[FoRK] [WaPo] post-bomb footage from 1945 (16mm, color)

Rohit Khare khare
Mon Aug 8 13:18:23 PDT 2005

[we need a del.icio.us for TiVo :) -- not to make light of it, but to  
suggest that I'd rather have had my TiVo record, on spec, the stuff  
my friends watch rather than just what I (forget) to program it...]


Hiroshima and Nagasaki, The Original Ground Zero
Cable Documentary Shows Rare Film of the Days After Aug. 6, 1945
By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 6, 2005; C01

In the National Archives in College Park, the reels are numbered  
11002 and 11003.

Shot by a U.S. Army Air Forces film crew in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in  
the months after the atomic bombs were dropped, the reels go from one  
deformed survivor to the next. Women with scalded faces. A man with  
melted ears. A boy with no skin on his back. A man with such horrific  
wounds his hands appear to be leprous.

The footage was immediately classified as "top secret" by the  
military and hidden for nearly three decades.

Images from "the 11000 series," as archivists refer to the 30 hours  
of footage shot by the crew of Lt. Col. Daniel A. McGovern, make a  
rare public appearance on television tonight, the 60th anniversary of  
the Hiroshima bombing. The footage, shot in hospitals and across  
Japan, forms the bulk of the postwar scenes in "Original Child Bomb,"  
an hour-long film on cable's Sundance Channel. The documentary,  
drawing its title and antiwar message from a Thomas Merton poem about  
the A-bomb, debuts at 8 p.m. and repeats throughout the month.

"There are still parts of it I don't want to look at," says Holly  
Becker, the show's producer. "Certainly we didn't use the worst of  
what's possible there. . . . But the whole point of the film, of  
course, is to document the human cost of nuclear war."

The footage is most startling at first because it's in color --  
unusual for 1945 -- and because of its rarity. Filmed images from  
Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the days after the bombings (Nagasaki was  
hit Aug. 9) are almost nonexistent. The sky is a lovely blue. The  
knoblike mountains around town are a delicious green. In the  
destroyed zones, the valley where Nagasaki lay, the trees are  
leafless and shorn off. Everything appears a lifeless brown, just  
dirt, concrete and rubble. Factories are reduced to nests of  
collapsed steel girders. There are wide shots of sections of town,  
where everything is just gone.

Later on the film, when a trolley car jammed with people trundles  
past the camera, the instinct is to jump, to suddenly realize that,  
in the aftermath of the most destructive force ever unleashed, cable  
cars in outlying parts of town kept working. People woke up, got  
dressed, went to some sort of work each day. Life, horrid as it was,  
went on.

In fact, hour after hour, as the military filmmakers traveled across  
Japan to capture images of sumo wrestlers, children playing, open-air  
markets doing business, a family eating a formal dinner at home, you  
have to keep reminding yourself that this is post- A-bomb Japan. It  
looks so normal that in "Original Child Bomb," filmmakers used the  
postwar footage to depict the pre -bomb days.

"Portions are almost artful," says Greg Mitchell, the editor of the  
trade publication Editor & Publisher and author of "Hiroshima in  
America," who wrote about the history of the footage earlier this  
week in his magazine. "The camera people had come out of Hollywood  
studios. They had a film sense."

This weekend, there will be major ceremonies to mark the anniversary  
of the bombings the world over. Candlelight vigils, marches, news  
conferences are planned. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists  
devoted its cover to the question "Would You Have Dropped the Bomb?"

To supporters, President Harry S. Truman hastened the end of a  
horrific war -- more than 50 million people died worldwide in six  
years -- by using the bomb to pacify a nation that had attacked Pearl  
Harbor, shown no mercy in the Bataan death march and committed any  
number of atrocities against the Chinese.

To peace activists, using a weapon that killed about 115,000  
civilians almost instantly and tens of thousands more over the months  
that followed was an unconscionable war crime.

Almost lost in the debate is the footage, which remains one of the  
clearest historical records of the bombings' aftermath.

After the footage was quietly declassified in 1973, bits of it were  
used for the first time in the seminal 1974 British television  
history series "The World at War," according to Mark Meader, archive  
specialist in the motion picture division of the National Archives.  
Portions showed up in Japanese documentaries, on anniversaries of the  
bombings and in a 1983 U.S. documentary called "Dark Circle."

Then it would disappear again.

"It gets 'rediscovered' every decade or so," says Meader. "It's on 16- 
millimeter film, which means it can't really be used at good quality  
in large-screen motion pictures. . . . People hear it's been  
classified, they don't remember hearing about it and they always  
think it's never been seen before."

The irony of the footage today is this: Originally shot as propaganda  
for the U.S. military, it is now used almost exclusively by people  
opposed to nuclear weapons and to the military.

McGovern was not surprised by this, he once told Mitchell.

"I always had the sense that people in the Atomic Energy Commission  
were sorry we had dropped the bomb," Mitchell quotes McGovern as  
saying years ago. "The Air Force -- it was also sorry. I was told by  
people in the Pentagon they didn't want the images out because they  
showed the effect on man, woman, child."

McGovern, now 95 and living in California, could not be reached by  
phone yesterday.

In late 1945, he and a crew had gone to Japan to begin filming. They  
eventually shot 90 reels of 16mm film, containing 30 hours of  
footage. About five hours pertain to the damage and death in  
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The rest is about everyday life in Japan.

Viewing the silent, unedited raw footage today -- anyone can, it's in  
public access at the archives -- is a historical experience on  
several levels. First, there is the documentary aspect in seeing rare  
footage from postwar Japan. Second, there's what it says about the  
people behind the camera. The hospital footage is morbid in the way  
it lingers over wounds. It's disturbing that the filmmakers had women  
undress in front of the camera, exposing their breasts and radiation  

And in the final image that they shot, on the very last reel, there  
is a boisterous group of boys out fishing. They have bamboo poles.  
They jostle. One little boy -- this image is included in "Original  
Child Bomb" -- smiles, all bright eyes and jug ears, and you marvel  
at him, there in the sunlight 60 years ago, the very image of  
childhood resilience against war, death and heartbreak.

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