As noted yesterday, President Truman's announcement to the nation--in which he carefully IDed Hiroshima only as a "military base," not a large city--broke the news of both the invention of an atomic bomb and its first use in war. By that evening, radio commentators were weighing in with observations that often transcended Truman's announcement, suggesting that the public imagination was outrunning the official story. Contrasting emotions of gratification and anxiety had already emerged. H.V. Kaltenhorn warned, "We must assume that with the passage of only a little time, an improved form of the new weapon we use today can be turned against us."
It wasn't until the following morning, Aug. 7, that the government's
press offensive appeared, with the first detailed account of the making
of the atomic bomb, and the Hiroshima mission. Nearly every U.S.
newspaper carried all or parts of 14 separate press releases distributed
by the Pentagon several hours after the president's announcement. They
carried headlines such as: "Atom Bombs Made in 3 Hidden Cities" and "New
Many of them written by one man: W.L. Laurence, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times,
"embedded" with the atomic project. General Leslie Groves, military
director of the Manhattan Project, would later reflect, with
satisfaction, that "most newspapers published our releases in their
entirety. This is one of the few times since government releases have
become so common that this has been done."
The Truman announcement of the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, and
the flood of material from the War Department, firmly established the
nuclear narrative. It would not take long, however, for breaks in the
official story to appear.
At first, journalists had to follow where the Pentagon led. Wartime
censorship remained in effect, and there was no way any reporter could
reach Hiroshima for a look around. One of the few early stories that did
not come directly from the military was a wire service report filed by a
journalist traveling with the president on the Atlantic, returning from
Europe. Approved by military censors, it went beyond, but not far
beyond, the measured tone of the president's official statement. It
depicted Truman, his voice "tense with excitement," personally informing
his shipmates about the atomic attack. "The experiment," he announced,
"has been an overwhelming success."
The sailors were said to be "uproarious" over the news. "I guess I'll
get home sooner now," was a typical response. Nowhere in the story,
however, was there a strong sense of Truman's reaction. Missing from
this account was his exultant remark when the news of the bombing first
reached the ship: "This is the greatest thing in history!"
On Guam, weaponeer William S. Parsons and Enola Gay pilot Paul
Tibbets calmly answered reporters' questions, limiting their remarks to
what they had observed after the bomb exploded. Asked how he felt about
the people down below at the time of detonation, Parsons said that he
experienced only relief that the bomb had worked and might be "worth so
much in terms of shortening the war."
Almost without exception newspaper editorials endorsed the use of the
bomb against Japan. Many of them sounded the theme of revenge first
raised in the Truman announcement. Most of them emphasized that using
the bomb was merely the logical culmination of war. "However much we
deplore the necessity," the Washington Post observed, "a
struggle to the death commits all combatants to inflicting a maximum
amount of destruction on the enemy within the shortest span of time."
The Post added that it was "unreservedly glad that science put this new weapon at our disposal before the
end of the war."
Referring to American leaders, the Chicago Tribune
commented: "Being merciless, they were merciful." A drawing in the same
newspaper pictured a dove of peace flying over Japan, an atomic bomb in