Some 60 years after their suppression by military censorship, a Pulitzer Prize correspondent’s lost Nagasaki files remain potentially explosive.
Working from smudged carbons, long presumed lost but found after his father’s death at 95 three years ago, Anthony Weller has recreated, edited and annotated a body of reports that retain the capacity to shock the American public and foment controversy. They offer a grimly graphic picture of devastation fresh from the Kyushu city where the second atomic bomb detonated in war had effectively ended one, but with curious—even provocative—details of the blast’s effect and (from an American perspective) effectiveness. For example, hundreds of American prisoners exposed to the fireball at and near Ground Zero survived with no ill effects by lying flat in a simple slit trench. Also captured are vast firsthand details of inhumane treatment inflicted on American POWs by both Japanese military and civilian authorities (the latter in overseeing slave labor). Principally at issue: Why were almost all of George Weller’s dispatches, filed weeks after Japan had agreed to surrender, blacked out by military censors under General Douglas MacArthur? Author father and editor son weave a range of intriguing possibilities, including the plausible desire to keep any and all details surrounding the War’s ultimate secret weapon under wraps, as well as quelling inflammatory recriminations that might complicate a smooth postwar reconstruction. The senior Weller, however, died convinced that MacArthur was obsessed with keeping his personal Pacific victory intact, and that he didn’t want to share credit with a weapon engineered and delivered without his knowledge or assent; and, even more damning, that he covered up his administration’s failure to deliver necessary medical supplies and treatment for weeks after the blast, thus accounting for a substantial portion of up to 40,000 Nagasaki dead.
A stark confrontation, but also rich in evocative anecdotal material that recalls the war in the Pacific with amazing immediacy.