Who doesn’t think of the attempted extermination of Jews, gays and others when WWII is mentioned? The images of the piles of bodies tossed to rot in mass graves or the sight of the barely alive survivors of the concentration camps have been widely distributed. Countless films and documentaries have imbedded these images permanently in our national consciousness.
But what about the other massacre, the dropping of atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hiroshima was hit on August 6, 1945, Nagasaki three days later.
For my generation, the atrocity that was Vietnam is forever captured in the disturbing photo of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, then a nine-year-old girl, running naked from a napalm attack that was coordinated by U.S. and South Vietnamese forces.
There’s a good reason why we don’t have similar iconic images of the horrific bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The U.S. government censored them. The mushroom cloud was presented to the American public as the defining image of an attack supposedly meant to end the war, though it’s questionable whether it was necessary. Germany had already surrendered. It was only a matter of time before Japan did likewise.
After the awful deed was done, images of the unimaginable suffering the bombs caused were not permitted to be seen in the U.S. Photos were seized from newspapers. Films made by U.S. and Japanese military crews were marked as classified. Even news reports were screened through military authorities. Journalists were barred from visiting the sites of the bombings by General MacArthur.
An independent journalist, Wilfred Burchett, managed to get to Hiroshima to publish a first-hand account in the London Daily Express on September 5, 1945. Entitled “The Atomic Plague,” it made a plea for an end to the madness of atomic weapons of mass destruction: “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.”
They didn’t. The U.S. government immediately dismissed the reports of the devastation as “Japanese propaganda.” And the U.S. press pretty much went along with its government’s cover-up, happy to do whatever Uncle Sam said.
When George Weller of the Chicago Daily News submitted his account of the slaughter in Nagasaki (which he witnessed after a 30-hour train ride), it ended up in the hands of government censors who, upon MacArthur’s orders, had it killed. It was never published.
Not until, as Amy Goodman and David Goodman wrote in Common Dreams (August 5, 2005), Weller’s son found a carbon copy of the piece among his father’s remains. Even then, American publishers turned it down and a Japanese newspaper ran the story.
Another journalist, William L. Laurence, science reporter for the New York Times, had no problem getting his articles published. Working simultaneously for the government penning military press releases, Laurence published a story in the Times three days after Burchett’s that touted the official government line: radiation sickness was not killing people in the two bombed cities.
The censorship succeeded in its purpose: to conceal the truth of the true horror of the atomic bomb and nuclear weapons in general.
Something that should be remembered every day, but especially on August 6.