by Greg Mitchell
Japan Chases Its History
In the mid-1970s, Japanese activists discovered that few pictures of the aftermath of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki existed in their country. Many of the images had been seized by the U.S. military and taken out of Japan. The Japanese had as little visual exposure to the true human effects of the bomb as had most Americans. Activists, led by Tsutomu Iwakura, tracked down hundreds of photographs in archives and private collections, published them in a popular book and, in 1979, mounted an exhibit at the United Nations in New York.
There, by chance, Iwakura met Herb Sussan, a former network TV producer, who informed him about the existence of color footage shot by a U.S. military film crew not long after the bombings. Sussan had been with the documentary crew, along with then-Lt. Daniel McGovern, a combat photographer and film director with the U.S. Air Force.
After a little digging, Iwakura found the color footage at the National Archives. About one-fifth of it showed the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the atomic bombs went off. According to a shot list, reel #11010 included, for example: “School, deaf and dumb, blast effect, damaged Commercial school demolished School, engineering, demolished. School, Shirayama elementary, demolished, blast effect. Tenements, demolished.” Included were many minutes of stoic survivors sadly, or in anger, displaying their burns and scars. The rest of the footage was shot in several other cities.
Actually, the film had been quietly declassified a few years earlier, but the outside world seemed unaware of it. An archivist there later told me, “If no one knows about the film to ask for it, it’s as closed as when it was classified.”
In short order, Iwakura raised half a million dollars from more than 200,000 Japanese citizens to buy a copy of the color footage. Then he traveled around Japan filming survivors who had posed for the U.S. military cameramen in 1946. Iwakura completed his compilation film, entitled “Prophecy”, and arranged for the June 1982 New York premiere described in Part 1 of this series.
A few months later, brief segments of the McGovern/Sussan footage turned up for the first time in an American film, called “Dark Circle”, which was screened at the 1982, New York Film Festival. The film’s co-director, Chris Beaver, told me, “No wonder the government didn’t want us to see it. I think they didn’t want Americans to see themselves in that picture. It’s one thing to know about that and another thing to see it.”
Still, the historic footage drew little attention until the article on Sussan I edited for Nuclear Times was published. It inspired a flood of inquiries at the National Archives. Read the rest of this story at WhoWhatWhy.com.