On September 2, 1945, Australian war reporter Wilfred Burchett left Tokyo by train, intent on reaching distant Hiroshima before any of his journalistic colleagues, who were banned from taking such a trip by the American occupation chief, Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
The reporter pulled out his typewriter and, sitting on a chunk of
rubble near the hypocenter of the blast, composed his historic article,
detailing the new disease, and commenting, “I write these facts as
dispassionately as I can in the hope that they will act as a warning to
This part of the story is, by now, pretty well known. What happened
next is not: the real beginning of the decades of suppression I detail
in my new book and ebook, Atomic Cover-Up.
As Burchett was finishing his story, a group of journalists arrived
on an Air Force plane, with a censor in tow. Included were the
celebrated Bill Lawrence of the New York Times and Homer Bigart of the New York Herald-Tribune. Burchett told them to forget about the rubble, “the story is in the hospitals.”
They were not happy to find Burchett already there and with a
finished article. He asked them to carry the story back to Tokyo and
transmit it to his paper. They refused. Burchett managed to transmit his
story to a colleague in Tokyo, who sneaked it past the censors, and it
ran on September 5 on the front page of the London Daily Express, under the headline the atomic plague.
Articles written by the American reporters who had landed in
Hiroshima gave no evidence that they had visited the hospitals. Yet
Lawrence, years later in his memoirs, revealed, “We talked with dying
Japanese in the hospitals.” Were those stories censored by MacArthur’s
people? Lawrence also disclosed that MacArthur was “hopping mad” about
the press junket and cut off supplies of gasoline to planes that might
make another journo trip possible. Then he ordered all American
reporters out of Tokyo to a closely watched enclave in Yokohama.
Meanwhile, the first American reporter to reach Nagasaki, George
Weller, had found a similar “plague” in that city, but made the mistake of filing his stories directly through MacArthur’s office. All of the
pieces would be spiked, only appearing for the first time in 2005.
the story doesn’t end there. Back in Tokyo, General Thomas Farrell, who
was directing the post-bomb official studies, held a press conference
and categorically denied reports of (a) 70,000 to 100,000 killed in the
atomic cities and (b) any kind of lingering radiation sickness. Suddenly
Wilfred Burchett showed up, ill and unwashed, and told Farrell he was
sadly misinformed. Farrell replied that Burchett had “fallen victim to
When the briefing broke up, Burchett was taken to a hospital, where
it was discovered that his white blood cell count was below normal.
Then, on leaving the hospital a few days later, he discovered that his
camera containing film shot in Hiroshima was missing—and that MacArthur
had ordered him expelled from Japan.
For much more on censorship and suppression of words and images--and key film footage shot by our own military--in the decades that followed, see my book Atomic Cover-Up. And my e-book on how the first Hollywood epic, from MGM, on the bomb was censored--including by President Truman himself.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
First Reporter to Reach Hiroshima Exposed 'The Atomic Plague'
is author of a dozen books (click on covers at right), including the new "THE TUNNELS: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill." He was the longtime editor of Editor & Publisher. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @GregMitch