allowing the visitor to study Cold War proliferation in a nuclear world map.

Replicas of the atomic weapons Little Boy and Fat Man, dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, reside within the walls of Why War, as does a genuine Cold War-era nuclear bomb, with the destructive power of 40 million sticks of TNT. The bombs are on loan from the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History.

Beyond the bombs, Why War exhibits some peculiar wartime artifacts, including a wicked-looking Civil War amputation kit, vases, and ashtrays made from discarded World War I cannon shells, and an explosive rat bomb created by British spies during World War II. War posters in the exhibit space range from the famous “Uncle Sam” images of World War I, to anti-establishment protest statements of the Vietnam era.

Another interactive, the Conflict Simulator Command Station, lets visitors try their hand at quelling hypothetical global conflicts. An examination of the visitors’ choices tells them if they are a diplomat, negotiator, or a “war hawk.” Unlike real life, in Why War, you can hit the panic button and “redo” a poor decision.

Beyond tales of great leaders and brave soldiers, Chronicles of War focuses on the personal stories of women and children pulled into warfare. The exhibit features six interactive stations to show visitors what it’s like to be caught up in battle from the perspective of 40 different people from all over the world.

Why War: The Causes of Conflict is a bold new step for the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum. It adds remarkable new content and context to its world-class collection of military hardware and allows visitors to explore not only “how,” but “why.”

Civil War amputation kit
An explosive rat bomb and pigeon parachute
Vases and ashtrays made from cannon shells
Warning bell and rattle
Little Boy and Fat Man