Hiroshima Series, Part I — Hiroshima/Nagasaki: Atomic Devastation Hidden for Decades - WhoWhatWhy

Hiroshima Series, Part I — Hiroshima/Nagasaki: Atomic Devastation Hidden for Decades

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11Today marks the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima —  followed three days later by the bombing of Nagasaki. While the world is now aware of the horrifying aftermath of these events, this wasn’t always the case. This is the first in a three-part series on the US’s decades-long deliberate effort to hide the true extent of the atom bombs’ mass devastation.

In June of 1946, Lt. Daniel McGovern hauled 90,000 feet of color footage to the Pentagon and submitted it to General Orvil Anderson. Locked away and declared top secret, it did not see the light of day for more than thirty years.

The first in a three-part series.

“A Hole in American History”

Dozens of hours of film footage shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the fall and winter of 1945-1946 by an elite U.S. military unit was hidden for decades and almost no one could see it.  The raw footage, in striking color, languished in obscurity. As the writer Mary McCarthy observed, the atomic bombing of Japan nearly fell into “a hole in human history.”

As our nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union escalated, all that most Americans saw of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the same black-and-white images: a mushroom cloud, a panorama of emptiness, a battered building topped with the skeleton of a dome—mainly devoid of people.


Once top secret, the shocking images now carry an “unrestricted” label. You have, quite possibly, seen a few seconds of clips on television or in film documentaries. If so, those images may be burned into your mind. Yet no one was allowed to view them when the horror they captured might have prevented more horror by slowing down or even halting the nuclear arms race.

Compounding the cover-up, the American military seized all of the black-and-white footage of the cities shot by the Japanese in the immediate aftermath of the bombings. They hid the film away for many years. It was known in Japan as the maboroshi, or “phantom,” film. It, too, rests in the National Archives today.

“Never again.” At least not with outmoded bombs.

To find out how and why all of this historic footage was suppressed for so long, I tracked down the man who oversaw the handling of both the Japanese and American film. His name is Lt. Col. (Ret.) Daniel A. McGovern. He told me that high officials in the Pentagon “didn’t want those images out because,

“…they showed effects on man, woman and child…. They didn’t want the general public to know what their weapons had done—at a time they were planning on more bomb tests.”

Not incidentally, those planned tests were designed to help the U.S. military build bigger and better nuclear bombs.

McGovern also said, “We didn’t want the material out because…we were sorry for our sins.”


The secret color footage (see some of the footage below) was finally shown to the public, however limited, on June 2, 1982. The New York City  screening coincided with the high point of the antinuclear movement.

In response to an escalating arms race stoked by a new president, Ronald Reagan, who said a nuclear war with the Soviets was “winnable”—a “nuclear freeze” campaign had been organized in hundreds of cities and towns. It captured the imagination of the media and a massive anti-nuclear march in Manhattan was set for June 12.

Despite this campaign, few in America challenged the view that dropping the bomb had been necessary. When Hiroshima and Nagasaki were invoked, even within the antinuclear movement, it was usually not to condemn, but merely to declare: never again.

No matter what one thought of Truman’s decision in 1945, this much was clear: endorsing the bombings and saying “never again” did not fit together comfortably. Washington, after all, maintained its “first-use” nuclear option, and still embraces it today.

According to this policy, under certain circumstances the United States can strike first with nuclear weapons—and ask questions later. In other words, there is no real taboo against using the bomb.

Ten days before the June 12 march, a few dozen Americans first saw some of the historic color footage shot by the American military—but not in an American film.

It was the Japanese who put together the film, and only because of a chance meeting in New York between Herbert Sussan—who, as a young soldier, helped shoot some of the 1946 footage—and a Japanese activist.  When the activist learned of the secret film from Sussan, he lead a mass movement in Japan to raise enough money to copy 90,000 feet of it. (They also purchased a copy of the suppressed, black-and-white film shot by the Japanese newsreel team.) The film was shown at the Japan Society in Manhattan.  It was called “Prophecy.”

Herbert Sussan

Herbert Sussan

At the Japan Society, the now elderly Sussan, who had become a pioneering TV director at CBS, told the audience,

“I have waited so long for this moment. For years, all of my own efforts to obtain this unique footage to show the American people have been frustrated. This film has been locked in vaults, declared classified and held away from the public. I am pleased that the world will finally see a small bit of what the true reality of the nuclear age really is…

“I felt that if we did not capture this horror on film, no one would ever really understand the dimensions of what had happened.”

Then they rolled the film. The footage revealed miles of devastation dotted by rubble and twisted girders, close-ups of artifacts—blackened statues, a collapsed church or school—and victims displaying their inflamed scars. Doctors in shattered hospitals bandaged horrendous-looking wounds.

Atomic_Coverup_1-Mitchell-14-03-25-FINAL [Compatibility Mode] - Microsoft Word

The distinctive, rubbery keloid scars left by burns on faces and arms looked all the more painful in blazing color.

Patients, most of them women and children, exposed to the camera their scarred faces and seared trunks. They acted stoic, dignified, yet their intense gaze suggested deep wells of bitterness at the U.S. for dropping the bomb—or perhaps at Sussan for subjecting them to this further humiliation. Or was it both?

A Film That Flopped?

Despite a good turnout that day, there was very little, if any, coverage about “Prophecy” or Herbert Sussan in the days that followed, despite its announcement in The New York Times’ “Going Out Guide” the day it was to be shown, along with other Japanese films on the bombing.

Weeks passed. The nuclear freeze campaign continued to grow, and that October, I was named editor of the leading antinuclear magazine in the country, Nuclear Times. When I took over, the first major story I assigned was a profile of Herbert Sussan.

When I reached Sussan by telephone, he sounded edgy, maybe a little scared. He had recently retired and was ill, he said, with a form of lymphoma “they are finding in soldiers exposed to radiation.”

Greg Mitchell is the author of more than a dozen books, including “Atomic Cover-up.” He is the former editor of Nuclear Times and Editor & Publisher and writes a daily column at The Nation.

Next:  Part II

Next:  Part 2

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10 responses to “Hiroshima Series, Part I — Hiroshima/Nagasaki: Atomic Devastation Hidden for Decades”

  1. Avatar zyzz shavershian says:

    holy ****.. this is so sad…

  2. Avatar haifisch8587 says:

    Fukashima is pay back for dropping the bomb. Women and children paid for the strocities committed by the military

  3. Avatar Michael Crouch says:

    Japan got what it deserved. After the horrible and unneccesary brutality the japs pulled on China, Phillipines, etc. Burying children alive, gunning down helpless civilians in China, etc. Their attrocities just went on and on. Japan got what it deserved. In the years after, when the remaining japs were starving, MacArthur tried to negotiate the purchase of rice from Korea, China, etc. They all replied, “Let them starve!” Yes, japan got what it deserved.

  4. Avatar Camille says:

    Too Sad. Humanity needs to wake up. We are all children of God, or the Cosmos, whichever view you are inclined too. Love one another like the other were your child, because, in essence, he is.

  5. Avatar Steve Sperdacion says:

    Your report is nonsensical obscurantist charts and then a conclusion that tries to say god exists.

  6. Avatar oldman67 says:

    Too bad there is no videos of the US fire bombing of the citizens of Tokyo and other Japanese cities.

    • Avatar Bill Moldestad says:

      Don’t forget the German cities too! We’ve killed a lot of innocent civilians, both in the past, and in very recent times too.

    • Avatar truthtime says:

      This is true. While the past can not be changed, certain people escaped punishment for ordering such crimes. And they went Scott Free, because they were on the “winning” side. Being on the “winning” side of History, affords one a Get Out of Being Hanged card – since they get to write ‘new’ History.

      And because the footage of the Nuke bombings were suppressed, and no one was punished for their use; it led to proliferation. Because if you do something and go unpunished for it? Well, of course, you’re going to keep making more and maybe use them later.

      We see the equivalency of this throughout the decades. This country, where I was born, does not hold up the virtues it taught me. War after War, and Lie after Lie. Millions dead. Was Bush and Co. punished for lying the U.S. into war with Iraq and Afghanistan? Was Kissinger tried for his crimes? Who was punished for starting the Vietnam War? Who gets held accountable for ordering the death of people by Drones, Obama? People in power went Scott Free all those times and still are.

      Another case is the use of torture during the War on Terror. Guantanamo is still open for business. And because no one in leadership was punished for that, it is still continuing to this day. To make matters worse – it is also spreading throughout society; certain police agencies using torture; U.S. prison systems instituting torture like water boarding and other things.

      When crimes go unpunished, they tend to continue unabated, because if the person before you got away with it, why not give it a go yourself and see how much more you can get away with? Its the self-fulfilling prophecy of Empires. And those in power continue to violate the Law.

      This has been a hard-hitting Truth Telling.


  7. Avatar oldman67 says:

    The only military to have used nuclear bombs and or depleted uranium on civilian populations has been the Western powers. Most notably, the US military. The most christian nation on the planet.

    • Avatar EMPATHIC says:

      One of the most satanic nations on this planet.

    • Avatar Mathew Curran says:

      Absolutely true. But, like all Empires, we will have a day of reckoning and there will be payback; and, unfortunately, this time there may be no human grouping to begin even a very “mini” empire – most everyone will be dead or dying, i.e. Too bad – but chalk it up to the nature of Man.