The Great Hiroshima Cover-Up

Published on Huffington Post, by Greg Mitchell, 06 August, 2009.

In the weeks following the atomic attacks on Japan 64 years ago, and then for decades afterward, the United States engaged in airtight suppression of all film shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings. This included footage shot by U.S. military crews and Japanese newsreel teams. In addition, for many years, all but a handful of newspaper photographs were seized or prohibited.

The public did not see any of the newsreel footage for 25 years, and the U.S. military film remained hidden for nearly four decades. I first probed the coverup back in 1983 in Nuclear Times magazine (where I was editor), and developed it further in later articles and in my 1995 book with Robert Jay Lifton, Hiroshima in America and in a 2005 documentary Original Child Bomb. 

As editor of Nuclear Times in the early 1980s, I met Herbert Sussan, one of the members of the U.S. military film crew, and Erik Barnouw, the famed documentarian who first showed some of the Japanese footage on American TV in 1970. In fact, that newsreel footage might have disappeared forever if the Japanese filmmakers had not hidden one print from the Americans in a ceiling …

… The Suppression Begins

While all this was going on, the Japanese newsreel team was completing its work of editing and labeling all their black and white footage into a rough cut of just under three hours. At this point, several members of Japanese team took the courageous step of ordering from the lab a duplicate of the footage they had shot before the Americans took over the project.

Director Ito later said: “The four of us agreed to be ready for 10 years of hard labor in the case of being discovered.” One incomplete, silent print would reside in a ceiling until the Occupation ended.

The negative of the finished Japanese film, nearly 15,000 feet of footage on 19 reels, was sent off to the U.S. in early May 1946. The Japanese were also ordered to include in this shipment all photographs and related material. The footage would be labeled SECRET and not emerge from the shadows for more than 20 years.

The following month, McGovern was abruptly ordered to return to the U.S. He hauled the 90,000 feet of color footage, on dozens of reels in huge footlockers, to the Pentagon and turned it over to General Orvil Anderson. Locked up and declared top secret, it did not see the light of day for more than 30 years.

McGovern would be charged with watching over it. Sussan would become obsessed with finding it and getting it aired …

… The 50th anniversary of the bombing drew extensive print and television coverage – and wide use of excerpts from the McGovern/Sussan footage – but no strong shift in American attitudes on the use of the bomb.

Then, in 2003, as adviser to a documentary film, Original Child Bomb, I urged director Carey Schonegevel to draw on the atomic footage as much as possible. She not only did so but also obtained from McGovern’s son copies of home movies he had shot in Japan while shooting the official film.

Original Child Bomb went on to debut at the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival, win a major documentary award, and debut on the Sundance cable channel. After 60 years at least a small portion of that footage reached part of the American public in the unflinching and powerful form its creators intended. Americans who saw were finally able to fully judge for themselves what McGovern and Sussan were trying to accomplish in shooting the film, why the authorities felt they had to suppress it, and what impact their footage, if widely aired, might have had on the nuclear arms race – and the nuclear proliferation that plagues, and endangers, us today. (full long text).

(Greg Mitchell is the editor of E&P and co-author of “Hiroshima in America.” His latest book is “Why Obama Won.” His email).

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