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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Hiroshima Photographer--Whose Photos Were Suppressed--Dies at 94


Note:  I wrote this back in late-May 2013.  Today marks the 68 anniversary of the day he arrived in Hirohsima, and the cover-up began.

Wayne Miller has passed away at the age of 94.  That name surely means nothing to you, even if I add, "Photographer." Even I didn't know the name--and I  am a student of the atomic bombing of Japan and its aftermath.  Miller was among the first group of Americans to arrive in Hiroshima about a month after the bombing, in early September, 1945.  He was a Navy man attached to the official wartime photography unit (and took some memorable shots earlier), and made his way to the atomic city by train--see his Oral History here--and snapped a few pictures in a handful of locations, then left.

Few of those pictures were ever published in the months and years to come--and the ones that were focused on damaged buildings and devastated landscapes.  But he had also visited a makeshift medical facility in a battered bank building (all of the hospitals in the city had been destroyed)  and he took striking pictures there of victims of the bombing suffering from massive burns, the new-to-the-world "keloid" scarring from the atomic flash, and also the new and frightening "A-bomb disease" (slow death from exposure to radiation).  But due to strict and long-running postwar military censorship, then press cowardice, Americans were not allowed to see any of these types of images, in photos or in film, for years or in many cases, decades, while the nuclear arms race ensued and the decision to drop the bomb was stoutly defended, setting a precedent for future use.  In that oral history, Miller disclosed that two rolls of color film that he shot simply disappeared and he didn't see other photos published.

I tell the full story in my book Atomic Cover-Up, which covers the suppression of photos but mainly the historic film footage shot by a special U.S. military team that showed, in color, the human effects of the bomb--but was kept hidden for decades, even as one of the veterans who made the film tried to get it released.  Some of that footage below. 

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