The Nation's Greg Mitchell has a new book out about the strange saga of color video, shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the nuclear bomb attacks, which was suppressed for nearly 40 years. You can see a couple of clips from that video in the trailer he's put together for the book.
In the weeks following the atomic attacks on Japan sixty-six years ago this week, 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 vivid color footage shot by U.S. military crews and black-and-white Japanese newsreel film.
The color US military footage would remain hidden until the early 1980s, and has never been fully aired. It rests today at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, in the form of 90,000 feet of raw footage labeled #342 USAF.
When that footage finally emerged, I spoke with and corresponded with the man at the center of this drama: Lt. Col. (Ret.) Daniel A. McGovern, who directed the US military film-makers in 1946, managed the Japanese footage, and then kept watch on all of the top-secret material for decades. I also interviewed one of his key assistants, Herbert Sussan, and some of the Japanese survivors they filmed.
Now I’ve written a book and e-book about this, titled Atomic Cover-up: Two US Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and The Greatest Movie Never Made.
What I think is particularly striking about the clips in Mitchell's preview video: They're heart-wrenching, but, at this point, not particularly shocking. The US Military may have successfully covered up video that showed the brutality of atomic warfare, but, in the intervening years, we saw the brutality of war (in general) in Vietnam and we saw what acute radiation poisoning can do the human body in Chernobyl. Secrets don't stay buried even when secrets stay buried.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.