The chief message to journalists: Don't give up.
If I were in charge of reading lists for journalism students, this would be on it, a story within a story of how a civilization was decimated by the atomic bomb, and how the people bombed lived to tell about it.
Which they did to John Hersey, reporter and novelist who won the Pulitzer Prize for A Bell for Adano, his first novel, the year before the bomb was dropped.
Lesley M. M. Blume's Fallout: The Hiroshima Coverup and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World (2020) follows Mr. Hersey's account of his interviews with six bomb victims and the secret production of the story in the New Yorker which published the report in a 31,000 word issue, the first time it devoted its entire issue to a single topic.
In the article which came out a little more than a year after the bomb dropped, Mr. Hersey describes the U.S. government's efforts to withhold the effects.
The story portrayed for the first time, Japanese as human beings, like me and you, ordinary people (p. 127). Until the story, Americans resisted considering their enemy across the sea as anything but murderers intent on destroying their nation. But the bomb drop on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 shattered the lives of civilians, children, families, people.First atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan by B-29 superfortresses on August 6, 1945. Title from item. "Official photograph furnished by Headquarters, A.A.F. AC/AS-2"--stamped on back of print. "If published credit U.S. Army, A.A.F. photo"--stamped on back of print. Photo number: A-58914 AC. Forms part of the National Committee on Atomic Information records at the Library of Congress. PR 13 CN 1995:068 (1 AA size box)
Ms. Blum describes Mr. Hersey's three weeks in Japan interviewing survivors who became the focus of his article. How he got there and got "in" Hiroshima are important pieces of the story's puzzle.
His collaboration with the New Yorker's co-founder, Harold Ross, and an editor, William Shawn, were so secret, they kept the subject hidden from the magazine's staff who wondered about content missing for the next edition.
Two other journalists had earlier written about Hiroshima, but their reports were dismissed, although their reporting led to a requirement that reporters must be accompanied by an official.
Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett ridiculed "housetrained reporters" who simply wrote what the U.S. government wished (p. 30).
Worried about the U.S. military's response to the article, the New Yorker's trio passed it pre-publication for muster to Leslie Groves, the director of the Manhattan Project which developed the bomb. Surprisingly, with slight edits, he okayed it.
Tormented throughout his work, Hersey was horrified that a single bomb could cause so much destruction (p. 72).
One of the victims described eyes which melted, the liquid flowing down what used to be faces on people still alive.
Many ran naked through the streets.
Skin peeled off.
A baby choked on dirt swallowed in a collapsed house. The mother refused to relinquish her child's decomposing body for days (p. 85).
To escape the fires, some jumped into one of Hiroshima's seven rivers where bodies of massacred victims floated (p. 92).
Civilians appeared "like a procession of ghosts," one survivor told Mr. Hersey (p. 84).
Of 300 doctors in Hiroshima, 270 died or were wounded; nurses lost 1,654 of their 1,780 to death or injury (p. 89).
By November 30, 1945 the death count reached 78,000 with 14,000 people still missing.
Burned legs show the effects of atomic bombs on people who survived.Otis Historical Archives of “National Museum of Health & Medicine” (OTIS Archive 1)/Creative Commons, Wikipedia.
Partially incinerated child in Nagasaki. Photo from Japanese photographer Yōsuke Yamahata, one day after the blast and building fires had subsided. Once the American forces had Japan under military control, they imposed censorship on all such images including those from the conventional bombing of Tokyo which prevented the distribution of Yamahata's photographs. These restrictions were lifted in 1952 http://www.noorderlicht.com/en/archive/yosuke-yamahata/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66792817.
On a press tour of facilities in New Mexico, Lieutenant General Groves told reporters that the number of Japanese who died from radiation was "very small" (p. 45) and that Hiroshima was "essentially radiation-free" (p. 46).
Speaking to the Senate Special Committee on Atomic Energy, he quoted doctors who said death by radiation "is a very pleasant way to die" (p. 47). Mr. Groves had no apologies for the bomb drop, unlike some scientists who showed misgivings (p. 146).
The day after Victory over Japan was declared on August 14, 1945, a poll showed the majority of Americans approved the bombings, and almost 25% said they wished America had bombed more (p. 24).
After the story was published, the eyewitness subjects applauded Mr. Hersey's acuity in retelling their lives.
The article was printed as a book, Hiroshima, which became a worldwide phenomenon which has never gone out of print, selling three million copies and available in several languages. At publication it was picked up by 500 radio stations, including the BBC, and thrust Mr. Hersey into the limelight, a position he resisted.
The welcome epilogue brings the reader up-to-date with key characters, but a glossary of them would have amplified the content and made it easier to follow, a wish I have for most books I read.
This is a small book with an index of almost 100 pages which consumes almost a third of the total pages. I wished for more research, a longer book with additional "behind-the-scenes" descriptions.
Still, a book to be reckoned with and acknowledged as another chapter in America's gruesome past.