Color video from Hiroshima

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.

Video Link


  1. A fascinating insight into government psyops against their own people. Looks like the US government did a very good job of exposing its citizens to the right kind of fear – and enough to keep the arms race going, but not enough to cause widespread protest against the weapons themselves.

  2. I’m taking a wild guess here, but unless we have a time travel situation on our hands, in 1946 the US cameramen were shooting with color film.
    Videotape was not invented until 1951 and the first commercial vcrs did not hit the market until 1971.

      1. Of course,
        video recorders didn’t exist during WWII, and color television cameras existed only as laboratory experiments. Is it asking too much of you youngin’s to accurately describe the media as film or a movie? It only incidentally exists on this techie blog as a video file, and it’s not inappropriate for techies to frame history with a recognition of the actual technology in use at the time.

    1. Color photography existed in the late 1800’s, and color filmography not long after: Kinemacolor in 1906 and Technicolor in 1916.  It was just rare and at the infancy of commercialization.  No time travel, just really expensive and rare equipment.

      Oh, and if you’re responding to the use of the word “video” you are technically right about video technology. BUT, we use video in common parlance now not to refer to the technology, but to the act of filming. When I get out my phone to grab some motion shots, I say, “I’m videoing.”

      CCDs killed the Video Star.

      1. Color footage was filmed, not videoed, shortly after the A-bombings.  That footage is now viewable through the medium of video, but video had no part in the initial production of the footage.

    2. @Thorfin: Good luck trying to convince them that their nomenclature’s off. I’ve tried in the past and got rebuked, with some sort of crack Latin lesson. Annoying!

      1. It doesn’t bother me.  I was just flipping them crap–like they are too young to understand anything pre-video or rotary dial phones–or that life existed before the internet.

        1. Rotary dial phones… you mean those hand-cranked thingies you see in the Ma and Pa Kettle movies?


          /end facetiousness

  3. Cover ups are not necessarily bad things. During war time it can be essential that the population not second-guess the leadership decisions. Think how many millions of American lives would have been lost if the invasion of Japan was anything like the invasion of Europe. There’s no guarantee we would have won. We might have lost and been living in Empire of Japan today. I’m not saying the decision to drop the bomb was the right one, but it was a decison that had to be made by the government not the populace. I agree that it is important for us to see these images today and probably 30 years ago. But, it was probably the right decision to cover them up during World War II.

    1. As a minimum, the atomic bombs being dropped and the horror of their destruction of cities stopped sentiments of “lets kill them all because they sneak attacked us”.  

      That feeling was much more common in 1941-45 and was much closer to a national goal than anything that happened after 9/11 (sure there were some fringe types calling for the death of all muslims… but not to the extent that people wanted an end to the Japanese)

      If the invasion of Japan happened and lots of Americans were killed, there might not have been any way to limit the damage done to the Japanese people as a reprisal or simply because the Japanese people would not give up (same could be said of Afghanistan and Iraq, they wont quit fighting the USA even though they cant achieve much and if they just went home for a year or two the USA would leave and they could go back to killing eachother)  

      The “lets win a war and be nice behavior is new (as far as western civilization goes)”
      Nobody cries for Carthage do they?

      1. “Nobody cries for Carthage do they?”I do, sort of… I’d love to see a movie or read a book taking place in a parallel world in which Either the Carthaginians whooped the Romans, Or Pyrrhus did. I suspect that the former possibility would yield a much different present than the later would.

        1. It’s been the subject of a number of alternate history stories. Usually the Carthaginian alternate is pretty brutal. You would have lost the longer-term positive effects of Greek culture on human history, you realize — not just the overt Roman-adopted one, but the even more significant  descendant Byzantine one, which was much more thoroughly steeped in the best of the Greek era. Many of those Greek ideals survived as a result of the rise of Rome and the related fall of Carthage.

    2. During war time it can be essential that the population not second-guess the leadership decisions.

      No. It can’t.

      1. Yes, it can be. Not always but sometimes. And yeah, there are lots of times when the public can’t be Fully Informed, because that would require that one allow The Enemy to be Fully Informed, as well.

        There are NO absolute rules in this universe. Go ahead, think of something you think as utterly, absolutely inviolable. I’ll then describe a situation for you — albeit improbable — in which violating your rule is the least of two evils.

        …Because no matter how evil an act your rule is intended to deal with, I’ll devise for you a greater evil to choose it against.

  4. Where would I be able to see the rest of these hours of footage? It is U.S. property, correct?

    1. Here are some numbers for you.
      Dresden: 200,000 (Nazi claim) 25,000 post-war estimate.
      Hamburg Raid in ’43: 50,000.
      Tokyo was regularly firebombed from Nov. 1944 to August 1945.
      The worst raid was March 10, 1944: 100,000 killed.
      BTW there were 67 other Japanese cities almost wiped out by conventional bombings  See:
      Hiroshima estimates run from 90,000 to 160,000 ( high estimate if you include radiation and burns)
      Nagasaki: 60,000-80,000.
      Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “virgin targets.” They escaped much of the bombings of World War II.  They were short-listed for the A-Bomb because the damage could be better evaluated if the city was intact before it became ground zero.

  5. “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.”

    Yes. But has it made us any more adverse to war or nuclear weapons?

    1. On Nightline, in 1990, the  45th anniversary of Hiroshima, author Harlan Ellison pointed out that, contrary to popular opinion, nuclear weapons are not only not immoral, they are THE MOST moral weapons created since Kings stopped riding into battle at the head of their armies.

      His argument was rather subtle but, I’d suggest, undeniable: For the first time since that era, those whose decision it was to go to war were likely to endure the most profound and deep effects OF that war. The Rich and Powerful would suffer as much, or ever more, than the plebes who would generally wind up in the front lines. In fact, the Rich and Powerful, from those pictures, could easily wind up… not Rich and Powerful.

      Ellison also noted this: That it had then been 45 years (now 60!) since the weapon had been invented and we haven’t seen a second use of it. For humans to invent a weapon and then NOT USE IT for 45/60 years is unprecedented in human history. It is easy to see a likely connection between this latter fact and the earlier one.

      And I’d argue that perhaps one of the BEST things to happen to humanity WAS the bomb being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was done when further use of it was impossible (they were the only two in existence) and provided very graphic images, and plenty of time to contemplate their significance, to the power elite who have held the capacity to hit the trigger since that time. It was understood to be that nuclear war would most likely result in MAD, something people without those graphic images might not have fully appreciated, or managed to rationalize away… But not with those photos and videos staring them in the face… And so no one wanted to be the ones to pull the trigger.

      So, YES, in response to your question… it HAS made us more averse to both.

  6. I don’t think nuclear warfare should be singled out.

    If you’ve really studied this, nuclear warfare in WWII is no big deal. Less than 1% of the people killed in WWII were killed with nukes. Twice as many civilians were killed during the course of the war as soldiers. All war is brutal, vicious and cruel. It’s not a new discovery. I’m sure there are plenty of pictures of conventional warfare that also weren’t released, because they were too heart-wrenching. For starters, google “Rape of Nanking Pictures”. WARNING: unpleasant stuff. No nukes required.You may think me crude, but I find that the more you really study WWII, the less bothered you are by Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yes, it’s nasty stuff. But it’s ALL nasty stuff.

    1. Maybe it should be singled out because it’s too easy. War needs to cost money and expend lives on all sides to be properly feared.

      1. “Jacasimov” Maybe it should be singled out because it’s too easy. War needs to cost money and expend lives on all sides to be properly feared.”

        War would truly be feared and avoided if the only participants in war were those who make the decision to go to war (i.e. if the only people allowed to fight and be killed were 50+ year old men.

        1. that would be pretty cool:
          ”  I George Bush, challenge you, Sadam, to a bitch slap fest, followed by an Axe duel”.

        2. CSBD: Almost got it right. See my reiteration of Harlan Ellison’s points of 17 years ago, located above in a reply.

      2. Maybe it should be singled out because it’s too easy. War needs to cost
        money and expend lives on all sides to be properly feared.

        ??? Excuse me ??? What planet are YOU living on that you think nuclear war — war of ANY kind — doesn’t cost money and take lives on both sides?

        Did you happen to notice the endless litany of death statistics from the media regarding the War in Iraq, as long as it wasn’t clearly being WON?

    2. YEah, I agree. All war is brutal, but the Japanese were EXCEPTIONALLY brutal. My Godfather’s half-brother’s father was a US Soldier BRUTALLY killed by the Japanese in a death March… and My Maternal Grandfather was a flight Deck Surgeon with the US in WWII in the PAcific theatre. My grandfather was always grateful that we bombed them, because from his point of view it saved countless American, AND Japanese, lives… as if we’d had to invade Japan the Sh%t would have REALLY hit the fan. 

      1. If we (the US) had invaded Japan, there would be very few Japanese camp survivors today.  We would have abused them worse than we did.   All the Japanese here would be recent immigrants, rather than long-established families.

        Not that I like the idea of the bomb and am all rah-rah about WWII.  There MUST be another way.

        And here we are bombing the absolute fuck out of Libya, Afghanistan and recently, Iraq.  Oy.  There must be another way.  I don’t know what it is.  More peeps for our overseas peeps?

        1. Another way would be great, but people’d have to be rational, not gonna happen. I don’t think you can make a comparison to Irag and Japan… Iraq really WAS neccessary. Just kidn

          Edit: mmm… rational with a side of compassion? I don’t know… maybe people would have to be a little less rational? Hmm… I guess we’d have to be different than we are.

          1. Maybe you’re right.  We’ve warred for as long as we’ve been primates.  But the hope I have is the fact that we are clever. Occasionally a Ghandi shows up and he was very effective toward his aims.  There is no dispute that his tactics worked.

          2. His tactics worked because he was exposing an essentially decent people to the wickedness of their actions which they had veiled their eyes to. Against an evil group like the Nazis, his efforts would have failed, and failed utterly.

            “An Eye For An Eye only makes the whole world blind”?

            NO! Game theory has proven Gandhi utterly wrong on this.

            In the real world — the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma indeed reveals that the best strategy is the Christian variant on AE4AE: “Tit for Tat, with Forgiveness”

      2. “as if we’d had to invade Japan the Sh%t would have REALLY hit the fan.”

        Now that’s a purely academic and theoretical argument today, isn’t it? Judging by what we know today—how poor, hungry and tired Japanese civilians were, I’m not quite so sure that would have been the case. Having family on both sides, I have my anecdotal evidence too. 

        Also, don’t you think that brutality by one side is a bad an excuse for more brutality? I think you could argue that Hiroshima was “necessary” but I think you could also make the argument that Nagasaki was purely for political capital.

        1. I’m not quite so sure that would have been the case.

          Well, then you’re quite ignorant of what the leadership of Japan was saying, and that the people of Japan, trained from birth to respect authority, were absolutely bound to follow them.

          It is singular evidence of this that the USA chose to NOT insist on an absolute, unconditional surrender — they allowed the Japanese Emperor to not surrender himself — because it was believed that, had they insisted on this, that, even in the face of those two weapons — that the Japanese people would have fought on had the USA attempted to cause the Emperor to “lose face”.

          I think you could also make the argument that Nagasaki was purely for
          political capital

          You could, if you were utterly clueless and completely ignorant of the facts. The Japanese leadership did not believe that the events there were a weapon, and believed that it was an act of nature which the US leadership was attempting to take credit for. The second bomb was then ordered to be dropped. In both cases, by the way, the US informed the people of the city to flee and that it was about to be destroyed. That’s as about as fair as one can get in times like those.

      3. Exceptionally Brutal? There is no such thing. You needn’t look further than the accounts of the people of Okinawa at the hands of America or the retreating Japanese at the hands of the Russians. 

        I hesitate to even tell the story of my own grandmother and her infant children when the Russian forces came in and the things that they did. 

        I also lost American relatives in the war and it was tragic. But pretending that Allied forces didn’t rape, murder, and torture is purely wishful thinking. 

    3. If you think the atomic bombs are “no big deal”, then you haven’t “really studied this”. Or maybe you just didn’t learn anything.

    1. How about all of the Chinese infants skewered on Japanese bayonents? There is more than enough blame to go around. One of options was blockading the homeland islands – consider all of the non-combatants who would have suffered. 

    2. A) “The above”

      B) I can’t think of any reason to subject an American child to the loss of his father in order to stop a relentless and implacable enemy willing to fight to the last man to retain its immoral authority.

      Which rule is to be applied first? I’m going with  “B”

  7. At the time nobody really missed seeing more pictures of dead and dying people. Everybody knew what happened and the numbers involved. If you really got off on corpses you could catch the newsreels of the Jewish concentration camp victims coming out of Europe. I don’t think the military purposely hid that film anymore than people just moved on after the war and weren’t actively seeking to be reminded of the fear, stress, and dead relatives of those bad years. The most frustrating thing about it was the lack of options in dealing with the Japanese. Losing to an inferior race was just something they couldn’t understand and couldn’t live with. They thought we were going to do to them what they had done to every country they invaded – round em’ up and kill em all. When you start with that kind of mindset you don’t give up so easy. The whole thing was such a waste.

  8. This color film (and indeed these very clips) was featured in at least two History Channel documentaries in the last decade. I know because I taped them. Not so novel

    1. Yh, ths s knd f jst slly d fr wht’s prbbly slly bk (cvr-ps nd cnsprcy thrs mst sll lt f bks).

      The footage still probably has not have been seen by most people, though – even with the “WWII In Color” series and the like, most people still know WWII through black and white newsreel footage.

      In university I took a class in the film department on Godzilla films. Being a serious class, it started with a lot of background on Japan’s relationship to nuclear energy – starting of course with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I saw some color footage such as this in that class, but most of it was black and white. Either way, the imagery remains the same – it’s been reduced to grey and brown rubble anyway. Although the footage of injuries is more intense in color, of course.

  9. It’s important that this record be brought into the open, sure. But I have very big doubts that seeing this in the late 1940’s would have altered in any way the American public’s views on the nuclear arms race. There was plenty of film footage available on the horrors of war (going back even to WWI), but that didn’t seem to dampen humans’ desire to pick up pointy things and start running at each other again.

  10. They fell into a hole?  Yeah no on ever talks about atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Growing up in the 70s and 80s that’s all anyone talked about nukes nukes nukes.

    I hope this guy’s book — as it slams our policy in WW2 offers views of Okinaawa in 1945 and the slaughter there caused by Japanese refusals to surrender and propaganda about American Marines put out by the IJA to encourage suicide and/or resistance to the death.

    In any case… fascinating post and the book sounds like a good read — knowing he’s from the Nation I’ll take the appropriate grain oi salt.

    1. As a kid growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, the knowledge of what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki was common knowledge.  And we took it as a warning to be prepared when the USSR attacked us.  There was also the implicit understanding that what happened to Japan would happen in spades to any country foolish enough to attack the USA. 

    2. Gonna take more than a grain to neutralize that load o’ BS.

      Just the book title alone makes the author’s anti-American agenda blatantly clear.

  11. I liked his use of “blazing color” while showing a drab green  scene.  His rather purple prose and use of hyperbole makes me think he has nothing really new forthcoming.  And for the record, graphic footage of dead and dying victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not a secret.  Check out the last few episodes of Victory At Sea.  Plenty of newsreels exist from that time that show the exact same burn victims and damage as seen in his little infomercial. 
    Unless his book shows documentation to support his assertion that the film was suppressed, there is nothing really new.

    awjt: “If we (the US) had invaded Japan, there would be very few Japanese camp
    survivors today.  We would have abused them worse than we did.   All the
    Japanese here would be recent immigrants, rather than long-established
    families.”  Are you referring to the 140,000 civilian Japanese Americans  who were rounded up and put in concentration camps because of their race?  Or maybe the handful of Japanese POWs held in US camps?  Either  way, there was no real abuse comparable to what captured Allies suffered at the hands of the Japanese military.

    1. What the US did to the Nisie (sp?) was indeed a crime, at the very least because there was no equivalent effort to round up the German or Italian community.

      But I do, very much, concur with the rest of your analysis. The USA has and still has a far, far better  record of conduct under the conditions of war than virtually any other nation of significance — our shameful moments are made even more shameful by their rarity.

  12. I have no problem with the use of nuclear weapons against Japan in World War II.  All evidence points to it being the best decision to end the war in the Pacific quickly and swiftly. The war in Europe clearly proved invasions were risky, ugly and cost more lives.

    That said the bombing of firebombing of Dresden by allied forces is in my humble opinion significantly more immoral and questionable in use and intent.  But few people nowadays mention that since “nuclear weapons” are more of a sexy target for contrarians to take issue with.

    1.  There was another, more subtle reason to want the war to end quickly: Russia was in the process of moving its own troops from the European Front to put them into action in the Pacific Arena.

      Had they succeeded in getting into that fight, then Japan may well have suffered a two-partitioned system of US and USSR control post-war to mirror that which happened in Germany and Austria…

      Does anyone here think that partitioning Japan instead of what actually happened would have Been A Real Good Thing?

  13. Speaking of hypotheticals, what if the bomb hadn’t been dropped?  Many point out that an invasion of Japan would not have been necessary, that may or may not be true.  Let’s ASSUME that it is not true, what then would it have taken to get Japan to surrender.  Let’s say four more months of fire bombing like over Tokyo?  That seems reasonable.  How many American servicemen would have died in this campaign?  How many Japanese would have died?  Is the number of Japanese deaths as a result of a conventional bombing campaign going to be less than nuking Hirsohima and Nagasaki?

    Finally, what would have happened to Truman if it was discovered by the American public that the Atomic Bomb existed but wasn’t used and as a result another 5, 10, or 15 thousand servicemen died?  Can you say impeachment?


    Joe Dokes

    1. Finally, what would have happened to Truman if it was discovered by the American public that the Atomic Bomb existed but wasn’t used and as a result another 5, 10, or 15 thousand servicemen died?  Can you say impeachment?

      Not really. No weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, tons of lives have been lost and Bush/Cheney got away without even a slap on the wrist.

      1. Apples and oranges  Jack.
        The Iraq war is peanuts compared to World War II. While the reasons for the Iraq war is open for debate, the overall impact of it is pretty small.

        World War II had had to end.
        Millions dead; maybe 78million–4% of the world’s population. 
        Over 16 million Americans served in the military during the war.
        Almost 417,000 died.
        Nearly 684,000 wounded.
        That was a little over 300 Americans killed every day.
        If Truman had a means to end the war and stop the American casualties ASAP and did not use it, the American public  would have been held him responsible.

    2. The other aspect of what you describe is that Japan would have been surrounded and blockaded.

      From a post above:

      I can’t think of any reason to subject a child to a slow and agonizing
      death from full body 3rd degree burns.

      I can’t think of a good reason to subject a few million children to a slow and agonizing process of starvation for six months in order to get their parents to capitulate to a lost cause.

      See my comment about “evil vs. greater evil”, above. Hiroshima was a necessary evil because it was a clear lesser of two evils.

      One of the major problems with Postmodernist Liberal world views is that they are absurdly simplistic. They seem to always frame every problem as “Do A or Not A”, when, in fact, the problem is almost always “Do A or B”, with both A and B being undesirable choices.

  14. A lot of insightful comments here. It’s refreshing to see intellegent points and respectful disagreement on the internets.

  15. Does anyone know where this footage is archived?  I would assume the U.S. Govt. has control over it, but is this available to the curious?

  16. It’s at the National Archives. You can view it in College Park, Md., or buy duplicates from the Archives and others. Very brief description here:

    Project Crossroads atomic bomb tests, Bikini Atoll, 1946 (77 reels). Atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, 1945 (133 reels). 

    And yes — it’s Kodachrome film. Not particularly unusual; 16mm Kodachrome was introduced in 1935 and rereleased with stabler color dyes in 1938. It cost about $6.00 for a 3-minute roll plus processing; multiply by 10 or 12 to get comparable cost today. 

  17. uh, hello.  It is still being suppressed. We only get to see snippets. Perhaps if the full film was shown in every government school across Amerika the military recruiters would have a hard time getting the foolish young, Of course the pirates have a time honored solution for that too.

  18. Powell Gammill:

    If it was being suppressed, you would not know it existed.
    Not everything is a conspiracy.

    Now take your meds and go back under your bridge.

  19. At this point in time, rather then just look to and argue over the past, I would like you to consider the extent of Japan’s revenge ….

    Rather then just burying the reactors, as they did at Chernobyl, Japan seems willing to kill 20% of it’s own population over time because all the winds are westerly and how many millions will be killed or otherwise effected by fallout in North America?

    Screw old deeds and arguments, we have a real problem in the here and now!

    Lawrence A. Oshanek
    Calgary, Canada

  20. Retrospective sympathy for post modern Japan creating a moral dilemma over the use of the atomic bomb because a suppressed film was released?  No, not in my mind.  

    In the context of the day, it was well understood that the Japanese would fanatically defend their country. The barbaric and evil behaviour of the Japanese during the 1937/8 ‘rape of Nanking’ (300,000 unarmed humans killed AFTER the surrender of the civilian city and it’s remaining 90,000 soldiers) was well documented by the British, Dutch and Americans present in Nanking as too, was the subsequent behaviour of the Japanese toward all other ‘conquered’ peoples during the course of their expansion. The outright murder by the Japanese of civilians and surrendered soldiers is not in dispute (except by Japanese atrocity denialists and their outright cultural revisionists).

    Many photographs and films were made by the Japanese during the Nanking murders, but they too, have been suppressed. Maybe they should once again be published to remind us of the risks of blind cultural obedience to established authority and too, of the real value of our dissenters. 

    The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki resulted in 105,000 dead and 94,000 injured (many who would greatly suffer and ultimately die from the incidents for a total of some 195,000 people).

    So round it up to 200,000 who died as a direct result of 2 atomic weapons dropped on their country and compare that number to the 300,000 prisoners of war and civilians who were deliberately, officially and wantonly slaughtered by the Japanese in Nanking alone.

    The Japanese most certainly got the ‘better’ deal.

    In the face of 1945 reality, the only argument worth debating is the targets …. I would have preferred the bombs be dropped on targets with greater military significance or that Einstein and the others had just keep their big bloody mouths shut so that the 3 or 4 contemporary Japanese atomic reactors core and stored ‘spent’ fuel rod meltdowns weren’t currently spewing radioactive particles into the lands, winds and oceans – a very clear and persistent present day danger to humanity which may well cause much more death then did the bombs used in 1945.    

    Lawrence A. Oshanek
    Calgary, Alberta 

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