“Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World”

A secondary theme in the book is the role of a free press.  Blume observes that “Hersey and his New Yorker editors created `Hiroshima’ in the belief that journalists must hold accountable those in power.  They saw a free press as essential to the survival of democracy.”  She does, too.

Review: Lesley Blume’s “Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World”, Portside,  June 1, 2021 Lawrence Wittner  In this crisply written, well-researched book, Lesley Blume, a journalist and biographer, tells the fascinating story of the background to John Hersey’s pathbreaking article “Hiroshima,” and of its extraordinary impact upon the world.

In 1945, although only 30 years of age, Hersey was a very prominent war correspondent for Time magazine—a key part of publisher Henry Luce’s magazine empire………..

Blume reveals that, at the time of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Hersey felt a sense of despair—not for the bombing’s victims, but for the future of the world.  He was even more disturbed by the atomic bombing of Nagasaki only three days later, which he considered a “totally criminal” action that led to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

…………. Blume shows very well how this approval of the atomic bombing was enhanced by U.S. government officials and the very compliant mass communications media.  Working together, they celebrated the power of the new American weapon that, supposedly, had brought the war to an end, producing articles lauding the bombing mission and pictures of destroyed buildings.  What was omitted was the human devastation, the horror of what the atomic bombing had done physically and psychologically to an almost entirely civilian population—the flesh roasted off bodies, the eyeballs melting, the terrible desperation of mothers digging with their hands through the charred rubble for their dying children.

The strange new radiation sickness produced by the bombing was either denied or explained away as of no consequence.  “Japanese reports of death from radioactive effects of atomic bombing are pure propaganda,” General Leslie Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project, told the New York Times.  Later, when, it was no longer possible to deny the existence of radiation sickness, Groves told a Congressional committee that it was actually “a very pleasant way to die.”

When it came to handling the communications media, U.S. government officials had some powerful tools at their disposal.  In Japan, General Douglas MacArthur, the supreme commander of the U.S. occupation regime, saw to it that strict U.S. military censorship was imposed on the Japanese press and other forms of publication, which were banned from discussing the atomic bombing.  As for foreign newspaper correspondents (including Americans), they needed permission from the occupation authorities to enter Japan, to travel within Japan, to remain in Japan, and even to obtain food in Japan.  American journalists were taken on carefully controlled junkets to Hiroshima, after which they were told to downplay any unpleasant details of what they had seen there.

In September 1945, U.S. newspaper and magazine editors received a letter from the U.S. War Department, on behalf of President Harry Truman, asking them to restrict information in their publications about the atomic bomb.  If they planned to do any publishing in this area of concern, they were to submit the articles to the War Department for review…………

Hersey had concluded that the mass media had missed the real story of the Hiroshima bombing.  And the result was that the American people were becoming accustomed to the idea of a nuclear future, with the atomic bomb as an acceptable weapon of war.  Appalled by what he had seen in the Second World War—from the firebombing of cities to the Nazi concentration camps—Hersey was horrified by what he called “the depravity of man,” which, he felt, rested upon the dehumanization of others.  Against this backdrop, Hersey and Shawn concluded that he should try to enter Japan and report on what had really happened there……….

Hersey arrived in Tokyo on May 24, 1946, and two days later, received permission to travel to Hiroshima, with his time in that city limited to 14 days.

Entering Hiroshima, Hersey was stunned by the damage he saw.  In Blume’s words, there were “miles of jagged misery and three-dimensional evidence that humans—after centuries of contriving increasingly efficient ways to exterminate masses of other humans—had finally invented the means with which to decimate their entire civilization.”   Now there existed what one reporter called “teeming jungles of dwelling places . . . in a welter of ashes and rubble.”  As residents attempted to clear the ground to build new homes, they uncovered masses of bodies and severed limbs.  A cleanup campaign in one district of the city alone at about that time unearthed a thousand corpses.  Meanwhile, the city’s surviving population was starving, with constant new deaths from burns, other dreadful wounds, and radiation poisoning.

Given the time limitations of his permit, Hersey had to work fast.  And he did, interviewing dozens of survivors, although he eventually narrowed down his cast of characters to six of them.

……… Ross and Shawn decided to keep the explosive forthcoming issue a top secret from the magazine’s staff.  

Given the time limitations of his permit, Hersey had to work fast.  And he did, interviewing dozens of survivors, although he eventually narrowed down his cast of characters to six of them.

……… Ross and Shawn decided to keep the explosive forthcoming issue a top secret from the magazine’s staff.  

Groves believed that the Japanese deserved what had happened to them, and could not imagine that other Americans might disagree. ………. and he believed that an article that led Americans to fear nuclear attacks by other nations would foster support for a U.S. nuclear buildup.

The gamble paid off.  Although Groves did demand changes, these were minor and did not affect the accounts by the survivors…….  

On August 29, 1946, copies of the “Hiroshima” edition of the New Yorker arrived on newsstands and in mailboxes across the United States, and it quickly created an enormous sensation, particularly in the mass media.  Editors from more than thirty states applied to excerpt portions of the article, and newspapers from across the nation ran front-page banner stories and urgent editorials about its revelations.  Correspondence from every region of the United States poured into the New Yorker’s office.  A large number of readers expressed pity for the victims of the bombing.  But an even greater number expressed deep fear about what the advent of nuclear war meant for the survival of the human race.

Of course, not all readers approved of Hersey’s report on the atomic bombing.  Some reacted by canceling their subscriptions to the New Yorker.  Others assailed the article as antipatriotic, Communist propaganda, designed to undermine the United States.  Still others dismissed it as pro-Japanese propaganda or, as one reader remarked, written “in very bad taste.”

………………………… The conclusion drawn by Blume in this book is much like Hersey’s.  As she writes, “Graphically showing what nuclear warfare does to humans, `Hiroshima’ has played a major role in preventing nuclear war since the end of World War II.”

A secondary theme in the book is the role of a free press.  Blume observes that “Hersey and his New Yorker editors created `Hiroshima’ in the belief that journalists must hold accountable those in power.  They saw a free press as essential to the survival of democracy.”  She does, too.

………… Blume has written a very illuminating, interesting, and important work—one that reminds us that daring, committed individuals can help to create a better world.https://portside.org/2021-06-01/review-lesley-blumes-fallout-hiroshima-cover-and-reporter-who-revealed-it-world

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