by Greg Mitchell
The second installment of WhoWhatWhy’s series on how the worst devastation caused by the Atomic bomb was deliberately concealed from Americans for decades. You can read Part One here.
On the morning of August 6, 1945, a B-29 dropped an atomic bomb over the center of Hiroshima, killing at least 70,000 civilians instantly and perhaps 50,000 more in the days and months to follow, the vast majority women and children. Three days later, the U.S. exploded another atomic bomb over Nagasaki, slightly off target, killing 40,000 immediately and dooming tens of thousands of others. Within days, Japan had surrendered, and the U.S. readied plans for occupying the defeated country—and documenting the first atomic catastrophe.
The American public knew little about conditions there beyond Japanese assertions that a mysterious affliction was attacking many of the survivors, claims that most Americans took to be propaganda. Newspaper photographs of victims were non-existent or censored. Life Magazine would later observe that for years “the world…knew only the physical facts of atomic destruction. Many were still dying horribly from the new ‘A-Bomb disease’—that is, the effects of radiation—or qburns from the original blast.” Tens of thousands of American troops occupied the two cities. Few were urged to take precautions.
The Japanese newsreel company Nippon Eigasha was already shooting film in the two stricken cities. On October 24, 1945, a U.S. military policeman ordered a Japanese cameraman in Nagasaki to stop shooting. The U.S. General Headquarters (GHQ) confiscated his film, and the rest of the 26,000 feet of Nippon Eigasha footage. An order banned all further filming. It was at this point that Lt. Daniel McGovern took charge.
McGovern—a director and member of Hollywood’s famed First Motion Picture Unit—was one of the first Americans to arrive in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was with the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, which was studying the effects of the air campaign against Germany and Japan.
When McGovern learned of the Japanese footage, he noted in a letter to his superiors that “the conditions under which it was taken will not be duplicated, until another atomic bomb is released under combat conditions,” he proposed hiring a Japanese crew to edit and “caption” the material, so it would have “scientific value.”
Later, McGovern was ordered by General Douglas MacArthur to document the results of the U.S. air campaign in more than twenty Japanese cities. His crew would shoot exclusively on Kodachrome and Technicolor, rarely used at the time, even in Hollywood. McGovern assembled a crew of eleven, including two civilians. Third in command was a young lieutenant from New York named Herbert Sussan.
Sussan told me that after their train pulled into Nagasaki, “Nothing and no one had prepared me for the devastation I met there.” He added, “We were the only people with adequate ability and equipment to make a record of this holocaust.”
McGovern’s crew documented the physical effects of the bomb, including ghostly shadows of vaporized Read the rest of this story at