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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Oh, Those Japanese A-Bombs!

Another excerpt from my book, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, coming on July 7.  Here on the MGM movie, the first on the atomic bomb: 

The script was adapted to emphasize the desire to portray the atomic attack in a heroic way, and as one absolutely necessary to save America from meeting the same fate. FDR now claims that his psychological warfare experts told him that the “Japs will fight right down to the women and children.” Now the "light flak" greeting the American bombers near Hiroshima--already an enormously revealing falsehood--has been transformed into "heavy flak." Even worse, when purely fictional Japanese fighter planes approach the Enola Gay, they are so close (in the movie) that the Americans need to return fire! The accident that dooms Matt Cochran’s life now occurs before Hiroshima, as he arms that bomb, not in the run-up to Nagasaki. This enabled the script to totally eliminate any depiction of the even more questionable second bomb. 

Even more revealing was the addition of two new, fictionalized, warnings about the Japanese obtaining atomic weapons to greet a U.S. invasion. One of them had Roosevelt musing, “Our latest intelligence worried me . . . the Japs may have atomic weapons before we do.”  Gen. Groves, as before, claims the half million U.S. death toll in an invasion will climb horribly if the Japanese greet the Allies with atomic bombs. But now, when a top U.S. military adviser warns, “The Germans have sent many atomic experts and materials to Japan by submarine,” all of those in the room “are shocked” (a sentiment that would have been shared by any serious historian, since nothing of the sort ever happened). The adviser continues, “We’re slapping down every sub that shows its nose, but some are bound to get through!” 

This desperate rewriting of the script, and history, culminated in the wildest scene yet, adding an element of unintentional black humor to the script. 

The setting: a cove near Tokyo very late in the war. Japanese sailors and scientists gaze off over the water with binoculars . . . and spot a submarine surfacing. A Nazi officer with his aides soon comes ashore. He is accompanied by a Dr. Schmidt, Germany’s leading atomic scientist. Professor Okani, a Japanese physicist, greets him, then tells his colleagues that Schmidt has brought uranium “and everything else we will need.” The Japanese have “factories, men and materials” ready for Schmidt to use to make his bomb. 

Schmidt says the only reason Hitler didn’t get the A-bomb first was because the German labs could not be protected from Allied bombs, but here on Japan “it will be different.” A Nazi officer booms: “Yes! We are not defeated. We can sink the enemy fleet, wipe out their men and bases and begin to fight our way back to Axis victory.” He adds: “Heil Hitler!” The Japanese respond, “Banzai Nippon!” 

And then the kicker. “We have prepared a fine laboratory for you,” Okani tells the Germans, “at our new Army Headquarters in . . . Hiroshima.”

This scene proved to be too much for even Groves to accept, and it would be deleted from the script. Nearly all of the other falsifications remained, however.

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