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Monday, August 9, 2010 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: Historian Tony Judt, 62, Dies After Battle with Lou...
2010-08-09

Nagasaki 65 Years Later: A Look Back at the Censored Dispatches of Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist George Weller

Guests

Anthony Weller, son of George Weller interviewed in 2005. Anthony discovered a copy of the suppressed dispatches among his late father’s papers in 2002. They’re now published as a book called First into Nagasaki: The Censored Eyewitness Dispatches on Post-Atomic Japan and Its Prisoners of War.

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Today, we remember the US bombing of Nagasaki through the story of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist George Weller, the first reporter to enter Nagasaki, defying General MacArthur’s ban on the press in southern Japan. Weller worked for the Chicago Daily News and hired a rowboat to get himself to Nagasaki. He wrote a 25,000-word report on the horrors that he encountered. When he submitted his story to the military censors, MacArthur personally ordered that the story be killed, and the manuscript was never returned. Weller later summarized his experience with the government censors, saying, "They won." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Sixty-five years ago today, the southern Japanese city of Nagasaki was flattened by an atomic bomb dropped by the United States. It happened three days after US planes dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Some 80,000 people were killed in Nagasaki in the aftermath of the August 9th, 1945 bombing.

There was no US representative at Monday’s commemoration in Nagasaki, although the Obama administration did send an envoy to the HIroshima ceremony Friday for the very first time.

Today, we remember Nagasaki through the story of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist George Weller, the first reporter to enter Nagasaki, defying General MacArthur’s ban on the press in southern Japan. Weller worked for the Chicago Daily News and hired a rowboat to get himself to Nagasaki. He wrote a 25,000-word report on the horrors that he encountered. When he submitted his story to the military censors, MacArthur personally ordered the story killed, and the manuscript was never returned. Weller later summarized his experience with the government censors, saying, "They won."

Well, five years ago, George Weller’s son Anthony discovered a copy of the suppressed dispatches among his late father’s papers. George Weller died in 2002. They’re now published as a book called First into Nagasaki: The Censored Eyewitness Dispatches on Post-Atomic Japan and Its Prisoners of War.

This is an excerpt of an interview Juan Gonzalez and I did with Anthony Weller in 2005, shortly after he first discovered his late father’s papers.

    ANTHONY WELLER: Well, you know, my father had talked about this situation ever since I can remember. He was deeply frustrated by it, frustrated by the fact that these dispatches, written over a period of three weeks, had been all censored, and also, of course, frustrated by the fact that his own copies, which he believed to be the only copies, and which I think are the only copies, somehow went astray amid the tumult of a globetrotting war correspondent’s life. But you can imagine, I’m sure, the sense of relief and vindication I felt when, in going through a tumultuous room filled with his papers, I finally came across the missing Nagasaki dispatches in a mildewed crate at the bottom.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: And what did he tell you years earlier about, one, his interaction both with the military on the censorship, as well as how his paper reacted, his own newspaper reacted, to the complete censorship of his stories?

    ANTHONY WELLER: Well, the newspaper, of course, was furious, as was he, for the obvious reasons. They’d had this man who’d bucked MacArthur’s orders, snuck over the mainland in a rowboat, taken trains for two days, made his way up to Nagasaki, impersonated a US officer by saying he was Colonel Weller, rather than a war correspondent, and risked quite a bit to get the stories out. And then, of course, because he was under the aegis of MacArthur’s censors, there was no way that his newspaper could publish the articles. So there was tremendous frustration, which lasted all his life. And, of course, very rapidly the story became old news, because suddenly, you know, the United States public was getting what they were supposed to get about what the bomb sites were like, and my father had moved on to other theaters of war, and the decades went by and he never came across the stories. So, I think he would have and could have published them twenty years ago, thirty years ago, had he been able to find them, but he couldn’t.

    AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Weller, your father wrote a devastating description of what took place in Nagasaki. Can you share some of the descriptions?

    ANTHONY WELLER: Well, I think the thing that astonished him the most — I mean, there were many things that he found astonishing. Remember, he went in there four weeks, almost to the minute, after the bomb was dropped, which was on the 6th of September in mid-morning, is when he arrived. And he was struck, obviously, by several things — by the physical appearance of the city, which was still smoldering here and there, by the surgical precision of the bomb itself. Later, he was to learn that, in fact, a great deal of damage had been done not just by the bomb, but by the fires that erupted, because people were cooking their midday meal when the bomb hit, and a number of wooden residences just caught fire, and the fire spread. So, in a way, it was kind of like a Dresden.

    And as he went around the ruins of the city and rapidly began visiting all the hospital facilities that still existed, I know he was struck immediately, first by the absence of any American medical personnel there — four weeks later, there were still no doctors or nurses — and then, by the great precision and care with which the Japanese doctors had already catalogued the effects of the bomb on individual organs of the body.

    And over the next few days, he was as astonished as the Japanese doctors were, of course, by what he referred to in his reports as "Disease X." It was perhaps not so astonishing to see some of the scorches and burns that people had suffered, but to see people apparently unblemished at all by the bomb, who had seemingly survived intact, suddenly finding themselves feeling unwell and going to hospital, sitting there on their cots surrounded by doctors and relatives who could do nothing, and finding when he would go back the next day that they had just died, or that, let’s say, a woman who had come through unscathed making dinner for her husband and having the misfortune to make a very small cut in her finger while peeling a lemon, would just keep bleeding, and bleed to death, because the platelets in her bloodstream had been so reduced that the blood couldn’t clot anymore.

    So there were case after case like this, and, in a way, I think my father found them more poignant than the obvious destruction or the obvious burn victims, because here was a whole team of Japanese doctors, very able, very aware from long before the war had started about the potentials of radiation, absolutely baffled. And he had a wonderful phrase he used. He said the effects of the bomb uncured because — excuse me, the effects of "Disease X," which is what they were calling it, uncured because it is untreated, and untreated because it is undiagnosed.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Weller is the son of George Weller, who was writing for the Chicago Daily News. He submitted his story to the military censors, reporting on that bombing of Nagasaki sixty-five years ago today. But General MacArthur himself personally ordered the story be killed and the manuscript never returned. It was ultimately returned. Anthony Weller found his father’s transcript. His father summarized his experience with government censors, saying, "They won."

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