Thursday, June 9, 2016

October Surprise?

Well, maybe for most people...that's when my book The Tunnels will be published by Crown.  Click on cover at right to learn more.  And unofficial trailer below (my son, the pro, will do a better one down the road).  Music: Patrick Ffrench (yes, that's two f's).


Sunday, June 5, 2016


Near our front yard at vacation cottage in North Truro, today, before the rain. 

Leonard on Ali

Have been too busy--and on a much-needed vacation--this weekend to post about the passing the Muhammad Ali, one of my two greatest heroes of the 1960s (along with Dylan) who helped shape part of my life, cultural and political.  I did post on Facebook the famous photo of the two of them backstage at Madison Square Garden in 1975 (a concert I attended) and the video of Ali singing with another one of my idols, Sam Cooke.  I didn't expect to find anything about Leonard Cohen and Ali but just now Leonard's biographer Sylvie Simmons posted this on Facebook:

One time, it must have been 15 years ago, MOJO magazine was running one of those round-up pieces where we asked our musician heros to name their heroes. I called Leonard Cohen and asked him who his hero was."I don't know it's the designation 'hero' that I have difficulty with, because that implies some kind of reverence that is somewhat alien to my nature", he sad, and went on to name a whole lot of people he had "love and affection" for, from Roshi to Ramesh Balsekar, Lorca to Yeats.

And then the next morning he sent me an email. This is what it said:

i forgot
my hero is mohammed ali
as they say about the Timex in their ads
takes a lickin'
keeps on tickin'

Of course Muhammad Ali would be his hero. Though born worlds apart, there was a lot in common. Ali was a wise man, a fighter and poet. He worked harder than anyone and was generous with his money. He had dignity, courage and humour and stood up for what he believed.

Leonard's son Adam Cohen appears to have inherited Ali as his own hero, naming his son after him.
I've been reading so many fine words on Ali this weekend by people who knew him far better than I.

All I can add is that America has lost one of its greatest.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Special Feature Marking Obama's Visit to Hiroshima

Since 1982, when I became the editor of Nuclear Times, I have perhaps written more words about the atomic bombings of 1945, and their aftermath for decades since, than anyone: in articles, in blog posts, in three books.  Spending a month in the two atomic cities was, of course, something of a formative experience.  A very small sampling of my writing on this subject sits below in this blog.  And here is a separate page at Pressing Issues that traces what I call the "atomic cover-up" of images since 1945.

Why Hiroshima Narrative Still Matters: Americans Still Liable to Back Use Again

And so President Obama has visited Hiroshima today, and as expected issued no apology for the use of the two atomic bombs in 1945, which killed 200,000, the vast majority women and children--and tens of thousands of Korean forced-laborers there.  Also as expected he called for an end to nuclear arsenals, down the road/   Somewhat surprisingly he hugged a survivor or two, which will probably get the right-wingers in the U.S. up in arms, hopefully not nuclear.  It was good that he mentioned the innocent Koreans we killed, along with our own POWs.

Naturally, the lead NY Times story does a poor job in putting this in context.  It falsely suggests that most of the survivors demand that apology when what most want are stronger assurances--and actions--that will prevent other nuclear attacks. (Obama, for all his talk today, is going ahead with "modernizing" our nuclear stockpiles.)  And it also suggests--by ignoring the opposing view--that most historians believe the bombings were justified and actually "saved" lives.  Actually most who have studied the subject deeply do not believe this.  Here's a new interview with Gar Alperovitz (I once appeared with him on the Larry King Show, sitting next to the pilot who dropped the bomb over Nagasaki).

I, too, did not expect and demands an "apology" from Obama today.  But what I would have found proper was a hint that  continuing to strongly defend the two bombings only makes it more likely that the U.S., or another nation, will indeed use the weapon again in the future--which he says he strongly opposes.

I've been writing about atomic/nuclear weapons and the first (and only) use of The Bomb in 1945 against civilians in war for almost 35 years now: literally hundreds of articles (from TV Guide to The New York Times)  and two books, Hiroshima in America--with Robert Jay Lifton--and Atomic Cover-up.   See the posts just below for my latest just last week after the announcement of President Obama's upcoming visit to Hiroshima.   That's my photo at left in Hiroshima on August 6, 1984.

I've covered a lot of ground, but part of the writing has focused on the case against dropping the two bombs, which killed over 200,000, the vast majority women and children.  Occasionally some has asked, "Okay, fine, but what does it matter today?"  I will reply:  Polls show that most Americans, and media commentators, still support the use of the bomb in 1945 (with historians more divided, as I've noted), and most American officials and all presidents have agreed.   So the lesson is:  the weapon can be used--even though most say "never again"--despite the promise of killing hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of civilians, and therefore it's more likely it will be used again.  A line against using the bomb has been the sand.

Yes, there were special circumstances in August 1945--Japan's brutality and a four-year world war--but one can easily imagine circumstances in the future that could be used to justify future use, including "saving lives" by forestalling an invasion.   As Obama observed today:  "How easily we learn to justify violence in the name of some higher cost."  And after mentioning the human toll in Hiroshima:   "Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering, but we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again."  Finally,  "That memory allows us to fight complacency. It fuels our moral imagination." 

And don't get me started on Nagasaki.  Obama should have gone there, too. 

So, here's a new piece, and poll, at the Wall Street Journal.   Offered a scenario today similar in some ways to the one in 1945--the U.S. is at war with Iran and faces a possible invasion of that country which might be forestalled if we drop a bomb on an Iranian city--six out of ten support the use of The Bomb.   That figure rises to 8 in 10 among Republicans--so, BernieorBust people who seem have little fear of Donald Trump's finger on the nuclear button, take notice.

Now, I have to wonder about the sample for this survey.  Oddly, only about 1 in 3 say our use against Japan in 1945 was justified.  That is easily the lowest number I have ever seen in such poll.  But maybe that is even scarier--for these same people  then turned around and supported use against Iran.  Think about it.   The article also cites a 2013 survey that found 19% back using nukes against al-Qaeda even if conventional bombing, they were told, would be just as effective.

And again:  see some of my pieces below on this blog. "Moral imagination" may one day enable Americans to throw off the shackles of the decades-long Hiroshima narrative that justifies the two atomic attacks.

When Truman Failed to Pause in 1945--and the War Crime That Followed

Today President Obama will become the first U.S. leader to visit Hiroshima while in office--but he will not be going on to sadly and long overlooked Nagasaki.  Here's why he should. 

By August 7, 1945, President Truman, while still at sea returning from Potsdam, had been fully briefed on the first atomic attack against a large city in Japan the day before.  In announcing it, he had labeled Hiroshima simply a "military base," but he knew better, and within hours of the blast he had been fully informed about the likely massive toll on civilians (probably 100,000), mainly women and children, as we had planned.  Despite this--and news that the Soviets, as planned, were about to enter the war against Japan--Truman did not order a delay in the use of the second atomic bomb to give Japan a chance to assess, reflect, and surrender.

After all, by this time, Truman (as recorded in his diary and by others) was well aware that the Japanese were hopelessly defeated and seeking terms of surrender--and he had, just two weeks earlier, written "Fini Japs" in his diary when he learned that the Russians would indeed attack around August 7.  Yet Truman, on this day, did nothing, and the second bomb rolled out, and would be used against Nagasaki, killing perhaps 90,000 more, only a couple hundred of them Japanese troops, on August 9.  That's why many who reluctantly support or at least are divided about the use of the bomb against Hiroshima consider Nagasaki a war crime--in fact, the worst one-day war crime in human history.

Below, a piece I wrote not long ago.  One of my books on the atomic bombings describes my visit to Nagasaki at length.
Few journalists bother to visit Nagasaki, even though it is one of only two cities in the world to "meet the atomic bomb," as some of the survivors of that experience, 68 years ago this week, put it.  It remains the Second City, and "Fat Man" the forgotten bomb. No one in America ever wrote a bestselling book called Nagasaki, or made a film titled Nagasaki, Mon Amour. "We are an asterisk," Shinji Takahashi, a sociologist in Nagasaki, once told me, with a bitter smile. "The inferior A-Bomb city."

Yet in many ways, Nagasaki is the modern A-Bomb city, the city with perhaps the most meaning for us today. For one thing, when the plutonium bomb exploded above Nagasaki it made the uranium-type bomb dropped on Hiroshima obsolete.

And then there's this. "The rights and wrongs of Hiroshima are debatable," Telford Taylor, the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, once observed, "but I have never heard a plausible justification of Nagasaki" -- which he labeled a war crime. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., who experienced the firebombing of Dresden at close hand, said much the same thing. "The most racist, nastiest act by this country, after human slavery, was the bombing of Nagasaki," he once said. "Not of Hiroshima, which might have had some military significance. But Nagasaki was purely blowing away yellow men, women, and children. I'm glad I'm not a scientist because I'd feel so guilty now."

A beautiful city dotted with palms largely built on terraces surrounding a deep harbor--the San Francisco of Japan -- Nagasaki has a rich, bloody history, as any reader of Shogun knows. Three centuries before Commodore Perry came to Japan, Nagasaki was the country's gateway to the west. The Portuguese and Dutch settled here in the 1500s. St. Francis Xavier established the first Catholic churches in the region in 1549, and Urakami, a suburb of Nagasaki, became the country's Catholic center. Thomas Glover, one of the first English traders here, supplied the modern rifles that helped defeat the Tokugawa Shogunate in the 19th century.

Glover's life served as a model for the story of Madame Butterfly, and Nagasaki is known in many parts of the world more for Butterfly than for the bomb. In Puccini's opera, Madame Butterfly, standing on the veranda of Glover's home overlooking the harbor (see left), sings, "One fine day, we'll see a thread of smoke arising.... " If she could have looked north from the Glover mansion, now Nagasaki's top tourist attraction, on August 9, 1945, she would have seen, two miles in the distance, a thread of smoke with a mushroom cap.

By 1945, Nagasaki had become a Mitsubishi company town, turning out ships and armaments for Japan's increasingly desperate war effort. Few Japanese soldiers were stationed here, and only about 250 of them would perish in the atomic bombing. It was still the Christian center in the country, with more than 10,000 Catholics among its 250,000 residents. Most of them lived in the outlying Urakami district, the poor part of town, where a magnificent cathedral seating 6000 had been built.

At 11:02 a.m. on August 9, 1945, "Fat Man" was detonated more than a mile off target, almost directly over the Urakami Cathedral, which was nearly leveled, killing dozens of worshippers waiting for confession. Concrete roads in the valley literally melted.

While Urakami suffered, the rest of the city caught a break. The bomb's blast boomed up the valley destroying everything in its path but didn't quite reach the congested harbor or scale the high ridge to the Nakashima valley. Some 35,000 perished instantly, with another 50,000 or more fated to die afterwards. The plutonium bomb hit with the force of 22 kilotons, almost double the uranium bomb's blast in Hiroshima.

If the bomb had exploded as planned, directly over the Mitsubishi shipyards, the death toll in Nagasaki would have made Hiroshima, in at least one important sense, the Second City. Nothing would have escaped, perhaps not even the most untroubled conscience half a world away.

Hard evidence to support a popular theory that the chance to "experiment" with the plutonium bomb was the major reason for the bombing of Nagasaki remains sketchy but still one wonders (especially when visiting the city, as I recount in my new book) about the overwhelming, and seemingly thoughtless, impulse to automatically use a second atomic bomb even more powerful than the first.

Criticism of the attack on Nagasaki has centered on the issue of why Truman did not step in and stop the second bomb after the success of the first to allow Japan a few more days to contemplate surrender before targeting another city for extinction. In addition, the U.S. knew that its ally, the Soviet Union, would join the war within hours, as previously agreed, and that the entrance of Japan's most hated enemy, as much as the Hiroshima bomb, would likely speed the surrender ("fini Japs" when the Russians declare war, Truman had predicted in his diary). If that happened, however, it might cost the U.S. in a wider Soviet claim on former Japanese conquests in Asia. So there was much to gain by getting the war over before the Russians advanced. Some historians have gone so far as state that the Nagasaki bomb was not the last shot of World War II but the first blow of the Cold War.

Whether this is true or not, there was no presidential directive specifically related to dropping the second bomb. The atomic weapons in the U.S. arsenal, according to the July 2, 1945 order, were to be used "as soon as made ready," and the second bomb was ready within three days of Hiroshima. Nagasaki was thus the first and only victim of automated atomic warfare.

In one further irony, Nagasaki was not even on the original target list for A-bombs but was added after Secretary of War Henry Stimson objected to Kyoto. He had visited Kyoto himself and felt that destroying Japan's cultural capital would turn the citizens against America in the aftermath. Just like that, tens of thousands in one city were spared and tens of thousands of others elsewhere were marked for death.

General Leslie Groves, upon learning of the Japanese surrender offer after the Nagasaki attack, decided that the "one-two" strategy had worked, but he was pleased to learn the second bomb had exploded off the mark, indicating "a smaller number of casualties than we had expected." But as historian Martin Sherwin has observed, "If Washington had maintained closer control over the scheduling of the atomic bomb raids the annihilation of Nagasaki could have been avoided." Truman and others simply did not care, or to be charitable, did not take care.

That's one reason the US suppressed all film footage shot in Nagasaki and Hiroshima for decades (which I probe in my book and ebook Atomic Cover-up).

After hearing of Nagasaki, however, Truman quickly ordered that no further bombs be used without his express permission, to give Japan a reasonable chance to surrender--one bomb, one city, and seventy thousand deaths too late. When they'd learned of the Hiroshima attack, the scientists at Los Alamos generally expressed satisfaction that their work had paid off. But many of them took Nagasaki quite badly. Some would later use the words "sick" or "nausea" to describe their reaction.

As months and then years passed, few Americans denounced as a moral wrong the targeting of entire cities for extermination. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, however, declared that we never should have hit Japan "with that awful thing." The left-wing writer Dwight MacDonald cited America's "decline to barbarism" for dropping "half-understood poisons" on a civilian population. His conservative counterpart, columnist and magazine editor David Lawrence, lashed out at the "so-called civilized side" in the war for dropping bombs on cities that kill hundreds of thousands of civilians.

However much we rejoice in victory, he wrote, "we shall not soon purge ourselves of the feeling of guilt which prevails among us.... What a precedent for the future we have furnished to other nations even less concerned than we with scruples or ideals! Surely we cannot be proud of what we have done. If we state our inner thoughts honestly, we are ashamed of it."

Greg Mitchell's books and ebooks include "Hollywood Bomb" and "Atomic Cover-Up: Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and The Greatest Movie Never Made." Email:

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Tragic 'Atomic Cover-up"

In August 1945,  the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs over two large Japanese cities, killing about 200,000 civilians (mainly women and children) and a few thousand troops.  An elite U.S. military film crew would shoot thousands of feet of then-rare color film footage in Japan.   It would then be suppressed by our own government for decades.  I've interviewed the man who directed the U.S. filming and one of his top colleagues who tried for decades to get the footage released.  They said that the film was hidden because it showed the truth about the true effects of the bomb (on people) and if shown widely might have stopped the arms race in its tracks.

The full story is told for the first time in my book and e-book:   Atomic Cover-Up:  Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki and The Greatest Movie Never Made (Sinclair Books).  This is a haunting account of how the shocking cover-up  extended to President Truman, other presidents and the U.S. media.   Footage shot by a Japanese newsreel team was also seized by the U.S. and buried.  See a brief video with some of the footage below.  David Friend of Vanity Fair calls it "a new work of revelatory scholarship and insight by Greg Mitchell that will speak to all of those concerned about the lessons of the nuclear age."

I've been writing about this subject for more than 30 years, driven by three facts: the U.S. still possesses 4400 nuclear warheads today and still has a "first-strike" policy; and nearly all of our top officials, and most in the media, continue to defend our use of the weapon in 1945, making it more likely they will be used again. 

Atomic Cover-up  takes a wide angle look at the use of the bomb in 1945--and its impact, other forms of official cover-up, and American opinion, right up to the present day.  You can buy the e-book edition for Kindle, all phones, Blackberry,  iPad, Macs and PCs (for just $3.99) via Amazon, and you do not need a Kindle.  Print edition also  available via Amazon.

And don't miss the wild Hollywood angle -- when the Truman White House censored the first major movie about The Bomb, from MGM, and even got the actor playing Truman fired!  It's the subject of my current e-book Hollywood Bomb

Why did the cover-up of the film footage matter?  While Americans were denied important truths about The Bomb -- filmed by their own military -- a costly nuclear arms race ensued, nuclear power became entrenched, and millions of Americans (and many soldiers) were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation in our own country.   Email me at:   The video trailer below. --G.M.

When Truman Opened the Nuclear Era With a Lie

When the shocking news emerged that morning, exactly 70  years ago, it took the form of a routine press release, a little more than 1,000 words long. President Harry S. Truman was in the middle of the Atlantic, returning from the Potsdam conference with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Shortly before 11 o’clock, an information officer from the Pentagon arrived at the White House carrying bundles of press releases. A few minutes later, assistant press secretary Eben Ayers started reading the announcement to about a dozen members of the Washington press corps.

In this way, on this day, President Truman informed the press, and the world, that America’s war against fascism—with victory over Germany already in hand—had culminated in exploding a revolutionary new weapon over a Japanese target.

The atmosphere was so casual, many reporters had difficulty grasping the announcement. “The thing didn’t penetrate with most of them,” Ayers later remarked. Finally, the journalists rushed to call their editors.

The first few sentences of the statement set the tone: “Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT.…The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold…. It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe.”

Truman’s four-page statement had been crafted with considerable care over many months, as my research at the Truman Library for two books on the subject made clear. With use of the atomic bomb rarely debated at the highest levels, an announcement of this sort was inevitable—if the new weapon actually worked.

Those who helped prepare the presidential statement—principally Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson—sensed that the stakes were high, for this marked the unveiling of both the atomic bomb and the official narrative of Hiroshima, which largely persists to this day. It was vital that this event be viewed as consistent with American decency and concern for human life.

And so, from its very first words, the official narrative was built on a lie, or at best a half-truth.

Hiroshima did contain an important military base, used as a staging area for Southeast Asia, where perhaps 25,000 troops might be quartered. But the bomb had been aimed not at the “Army base” but at the very center of a city of 350,000, with the vast majority women and children and elderly males (probably 30,000 children would die that day or in weeks and months that followed).

In fact, the two most important reasons Hiroshima had been chosen as our number-one target were: it had been relatively untouched by conventional bombs, meaning its large population was still in place and the bomb’s effects could be fully judged; and the hills which surround the city on three sides would have a “focusing effect” (as the target committee put it), increasing the bomb’s destructive force.

Indeed, a US survey of the damage, not released to the press, found that residential areas bore the brunt of the bomb, with less than 10 percent of the city’s manufacturing, transportation and storage facilities damaged.

There was something else missing in the Truman announcement: because the president in his statement failed to mention radiation effects, which officials knew would be horrendous, the imagery of just “a bigger bomb” would prevail for days in the press. Truman described the new weapon as “revolutionary” but only in regard to the destruction it could cause, failing to even mention its most lethal new feature: radiation.

In many ways, the same dangerous myth about nuclear weapons, first promoted by Truman, persists in the minds of many today: that any use of the more powerful weapons of today by a state (say, the United States or Israel) could be and would be targeted on strictly military enclaves or weapon sites, with little threat to thousands or millions living nearby.

Many Americans on August 6, 1945, heard the news from the radio, which broadcast the text of Truman’s statement shortly after its release. The afternoon papers carried banner headlines along the lines of: “Atom Bomb, World’s Greatest, Hits Japs!”

On the evening of August 9, Truman addressed the American people over the radio. Again he took pains to picture Hiroshima as a military base, even claiming that “we wished in the first attack to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians.” By then, an American B-29 had dropped a second atomic bomb over the city of Nagasaki, which killed tens of thousands of civilians and only a handful of Japanese troops (along with Allied prisoners of war). Nagasaki was variously described by US officials as a “naval base” or “industrial center.”

Greg Mitchel is the author of more than a dozen books, including Atomic Cover-Up (on the decades-long suppression of shocking film shot in the atomic cities by the US military) and Hollywood Bomb (the wild story of how an MGM 1947 drama was censored by the military and Truman himself).

When First U.S. Reporter Reached Nagasaki--and His Reports Suppressed

Update:   NPR's "On the Media" has re-posted their interview with me on the following to mark President Obama's visit to Hiroshima. 

Nagasaki, which lost over 70,000 civilians (and a few military personnel) to a new weapon 69 years ago, has always been The Forgotten A-Bomb City. No one ever wrote a bestselling book called Nagasaki, or made a film titled Nagasaki, Mon Amour. Yet in some ways, Nagasaki is the modern A-bomb city. For one thing, when the plutonium bomb exploded above Nagasaki it made the uranium-type bomb dropped on Hiroshima obsolete. In fact, if it had not exploded off-target, the death toll in the city would have easily topped the Hiroshima total.

But Nagasaki was "forgotten" from the very start, thanks to a blatant act of press censorship.

One of the great mysteries of the Nuclear Age was solved just a decade ago: What was in the censored, and then lost to the ages, newspaper articles filed by the first reporter to reach Nagasaki following the atomic attack on that city on Aug. 9, 1945.

The reporter was George Weller, the distinguished correspondent for the now-defunct Chicago Daily News. His startling dispatches from Nagasaki, which could have affected public opinion on the future of the bomb, never emerged from General Douglas MacArthur's censorship office in Tokyo. I wrote about this cover-up in the book Atomic Cover-up, along the suppression for decades of film footage shot in the two atomic cities by the U.S. military.

Carbon copies of the stories were found in 2003 when his son discovered them after the reporter's death. Four of them were published in 2005 for the first time by the Tokyo daily Mainichi Shimbun, which purchased them from the son, Anthony Weller. I was first to report on this in the United States.

The articles published in Japan (and later included in a book assembled by Anthony Weller, First Into Nagasaki) revealed a remarkable and wrenching turn in Weller's view of the aftermath of the bombing, which anticipates the profound unease in our nuclear experience ever since. "It was remarkable to see that shifting perspective," Anthony Weller told me.

An early article that George Weller filed, on Sept. 8, 1945 -- two days after he reached the city, before any other journalist -- hailed the "effectiveness of the bomb as a military device," as his son describes it, and made no mention of the bomb's special, radiation-producing properties.

But later that day, after visiting two hospitals and shaken by what he saw, he described a mysterious "Disease X" that was killing people who had seemed to survive the bombing in relatively good shape. A month after the atomic inferno, they were passing away pitifully, some with legs and arms "speckled with tiny red spots in patches."

The following day he again described the atomic bomb's "peculiar disease" and reported that the leading local X-ray specialist was convinced that "these people are simply suffering" from the bomb's unknown radiation effects.

Anthony Weller, a novelist, told me that it was one of great disappointments of his father's life that these stories, "a real coup," were killed by MacArthur who, George Weller felt, "wanted all the credit for winning the war, not some scientists back in New Mexico."

Others have suggested that the real reason for the censorship was the United States did not want the world to learn about the morally troubling radiation effects for two reasons: It aimed to avoid questions raised about the use of the weapon in 1945, or its wide scale development in the coming years. In fact, an official "coverup" of much of this information--involving print accounts, photographs and film footage--continued for years, even, in some cases, decades.

"Clearly," Anthony Weller told me of his father's reports, "they would have supplied an eyewitness account at a moment when the American people badly needed one."

The Scoop That Wasn't

How did George Weller get the scoop-that-wasn't?

After years of covering the Pacific war, Weller (left) arrived in Japan with the first wave of reporters and military in early September. He had already won a Pulitzer for his reporting in 1943. Appalled by MacArthur's censors, and "the conformists" in his profession who went along with strict press restrictions, he made his way, with permission, to the distant island of Kyushu to visit a former kamikaze base. But he noted that it was connected by railroad to Nagasaki. Pretending he was "a major or colonel," as his son put it, he slipped into the city (perhaps by boat) about three days before any of his colleagues, and just after Wilfred Burchett had filed his first report from Hiroshima.

Once arrived, Weller toured the city, the aid stations, the former POW camps (by some counts, more American POWs died from the A-bomb in Nagasaki than Japanese military personnel) and wrote numerous stories within days. According to his son, he managed to send the articles to Tokyo, not by wire, but by hand, and felt "that the sheer volume and importance of the stories would mean they would be respected" by MacArthur and his censors.

Although Weller did not express any outward disapproval of the use of the bomb, these stories -- and others he filed in the following two weeks from the vicinity -- would never see the light of the day, and the reporter lost track of his carbons. He would later summarize the experience with the censorship office in two words: "They won."

In the years that followed, Weller continued his journalism career, winning a George Polk award and other honors and covering many other conflicts. Neither the carbons nor the originals ever surfaced, before he passed away in 2002 at the age of 95. It was then that his son made a full search of the wildly disorganized "archives" at his father's home in Italy, and in 2003 found the carbons just 30 feet from his dad's desk.

And what a find: roughly 75 pages of stories, on fading brownish paper, that covered not only his first atomic dispatches but gripping accounts by prisoners of war, some of whom described watching the bomb go off on that fateful morning.

A 'Peculiar Weapon'

In the first article published by the Japanese paper, the first words from Weller were: "The atomic bomb may be classified as a weapon capable of being used indiscriminately, but its use in Nagasaki was selective and proper and as merciful as such a gigantic force could be expected to be." Weller described himself as "the first visitor to inspect the ruins."

He suggested about 24,000 may have died but he attributed the high numbers to "inadequate" air raid shelters and the "total failure" of the air warning system. He declared that the bomb was "a tremendous, but not a peculiar weapon," and said he spent hours in the ruins without apparent ill effects. He did note, with some regret, that a hospital and an American mission college were destroyed, but pointed out that to spare them would have also meant sparing munitions plants.

In his second story that day, however, following his hospital visits, he would describe "Disease X," and victims, who have "neither a burn or a broken limb," wasting away with "blackish" mouths and red spots, and small children who "have lost some hair."

A third piece, sent to MacArthur the following day, reported the disease "still snatching away lives here. Men, women and children with no outward marks of injury are dying daily in hospitals, some after having walked around three or four weeks thinking they have escaped.

"The doctors ... candidly confessed ... that the answer to the malady is beyond them." At one hospital, 200 of 343 admitted had died: "They are dead -- dead of atomic bomb -- and nobody knows why."
He closed this account with: "Twenty-five Americans are due to arrive Sept. 11 to study the Nagasaki bomb site. Japanese hope they will bring a solution for Disease X." To this day, that solution for the disease--and the threat of nuclear weapons--has still not arrived.

More on suppression of evidence from Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Atomic Cover-up.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Obama Breaks Mold, to Visit Hiroshima

Update, May 10, 2016:  President Obama announced today that he will become first president to visit Hiroshima while in office but will not apologize for U.S. using the bomb (nor has Hiroshima demanded this, even if warranted).

Secretary of State John Kerry toured the Hiroshima memorial sites last month and said:  .
“It is a stunning display. It is a gut-wrenching display,  It tugs at all of your sensibilities as a human being. It reminds everybody of the extraordinary complexity of choices in war and of what war does to people, to communities, to countries, to the world.”

UPDATE 2015:  Caroline, yes:  she is back. 

UPDATE 2014: Caroline Kennedy, the new ambassador,  did attend the memorial service in both cities.  Photo left as she lay wreath in Nagasaki today. 

UPDATE 2013:  Caroline Kennedy sworn in as new U.S. ambassador--and if the new tradition holds, she will represent America at the Hiroshima and Nagasaki memorial services next August.  Here father never got there, but she will.

Earlier: Sensitive to world opinion about the use of atomic weapons against Japan in 1945, no American president has ever visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki while in office. Except for Dwight D. Eisenhower, the former general, none of them has expressed any misgivings about the use of the bombs in 1945. Shortly after becoming president, however, Barack Obama took the surprising step of at least expressing a desire to go to the two cities.

Then, in 2011, for the first time, a US ambassador to Japan, John Roos, attended the annual August 6 commemoration in Hiroshima. And in 2011, for the first time ever, the United States sent an official representative to the annual memorial service in Nagasaki—the deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Tokyo, James P. Zumwalt. He read a statement from Obama expressing hope to work with Japan for a world without nuclear weapons, a goal the president expressed early in his term but has made little progress on achieving.  “I was deeply moved,” Zumwalt told reporters after attending the ceremony. “Japan and the United States have the common vision for a world free of nuclear weapons, so it is important that the two countries make efforts to realize it.”

Naturally, many conservatives accused Obama of "apologizing" for Truman dropping the bomb. 

This year, Roos will again attend the Hiroshima memorial--meaning this has truly become a new tradition, at least under this president.  Next year, it appears, Caroline Kennedy will do the honors, with her special link to a former president.

While many Japanese hail the US moves, some of the survivors of the bombing and their ancestors are skeptical. Katsumi Matsuo, who lost her mother in the attack, told the Mainichi Shimbun in 2011, “What is the point in him coming now, after 66 years? His visit will only be meaningful if it promotes a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Still, Obama has broken a sad record of total denial, which has accompanied the suppression of key evidence about the effects of the bombings (as chronicled in my new book and e-book Atomic Cover-up) dating back to the 1940s.

Of course, there was no way President Truman was going to make that visit, even telling an aide, after leaving the White House, that while he might meet with survivors of the bombing in the United States, he would “not kiss their asses.” President Eisenhower did not visit the atomic cities, but he famously expressed displeasure with the use of the bombs in 1945, saying we shouldn’t have hit Japan “with that awful thing.” Richard Nixon came to Hiroshima before becoming president.

Reflecting on the visit in a 1985 interview with Roger Rosenblatt, he said the bombings saved lives, but noted that General Douglas MacArthur had told him it was a “tragedy” that the weapon was used against “noncombatants.”

Jimmy Carter visited Hiroshima after leaving office but did not take part in any ceremony or comment afterward. Ronald Reagan also invoked the notion that the bombings actually saved lives. When protests from conservatives and some veterans groups caused first the censorship, then shutdown, of a full exploration of the atomic bombings at the Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC, in 1995, President Clinton backed the suppression.

So two cheers for Obama for at least marking what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Next step: an honest American reappraisal of the bombings and real progress on nuclear abolition.

Note: Last year, President Harry S Truman’s grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel, became the first kin of the president (son of his daughter) to step foot in one of the two cities he ordered destroyed in August 1945, killing over 200,000, the vast majority civilians. Four days before the annual commemoration, he toured the city and exhibits in the Peace Museum and met with survivors who seemed pleased, while pointing out they still held his granddad in low esteem.

Then on the morning of August 6--late on August 5 in the U.S.--he took part in the annual official ceremony in Hiroshima's Peace Park (which I attended back in1984). He told journalists that it was hard to listen to the tragic stories of the survivors but he was glad he did it to gain a wider appreciation of the effects (and in some cases, after-effects) of his grandfather's action. Japanese leaders made their annual pleas for antinuclear policies, with growing emphasis on the nuclear power aspects after the Fukushima disaster.

Daniel said he did not second-guess Truman’s decision, offering the usual bromides about no-good-decisions in war. He should be congratulated for at least making the trip, but his name might he Denial, not Daniel. Some no-good decisions are worse than others. 

My Book: "Hollywood Bomb"

This is a disturbing--if rollicking--tale that I've written about in brief but finally got to explore at length, and it's published in e-book form: Hollywood Bomb:  Harry S. Truman and the Unmaking of 'The Most Important' Movie Ever Made (Sinclair Books).  That's a poster for the 1947 MGM film at left, and you'll find the trailer below.  It's my 15th book, if you're keeping score at home, and can be read on iPads, Kindles, and so on, for just $2.99.

A film titled The Beginning or the End was to be, in the words of MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer, "the most important" movie ever made.  But that was before it was distorted, even censored, with President Truman playing a key role. Continuing the book blurb:

Hollywood Bomb traces the wild, and largely untold, episode from its start, just hours after the first atomic device was exploded over Hiroshima, Japan, in August 1945.  MGM was already trying to sew up exclusive rights to make the first celluloid epic about The Bomb.  A rival studio raced to catch up with a script written by...Ayn Rand.

Who provided the key source for MGM in early September 1945?  Young actress Donna Reed, whose high school science teacher had worked on the bomb project at Oak Ridge and now wanted to warn the world about its dangers. 

It seemed, for a time, that the big-budget MGM film would serve as a warning to mankind about the dangers of going too far down the nuclear path, with the potential to rally public opinion against The Bomb before it was too late to halt an arms race that would eventually bring 50,000 nuclear warheads into the world.  It even questioned Truman's decision to drop the bomb.

But that was before the making, and unmaking, of The Beginning or the End ended that chance, thanks in large part to intervention by the U.S. military and President Truman. At the White House, Truman even edited several versions of the script, deleting parts of his dialogue and adding distortions to buoy his decision to drop the bomb.   And, in what must have been a first for Hollywood, actors slated to play two presidents in the same movie were fired after protests—from a former First Lady (Eleanor Roosevelt) and from the sitting President (Truman).  My piece at The Nation elaborates. 

Also intimately involved in this lively, often amazing tale, was a colorful cast of supporting players, including (besides Ayn Rand):  Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, producer Hal Wallis, actors Donna Reed, Hume Cronyn and Brian Donlevy, Walter Lippmann,  and Cardinal Spellman, among others.  Once again, here's the link to Amazon.

My two previous books on this general subject were Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton) and Atomic Cover-up.  Here's the trailer.  A fake and dopey "Inquiring Reporter" format.

What Obama Must Visit: Inside a Mound in Hiroshima

In the northwestern corner of the Hiroshima Peace Park, amid a quiet grove of trees, the earth suddenly swells. It is not much of a mound -- only about ten feet high and sixty feet across. Unlike most mounds, however, this one is hollow, and within it rests perhaps the greatest concentration of human residue in the world.

Grey clouds rising from sticks of incense hang in the air, spookily. Tourists do not dawdle here. Visitors searching for the Peace Bell, directly ahead, or the Children's Monument, down the path to the right, hurry past it without so much as a sideways glance. Still, it has a strange beauty: a lump of earth (not quite lush) topped by a small monument that resembles the tip of a pagoda.

On one side of the Memorial Mound the gray wooden fence has a gate, and down five steps from the gate is a door. Visitors are usually not allowed through that door, but occasionally the city of Hiroshima honors a request from a foreign journalist.

Inside the mound the ceiling is low, the light fluorescent. One has to stoop to stand. To the right and left, pine shelving lines the walls. Stacked neatly on the shelves, like cans of soup in a supermarket, are white porcelain canisters with Japanese lettering on the front. On the day I visited, there were more than a thousand cans in all, explained Masami Ohara, a city official. Each canister contained the ashes of one person killed by the atomic bomb.

Behind twin curtains on either side of an altar, several dozen pine boxes, the size of caskets, were stacked, unceremoniously, from floor to ceiling. They hold the ashes of about 70,000 unidentified victims of the bomb. If, in an instant, all of the residents of Wilmington, Delaware, or Santa Fe, New Mexico, were reduced to ashes, and those ashes carried away to one repository, this is all the room the remains would require.

More than 100,000 in Hiroshima were killed by The Bomb, the vast majority of them women and children, plus elderly males.  Fewer than one in ten were in the military. 

Most of those who died in Hiroshima were cremated quickly, partly to prevent an epidemic of disease. Others were efficiently turned to ash by the atomic bomb itself, death and cremation occurring in the same instant. Those reduced by human hands were cremated on makeshift altars at a temple that once stood at the present site of the mound, one-half mile from the hypocenter of the atomic blast.

In 1946, an Army Air Force squad, ordered by Gen. Douglas MacArthur to film the results of the massive U.S. aerial bombardment of Japanese cities during World War II, shot a solemn ceremony at the temple, capturing a young woman receiving a canister of ashes from a local official. That footage, and all of the rest that they filmed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki revealing the full aftermath of the bombings, would be suppressed by the United States for decades (as I probe in my book Atomic Cover-Up).

Later that year, survivors of the atomic bombing began contributing funds to build a permanent vault at this site and, in 1955, the Memorial Mound was completed. For several years the collection of ashes grew because remains of victims were still being found. One especially poignant pile was discovered at an elementary school.

The white cans (that's my photo) on the shelves have stood here for decades, unclaimed by family members or friends. In many cases, all of the victims' relatives and friends were killed by the bomb. Every year local newspapers publish the list of names written on the cans, and every year several canisters are finally claimed and transferred to family burial sites. Most of the unclaimed cans (a total of just over 800 in 2010, for example) will remain in the mound in perpetuity, now that so many years have passed.

They are a chilling sight. The cans are bright white, like the flash in the sky over Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945. From all corners of the city the ashes were collected: the remains of soldiers, physicians, housewives, infants. Unclaimed, they at least have the dignity of a private urn, an identity, a life (if one were able to look into it) before death.

But what of the seventy thousand behind the curtains? The pine crates are marked with names of sites where the human dust and bits of bone were found -- a factory or a school, perhaps, or a neighborhood crematory. But beyond that, the ashes are anonymous. Thousands may still grieve for these victims but there is no dignity here. "They are all mixed together," said Ohara, "and will never be separated or identified." Under a mound, behind two curtains, inside a few pine boxes: This is what became of one-quarter of the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Hiroshima Tile

Seventy years ago this week, atomic scientist Leo Szilard wrote a petition that served as the final real effort to halt the momentum for the use of horrible new weapons against Japanese cities.  It would fail, of  course.  A month later, the U.S. would drop two atomic bombs over two large Japanese cities, killing about 200,000 civilians (mainly women and children) and a few thousand troops.

Every year at this time, I begin a "Hiroshima Countdown," re-tracing the fateful steps in the weeks leading up to the first use of atomic weapons against people and the immediately aftermath.

After I visited Hiroshima for more than two weeks in 1984 (and also Nagasaki) on a journalism grant I returned home with enough material, and inspiration, to write dozens of articles, and two books, over the following decades.  I also came home with a very tangible, haunting, artifact, given to me by one of my hosts:  a piece of a stone tile that once lined one of several branches of the Ota River that cuts through Hiroshima.  It had been in place there on August 6, 1945, and survived the atomic bombing--but was burned black on most of one side (indeed, the other side is unmarked).

That's a photo of it, still in my possession, at left.  Imagine the level of heat required to burn stone in this way. Then imagine deliberately exploding a new weapon, which also emitted deadly rays of radiation, directly over the center of a large city populated largely by women and children.

It's particularly haunting if you know that the rivers played a key role in the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing, as tens of thousands staggered there seeking comfort, only to end up boiled to death or simply succumbing to their wounds or radiation.  Thousands of bodies would bob on the river for days.  The tile, like so many of the victims, was burned black, an anonymous object like all the rest, only it cannot feel pain, and recall it.

Greg Mitchell's book Atomic Cover-up on the U.S. probes the suppression for decades film footage shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by our military film crew. 

The Photog and the Flash

Yoshito Matsushige, a photographer for the Chugoku Shimbun, took the only pictures in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, that have surfaced since. It was these five photos LIFE magazine published on September 29, 1952, hailing them as the "First Pictures - Atom Blasts Through Eyes of Victims," breaking the long media blackout on graphic images from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On August 6, 1945, Matsushige wandered around Hiroshima for ten hours, carrying one of the few cameras that survived the atomic bombing and two rolls of film with twenty-four possible exposures. This was no ordinary photo opportunity. He lined up one gripping shot after another but he could only push the shutter seven times. When he was done he returned to his home and developed the pictures in the most primitive way, since every dark room in the city, including his own, had been destroyed. Under a star-filled sky, with the landscape around him littered with collapsed homes and the center of Hiroshima still smoldering in the distance, he washed his film in a radiated creek and hung it out to dry on the burned branch of a tree.

Five of the seven images had survived, and they are all the world will ever know of what Hiroshima looked like on that day. Only Matsushige knows what the seventeen photos he didn't take would have looked like. Even more graphic film footage, remained hidden for decades (as I probe in my new book Atomic Cover-up).
Two of his pictures have been widely reprinted in magazines and books. In one, a ragged line of bomb victims sit along the side of Miyuki Bridge, two miles from ground zero, legs folded to their chests. It's hard to tell if it is torn clothing or skin that hangs from them in tatters. No one cries out. They simply stare at what lies across the bridge: a tornado of flame and smoke rushing toward the suburbs. The second picture is a tighter version of the first, focusing on a policeman and a few school girls standing in the center.

All of the figures in the two photos have their backs to the photographer and are staring at the approaching holocaust. Although many in these images no doubt died later, neither of these pictures shows a single corpse. Yet the two photos capture the horror of the atomic bombing better than any panoramic image of twisted buildings and rubble (and so, like the film footage, they had to be suppressed in America for many years). Perhaps that is because the people in Matsushige's pictures are feeling more than the lingering effects of the blast -- they are still experiencing the bomb itself. "Little Boy" has not yet finished with them or their city. The terror evident in the way the victims are standing or sitting in these grainy black and white photographs says more about the human response to the monstrous unknown than any Hollywood recreation.

And because the photographer has the same perspective as his victims we see what they see. We are on that road to Hiroshima, three hours after the bomb fell, staring into the black whirlwind.

The pictures are so affecting because ever since that day, all of us have, in a sense, been standing on that road to Hiroshima, alive but anxious, and peering into the distance at the smoke and firestorm.

When Matsushige, then retired came to meet me in an eighth-floor conference room at his old newspaper -- a small man, dapper in white shoes -- he explained that he could not take more photos that day because "it was so atrocious" and he was afraid burned and battered people "would be enraged if someone took their picture." He tried to capture more images but he could not "muster the courage" to press the shutter.

A few weeks later, the American military confiscated all of the post-bomb prints, just as they seized the Japanese newsreel footage, "but they didn't ask for the negatives," Matsushige said, grinning like a cat. These were the pictures that caused a stir worldwide when they appeared in Life seven years later.  No photographic images of Nagasaki taken on August 9 have survived.  And the U.S. suppressed film footage shot by our own military for decades.

"Sometimes I think I should have gathered my courage and taken more photos, but at other times I feel I did all I could do," he added. "I could not endure taking any more pictures that day. It was too heartbreaking." With that, Matsushige packed up his belongings, bowed deeply, and left the room, vibrant in straw hat, blue suit and bright white shoes, carrying in his arms a portfolio of pictures that are utterly unique, and must remain so.

Greg Mitchell's new book and e-book  is ""Atomic Cover-Up: Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and The Greatest Movie Never Made (Sinclair Books).

Thursday, May 19, 2016

When 'NYT' Reporter Was Chief A-Bomb Propagandist

At this late date, many are still surprised when they learn that a famous NYT reporter, William L. Laurence, was embedded with the Manhattan Project when it produced the first atomic bombs, and then produced numerous articles, starting on the day Hiroshima was hit, for the Times (widely published elsewhere) that were the main source of background info on the project and the bomb--and promoted both.  After the bombings, he would write articles, after a visit to the site of our bomb test at Trinity, that essentially pooh-poohed concerns about radiation danger.   It's an amazing story, and if you want more see my books Atomic Cover-up and (with Robert Jay Lifton) Hiroshima in America.

I'll just note now:  a month after the Nagasaki attack, the Times published Laurence's account (68 years ago next Monday) of his experience when he was allowed to go along on the Nagasaki bombing.  I'll let you read it all here--it helped him win a Pulitzer--but no the general glorification, references to the "genial" crew members, and so on.  Also this concise statement:  "Does one feel any pity or compassion for the poor devils about to die? Not when one thinks of Pearl Harbor and of the death march on Bataan."  Note:  Only a few dozen  Japanese troops were killed in the attack.  The majority of the 80,000 or more killed were women and children.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

New Public Editor and Iraq

UPDATE:   This is my piece from two years ago, moving it up at my blog because Liz Spayd has just been named new Public Editor at The New York Times to succeed the terrific Margaret Sullivan (who is going to the Post).   Frankly, I have not followed Spayd's work at CJR and cannot comment on that one way or the other.

Unlike a lot of media and political writers I am not one to let bygones be bygones, at least in a very few tragic or high stakes cases.  For example, the media failures in the run-up to the Iraq war, given the consequences.  This explains my reaction to the Columbia Journalism Review today announcing, after a widely-watched search, that it was hiring Liz Spayd of The Washington Post as its new editor.

Now, I suppose I should review her entire career, for context, though others are doing it and you can read about it in plenty of places.  She has been managing editor of the Post for years now and obviously supervised a good deal of important work (and some not so terrific, of course).  But I am moved to recall, and then let go,  one famous 2004 article, by Howard Kurtz, then media writer at the Post, which I covered at the time (when I was the editor of Editor & Publisher) and in my book on those media failures and Iraq, So Wrong for So Long.

In a nutshell:  The NYT, under Bill Keller, had printed as an editors' note  a very brief and very limited semi-apology for its horrific coverage during the run-up to the war.  The Post, almost equally guilty (see headline in photo), didn't even do that, leaving it to one of its reporters, i.e. Kurtz, to report it out.  His piece made the paper look pretty bad, with some embarrassing quotes from editor Len Downie, Bob Woodward and Karen DeYoung, among others.  And there was this passage about Spayd:
Liz Spayd, the assistant managing editor for national news, says The Post's overall record was strong.

"I believe we pushed as hard or harder than anyone to question the administration's assertions on all kinds of subjects related to the war. . . . Do I wish we would have had more and pushed harder and deeper into questions of whether they possessed weapons of mass destruction? Absolutely," she said. "Do I feel we owe our readers an apology? I don't think so."
In some ways, the "hero" of the Kurtz piece was Walter Pincus, the longtime national security who had tried to get more skeptical stories on Iraq WMD in the paper (or get them on the front-page).
But while Pincus was ferreting out information "from sources I've used for years," some in the Post newsroom were questioning his work. Editors complained that he was "cryptic," as one put it, and that his hard-to-follow stories had to be heavily rewritten.

Spayd declined to discuss Pincus's writing but said that "stories on intelligence are always difficult to edit and parse and to ensure their accuracy and get into the paper."
Michael Getler later reviewed his years as ombudsman at the Post from 2000 to 2005, and offered a strong critique of the role of the paper's editors in the Iraq WMD disaster. He observed:
I should say at this point the Post is an excellent paper, and it also did some excellent reporting before the war—more than you might think. But I also had a catbird seat watching it stumble and, while my observations are necessarily about the Post, they may be more broadly applicable. From where I sat, there were two newsroom failures, in particular, at the root of what went wrong with pre-war reporting. One was a failure to pay enough attention to events that unfolded in public, rather than just the exclusive stuff that all major newspapers like to develop. The other was a failure of editors and editing up and down the line that resulted in a focus on getting ready for a war that was coming rather than the obligation to put the alternative case in front of readers in a prominent way. This resulted in far too many stories, including some very important ones, being either missed, underplayed, or buried.
Gelter chronicles the many important stories the Post either did not cover or buried deep inside the paper (including reports on large antiwar marches).   Then he adds:
Here’s a brief sampling of additional Post headlines that, rather stunningly, failed to make the front of the newspaper: “Observers: Evidence for War Lacking,” “U.N. Finds No Proof of Nuclear Program,” “Bin Laden-Hussein Link Hazy,” “U.S. Lacks Specifics on Banned Arms,” “Legality of War Is a Matter of Debate,” and “Bush Clings to Dubious Allegations About Iraq.” In short, it wasn’t the case that important, challenging reporting wasn’t done. It just wasn’t highlighted.
Of course, Liz Spayd was just one of a group of editors and hardly deserves full blame for the Post's performance.  But she did defend that record afterward--and said no apology was needed. 

Baseball at Ground Zero

Excerpt from my book, "Atomic Cover-up."

After more than a week in Hiroshima, it was time for the ultimate evening escape for a baseball fan: a Hiroshima Toyo Carp game. At my request, the foundation sponsoring my month-long research trip to Hiroshima and Nagasaki had secured seats for the visiting journalists right behind home plate, about eight feet from the screen. Naturally a TV crew came along to catch our reaction, or perhaps the Japanese fans' reaction to us.

Thanks to my interviews with Sadaharu Oh and Roy White (the former Yankees star who then went to the Tokyo Giants) a few years back, I knew quite a bit about Japanese baseball. It had been around for at least half a century. One of the U.S. military team that I write about in my new book Atomic Cover-up  told me he filmed boys playing ball in the atomic ruins (the footage was suppressed for decades). Hiroshima's stadium was a somewhat ramshackle, single-level shell, about the size of a Triple A park in my country. Its location: directly across from ground zero, no more than a couple of home runs away.

Taking a seat at the stadium proved unnerving. For one thing, the A-Bomb Dome loomed over the third base rim of the stadium, a reminder that this ball field was once a killing field. Then there were the fans, laughing and pointing at us: Look at the Americans watching the American pastime in Hiroshima (of all places). The irony was so thick you could cut it with a ... bat.

To welcome its first pro team, Hiroshima erected the stadium in the early 1950s. The mayor hoped baseball would "revitalize the spirit of Hiroshima," and make the citizens forget what had happened on August 6, 1945, four decades before my visit.  Yet he built the stadium 300 yards from the epicenter of the atomic explosion.

There was no evidence that the fans felt particularly uncomfortable in this setting. A majority of adults in this city were survivors of the bomb, or lost parents that day, or were related to hibakusha, yet thousands come to this spot where so many perished to drink beer and cheer. Among the players they applauded were hired mercenaries from the country that dropped the bomb on their relatives (or themselves).

Out of guilt or uneasiness, I found myself cheering loudly for the Carp, as if this could somehow compensate for the decision to drop the bomb. Still, this was once a killing field, and any fan raising his or her eyes could see that spot in the sky where the bomb went off.

For a baseball fan from New York, it was hard to enjoy the game. At Yankee Stadium you get a screeching subway; at the Mets' home field, jumbo jets from LaGuardia. At Hiroshima Stadium, for decades, you got the A-bomb Dome over your shoulder. It is often said that the ghosts of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig haunt Yankee Stadium. One did not want to think too deeply, especially at a baseball game, about the apparition potential at Hiroshima Stadium.

There is this postscript: A new baseball stadium for the Carp, located closer to Hiroshima Station than the A-Bomb Dome, opened in 2009. Naming rights were purchased by Mazda, whose main auto plant for Japan is located on the outskirts of the city. (It was only partly destroyed in 1945, as I learned in a visit there.) The formal name for the new structure is the Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

As Obama Agrees to Go Hiroshima: A Protest Letter for Another President

Earlier I published an excerpt from my new book, Hollywood Bomb: The Unmaking of 'The Most Important' Movie Ever Made, on Ayn Rand writing a rival pro-nuclear script for a rival studio.  Here's another excerpt, about what happened after President Truman objected to a scene in the MGM film on The Bomb, and ordered revisions.

A bizarre, and revealing, postscript to President Truman's involvement with The Beginning or the End was provided by Roman Bohnen, the actor who portrayed Truman in the original sequences. Bohnen, a 51-year-old character actor, had appeared in such well-known movies as Of Mice and Men, The Song of Bernadette, and A Bell for Adano.

Learning of the need for a re-take, following the White House critiques, Bohnen on December 2, 1946, wrote the President a polite, but slyly critical letter.   He noted the President's concerns about the depiction of his decision to “send the atom bomb thundering into this troubled world,”  adding that he could "well imagine the emotional torture you must have experienced in giving that fateful order, torture not only then, but now—perhaps even more so."  So he could “understand your wish that the scene be re-filmed in order to do fuller justice to your anguished deliberation in that historic moment.”

Then he offered a suggestion. People would be talking about his decision for a hundred years, he observed, "and posterity is quite apt to be a little rough" on Truman "for not having ordered that very first atomic bomb to be dropped outside of Hiroshima [his emphasis]with other bombs poised to follow, but praise God never to be used."

His suggestion: Truman should play himself in the film! If he believed in his decision so strongly why not re-enact it himself?

"If I were in your difficult position," Bohnen wrote, "I would insist on so doing. Unprecedented, yes--but so is the entire circumstance, including the unholy power of that monopoly weapon." Perhaps to show that he was serious about all this, Bohnen indicated that he was sending a copy of the letter to Louis B. Mayer.

Ten days later, Truman responded warmly, apparently missing (or ignoring) Bohnen's sarcasm. He thanked the actor for his suggestion that he play himself but admitted that he didn't have "the talent to be a movie star" and expressed confidence that Bohnen would do him justice. Truman then took time to defend in some detail the decision to use the bomb, revealing much more about his emotional attitude than he usually did.

The President explained that what he had objected to in the film was that it pictured his decision as a "snap judgment," while in reality "it was anything but that." After the weapon was tested, and the Japanese given "ample warning," the bomb was used against two cities "devoted almost exclusively to the manufacturer of ammunition and weapons of destruction."  (A complete lie.)

“I have no qualms about it whatever for the simple reason that it was believed the dropping of not more than two of these bombs would bring the war to a close. The Japanese in their conduct of the war had been vicious and cruel savages and I came to the conclusion that if two hundred and fifty thousand young Americans could be saved from slaughter the bomb should be dropped, and it was.

"As I said before," Truman concluded, "the only objection to the film was that I was made to appear as if no consideration had been given to the effects of the result of dropping the bomb—that is an absolutely wrong impression."  There is nothing on the historical record, or in Truman’s letters and diaries, however, to indicate that he did give strong consideration to the human toll in the Japanese cities, the release of radiation--or letting the nuclear genie out of the bottle.

For whatever reason, MGM replaced Bohnen in the re-takes with a slightly younger actor, who was instructed to portray Truman with more of a "military bearing" (a revealing suggestion in itself). Did Truman or someone at the White House demand that Bohnen be replaced after reading his note to Truman?  (This seems likely.) Did Louis B. Mayer drop him after seeing a copy of the letter sent to him by Bohnen?  Or did a conflicted Bohnen simply quit?

In any event, when The Beginning or the End was finally readied for release, the actor playing the President in the pivotal scene was Art Baker, who portrays the peppy, salt-of-the-earth Truman as magisterial and aristocratic: in other words, as a worthy successor to Franklin Roosevelt.  Baker wrote to Charlie Ross on January 7, 1947, revealing that he’d been picked to play the president in the re-take—and then expressing warm feelings for Truman.

For much more, see Hollywood Bomb.

True Nature of Trump Supporters

If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times from the mainstream media:  Most of Donald Trump's supporters are not fringe people, they are just angry, disaffected workers afraid for their jobs and standard of living and blah blah blah.  This is said despite what polls have consistently shown about the beliefs of the majority of them.  Now a new PPP poll finds that 65% of those with a favorable view of Trump believe that Clinton is a Muslim and only 13% feel he is Christian.  And:
59% think President Obama was not born in the United States, only 23% think that he was   --27% think vaccines cause autism, 45% don't think they do, another 29% are not sure. --24% think Antonin Scalia was murdered, just 42% think he died naturally, another 34% are unsure.
The polls also finds Trump narrowing gap on Hillary's lead. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Best of Townes

I've wanted to do this for awhile, so why not now?   As we mark anniversary of his tragic death.   Some of us--a few of us--consider the late great Townes Van Zandt one of the great American songwriters ever (and great American fuck-up).  You may have heard of him, or not.  You may have heard one or more of his songs, or not (or more likely heard them, even in True Detective, and not known it was by him).  So here's what I consider his greatest, in no order, both his versions or great covers of his songs by others.