Amy Goodman and David Goodman / The Baltimore Sun – 2005-08-08 09:15:57
The Hiroshima Cover-Up
Amy Goodman and David Goodman
The Baltimore Sun
(August 05 , 2005) — A story that the US government hoped would never see the light of day has finally been published-60 years after it was spiked by military censors. The discovery of reporter George Weller’s first-hand account of conditions in post-nuclear Nagasaki sheds light on one of the great journalistic betrayals of the last century: the cover-up of the effects of the atomic bombing on Japan.
On August 6, 1945, the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima; three days later, Nagasaki was hit. General Douglas MacArthur promptly declared southern Japan off-limits, barring the press.
Over 200,000 people died in the atomic bombings of the cities, but no Western journalist witnessed the aftermath and told the story. Instead, the world’s media obediently crowded onto the USS Missouri off the coast of Japan to cover the Japanese surrender.
A month after the bombings, two reporters defied MacArthur and struck out on their own. Weller, of the Chicago Daily News, took row boats and trains to reach devastated Nagasaki. Independent journalist Wilfred Burchett rode a train for 30 hours and walked into the charred remains of Hiroshima.
Both men encountered nightmare worlds. Burchett sat down on a chunk of rubble with his Baby Hermes typewriter. His dispatch began: “In Hiroshima, thirty days after the first atomic bomb destroyed the city and shook the world, people are still dying, mysteriously and horribly-people who were uninjured in the cataclysm from an unknown something which I can only describe as the atomic plague.”
He continued, tapping out the words that still haunt to this day: “Hiroshima does not look like a bombed city. It looks as if a monster steamroller has passed over it and squashed it out of existence. I write these facts as dispassionately as I can in the hope that they will act as a warning to the world.”
Burchett’s article, headlined THE ATOMIC PLAGUE, was published on September 5, 1945 in the London Daily Express. The story caused a worldwide sensation, and was a public relations fiasco for the U.S. military. The official US narrative of the atomic bombings downplayed civilian casualties and categorically dismissed as “Japanese propaganda” reports of the deadly lingering effects of radiation.
So when Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter George Weller’s 25,000-word story on the horror that he encountered in Nagasaki was submitted to military censors, Gen. MacArthur personally ordered the story killed, and the manuscript was never returned. As Weller later summarized his experience with MacArthur’s censors, “They won.”
Last month, Weller’s son Anthony discovered a carbon copy of the suppressed dispatches among his late father’s papers (George Weller died in 2002). Unable to find an interested American publisher, Anthony Weller sold the account to Mainichi Shimbun, a large Japanese newspaper. Now, on the sixtieth anniversary of the atomic bombings, Weller’s account can finally be read. (The first of Weller’s four dispatches can be found here.)
“In swaybacked or flattened skeletons of the Mitsubishi arms plants is revealed what the atomic bomb can do to steel and stone, but what the riven atom can do against human flesh and bone lies hidden in two hospitals of downtown Nagasaki,” wrote Weller. A month after the bombs fell, he observed, “The atomic bomb’s peculiar ‘disease,’ uncured because it is untreated and untreated because it is not diagnosed, is still snatching away lives here.”
After killing Weller’s reports, US authorities tried to counter Burchett’s articles by attacking the messenger. MacArthur ordered Burchett expelled from Japan (the order was later rescinded), his camera mysteriously vanished while he was in a Tokyo hospital, and US officials accused him of being influenced by Japanese propaganda.
Then the U.S. military unleashed a secret propaganda weapon: they deployed their very own Timesman. It turns out that William L. Laurence, the science reporter for the New York Times, was also on the payroll of the War Department. For four months, while still reporting for the Times, Laurence had been writing press releases for the military explaining the atomic weapons program; he also wrote statements for President Truman and Secretary of War Henry Stimson. He was rewarded by being given a seat on the plane that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki, an experience that he described in the Times with religious awe.
Three days after publication of Burchett’s shocking dispatch, Laurence had a front page story in the Times disputing the notion that radiation sickness was killing people. His news story included this remarkable commentary: “The Japanese are still continuing their propaganda aimed at creating the impression that we won the war unfairly, and thus attempting to create sympathy for themselves and milder terms. Thus, at the beginning, the Japanese described ‘symptoms’ that did not ring true.”
Laurence won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the atomic bomb, and his faithful parroting of the government line was crucial in launching a half-century of silence about the deadly lingering effects of the bomb. It is high time for the Pulitzer board to strip Hiroshima’s apologist and his newspaper of their undeserved prize.
Sixty years late, Weller’s censored account stands as a searing indictment not only of the inhumanity of the atomic bomb, but of the danger of journalists embedding with the government to deceive the world.
Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, and David Goodman, a contributing writer for Mother Jones, are co-authors of the bestseller The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them, which was just released in paperback.
On August 5, 2005, the authors formally petitioned the Pulitzer Prize Board to revoke William L. Laurence’s prize.
Suppressed Footage of Hiroshima After the Bomb to Air on Cable TV
Sadia Latifi / Knight Ridder
WASHINGTON (August 6, 2005) – Sixty years after the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, a film documenting the aftermath is reminding Americans about the horrors of nuclear war.
Footage from a U.S. government-produced film, which was labeled top secret and kept out of public view for decades, is included in “Original Child Bomb,” a documentary that will air on many cable stations Saturday, the 60th anniversary of the day that Hiroshima became the first city to suffer atomic attack.
Its release on the Sundance Channel is the culmination of years of effort to bring the government footage before a large American audience. It’s the most extensive exposure yet of this long-suppressed footage in the United States. Some anti-war activists see the film’s appearance on cable television as a crucial step toward an open discussion about the controversial bombings that ended World War II.
The young soldiers who shot the film in Hiroshima and Nagasaki less than a month after the dawn of the atomic age were unprepared for what they found.
“It was to me the most horrendous, terrifying thing I had ever seen,” camera operator Herbert Sussan, who’s now deceased, said in a 1983 interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. “I finally convinced myself and some of these people that there was some value for the rest of the people of the world to see what had happened in this first bombing.”
Showing their work to the rest of the world was no easy task. The nine hours of film, shot in color, captured horrifying scenes of destruction and human suffering, including a woman with the pattern of her dress burned onto her back and the shadows of vaporized civilians burned into walls.
U.S. government officials deemed it too sensitive to release. They also confiscated black-and-white footage that a Japanese film crew shot before the Americans arrived.
When Lt. Col. Daniel McGovern, the head of the U.S. film crew, learned about the Japanese crew’s earlier effort to document the carnage, he was able to obtain their film and lobby successfully to hire some of them for his project.
“I felt there was a need to tell this story,” McGovern told the BBC for a 1983 report that used footage from the American film project. “If it were not captured and shown to people, no one would ever know what happened.”
McGovern and Sussan were appalled when their footage was kept from public view and used only for military-training videos. Over the years, Sussan repeatedly asked for its public release, appealing as high as President Truman and Robert F. Kennedy.
“Every time I sought to obtain the footage, I came up against a brick wall,” he told the BBC.
Sussan, who was 24 when he went to Japan, paid a personal price for his involvement in the project. Like many of the people he filmed, he developed lymphoma, a form of cancer, and died in 1985. He wanted his ashes to be spread at ground zero in Hiroshima, but when his daughter traveled there a year later to fulfill his wish, she was told that it would be illegal.
The Japanese government continually asked the United States for its footage, which had been transferred to the National Archives in Washington by September 1967. After negotiations with the State Department, a copy of the black-and-white newsreel was shipped to Japan in the summer of 1968.
Erik Barnouw, a film historian, created a moving 16-minute montage from the Japanese footage that screened in New York for the news media; all three major TV networks rejected it. Editorials criticized the move, and on Aug. 3, 1970, a public broadcast station aired the short to mark the 25th anniversary of the bomb. It would be nearly 10 more years before the American footage would emerge.
Greg Mitchell, who detailed the story behind the Hiroshima footage in a recent issue of Editor & Publisher magazine, said the postwar movie should be part of any debate about nuclear war.
“These guys weren’t anti-nuclear, they were for frank showing of what the truth was,” he said of Sussan and McGovern. “It’s the right of people to see what’s done in their name.”
Original Child Bomb will premiere on the Sundance Channel this weekend, along with two other movies related to nuclear power, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the bombing in Japan.
Airtimes according to the channel’s Web site:
• Saturday at 8 p.m.
• Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.
• Aug. 14 at 3:30 p.m.
• Aug. 19 at 2 p.m.
• Aug. 24 at noon.
Check your local listings for more up-to-date information. The Sundance Channel is available via satellite television and cable television. To find out if your provider offers Sundance Channel, call (800)SUN-FILM.
© Copyright 2005 Knight Ridder
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