First Into Nagasaki: The Censored Eyewitness Dispatches on Postatomic Japan and Its Prisoners of War

Overview

George Weller was a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter who covered World War II across Europe, Africa, and Asia. At the war’s end in September 1945, under General MacArthur’s media blackout, correspondents were forbidden to enter both Nagasaki and Hiroshima. But instead of obediently staying with the press corps in northern Japan, Weller broke away. The intrepid newspaperman reached Nagasaki just weeks after the atomic bomb hit the city. Boldly ...
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New York 2006 Hard Cover New in Like New jacket 8vo-over 7?"-9?" tall. 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Edited with an Essay by Anthony Weller; Foreword by Walter Cronkite. Publisher's ... remainder mark on upper left clean edge. Frontis Portrait, Illustrated w/photos on coated stock, Selected Reading, Acknowledgments, 320 clean, crisp & solid pp. Excellent Personal cpy, possible Gift. Read more Show Less

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First into Nagasaki: The Censored Eyewitness Dispatches on Post-Atomic Japan and Its Prisoners of War

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Overview

George Weller was a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter who covered World War II across Europe, Africa, and Asia. At the war’s end in September 1945, under General MacArthur’s media blackout, correspondents were forbidden to enter both Nagasaki and Hiroshima. But instead of obediently staying with the press corps in northern Japan, Weller broke away. The intrepid newspaperman reached Nagasaki just weeks after the atomic bomb hit the city. Boldly presenting himself as a U.S. colonel to the Japanese military, Weller set out to explore the devastation.

As Nagasaki’s first outside observer, long before any American medical aid arrived, Weller witnessed the bomb’s effects and wrote “the anatomy of radiated man.” He interviewed doctors trying to cure those dying mysteriously from “Disease X.” He typed far into every night, sending his forbidden dispatches back to MacArthur’s censors, assuming their importance would make them unstoppable. He was wrong: the U.S. government censored every word, and the dispatches vanished from history.

Weller also became the first to enter the nearby Allied POW camps. From hundreds of prisoners he gathered accounts of watching the atomic explosions bring an end to years of torture and merciless labor in Japanese mines. Their dramatic testimonies sum up one of the least-known chapters of the war—but those stories, too, were silenced.

It is a powerful experience, more than 60 years later, to walk with Weller through the smoldering ruins of Nagasaki, or hear the sagas of prisoners who have just learned that their torment is over, and watch one of the era’s mostbattle-experienced reporters trying to accurately and unsentimentally convey to the American people scenes unlike anything he—or anyone else—knew.

Weller died in 2002, believing it all lost forever. Months later, his son found a fragile copy in a crate of moldy papers. This historic body of work has never been published.

Along with reports from the brutal POW camps, a stirring saga of the worst of the Japanese “hellships” which carried U.S. prisoners into murder and even cannibalism, and a trove of Weller’s unseen photos, First into Nagasaki provides a moving, unparalleled look at the bomb that killed more than 70,000 people and ended WWII. Amid current disputes over the controlled embedding of journalists in war zones and a government’s right to keep secrets, it reminds us how such courageous rogue reporting is still essential to learning the truth.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
George Weller, a Pulitzer Prize- winning war correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, entered Nagasaki on September 6, 1945, four weeks after the atomic blast leveled the city. The first Westerner to tour the city's ruins, he talked with doctors at the makeshift hospitals and scoured the countryside in search of the POW camps scattered across southern Japan over several weeks. His eyewitness dispatches were intercepted and buried, however, by Gen. Douglas MacArthur's censors. Weller saved his carbons, but they disappeared in the hectic months after the war and remained lost for 60 years, until rediscovered after his death by his son Anthony, himself a journalist and a novelist (The Garden of the Peacocks). Weller's dispatches from Nagasaki are riveting even at this late date, though they are only a small part of the book. His extensive interviews with POWs mostly reinforce what we already know about their brutal treatment. The book also offers an account of one of the so-called "death ships" that carried POWs from the Philippines to Japan, and a 1966 essay on Weller's experiences in Nagasaki. On balance, Weller's dispatches are a welcome addition to the historical record. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Weller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent, was present with Gen. Douglas MacArthur at the Japanese surrender after the bombing of Nagasaki. He managed to elude his military minders to roam freely about Japan in the weeks that followed. He sent out a number of articles on the devastation and the efforts by the Japanese to deal with radiation sickness. But he also went into POW camps in Japan and documented the horrific torture, starvation, and general mistreatment of Allied prisoners. Most of the dispatches never passed the censor; others were killed by Weller's editors at the Chicago Daily News. MacArthur's staff eventually caught up with Weller and summarily expelled him from the theater. When he died in 2002, he thought that his original dispatches were long lost, but his son found the carbons copies. By their nature, the items are mostly short and occasionally repetitive, as witnesses give one-line reactions to the first atomic bombs. The POW dispatches, particularly one long one on the disastrous transport of prisoners from Manila to Japan, are harrowing and were regarded as too inflammatory for American eyes. Taken together, these writings form an absorbing contemporary view of post-surrender Japan. There is also a lengthy essay by Weller's son. An essential purchase for subject collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/06.]-Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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. Agent: Henry Dunow/Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307342010
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/26/2006
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.54 (h) x 1.22 (d)

Meet the Author

GEORGE WELLER was born in Boston and graduated from Harvard in 1929. As an admired but penniless young novelist, he began reporting on Greece and the Balkans for the New York Times in the 1930s, then made his name covering the war for the Chicago Daily News. He won a 1943 Pulitzer Prize for his story of an emergency appendectomy on a submarine in enemy waters. Throughout a long career Weller reported from five continents; he was a Nieman Fellow in 1947 and also won a 1954 George Polk Award. His work includes two highly praised WWII books, Singapore Is Silent and Bases Overseas. He died at his home in Italy, aged 95.

ANTHONY WELLER, George Weller’s son, is the author of three novels—The Garden of the Peacocks, The Polish Lover, and The Siege of Salt Cove—and a memoir of India and Pakistan called Days and Nights on the Grand Trunk Road. He has traveled widely for numerous magazines and is also a much-recorded jazz and classical guitarist.
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Read an Excerpt

First Into Nagasaki The Censored Eyewitness Dispatches on Post-Atomic Japan and Its Prisoners of War
By George Weller Crown Copyright © 2006 George Weller
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307342010

I

First into Nagasaki

(1966)

Whenever I see the word "Nagasaki," a vision arises of the city when I entered it on September 6, 1945, as the first free westerner to do so after the end of the war. No other correspondent had yet evaded the authorities to reach either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. The effects of the atomic bombs were unknown except for the massive fact that they had terminated the war with two blows in three days. The world wanted to know what the bombs' work looked like from below.*

I had just escaped the surveillance of General MacArthur's censors, his public relations officers and his military police. MacArthur had placed all southern Japan off limits to the press. Slipping into forbidden Nagasaki, I felt like another Perry, entering a land where my presence itself was forbidden, a land that now had two Mikados, both omnipotent.

When I walked out of Nagasaki's roofless railroad station, I saw a city frizzled like a baked apple, crusted black at the open core where the searing sun born at Alamogordo had split open the blue sky of midday. I saw the long, crumpled skeleton of the Mitsubishi electrical motor and ship fitting plant, a framework blasted clean of its flesh bythe lazy-falling missile floating under a parachute.

What irony, I thought, in a war of competing velocities, that this slowest-borne of all weapons, falling at a speed little greater than my own descent when I took training as a paratrooper, should in the end out-destroy all the fleetest of the winged killers. The bomb of Nagasaki reversed the rule of war, getting there last and slowest but with the most, a terminal blow riding under a silk handkerchief.

Even now I see the scorched hills ringing the bottleneck of the port. Along the blistered boulevards the shadows of fallen telegraph poles were branded upright on buildings, the signature of the ray stamped in huge ideograms. I can never forget the hospitals where I heard from X-ray specialists the devouring effects of the ray on the human bloodstream and viscera, analyzed as impassively by the little men in white coats as if it had happened to someone else, not themselves. In the battered corridors of these hospitals, already eroded by man's normal suffering, there was no sorrowful horde. The wards were filled. There was no private place left to die. Consequently the dying were sitting up crosslegged against the walls, holding sad little court with their families, answering their tender questions with the mild, consenting indifference of those whose future is cancelled.

I felt pity, but no remorse. The Japanese military had cured me of that. After years of unchallenged domination, they were bending a little under the first after-wind of the bombs, a national mistrust, almost contempt, for having led Japan into war. A few sought escape in hara-kiri. The majority blamed the enemy for using weapons that were "unfair."

Had Japan got these weapons first, would they have been unfair, I asked? Was Pearl Harbor an act of Japanese chivalry? The crafty eyes under the peaked brown caps turned unblinking and blank.

In the harbor, I remember, there still burned the last altar kindled by the fireball. A small freighter, crisped like dry bacon down to the waterline, still smoked, glowed and puffed. She was a floating lamp, untended, with all her mooring ropes burned outward till the ends fell in the water. But her hot pink hawsers still held. Bobbing there among the debris-littered dark waters, she spread a light that flickered in eerie unison with the candles and kerosene lamps and little flashlights ashore.

I felt I had a right to be in Nagasaki, closed or not. Four weeks after the two bombs, with no riots or resistance in Japan, it seemed reasonable that MacArthur should lift his snuffer from the two cities. There was a sort of reason for delay, but it had nothing to do with the public's right to know. As something to fall back upon in the event of the failure of the bombs, MacArthur's planners had arranged that the Japanese archipelago was to be invaded in one-two time, first the northern islands and the Tokyo-Yokohama area, and then the south, with the two atomic cities. Japan's surrender made little difference. An incredible six weeks was announced as the interval before the southern islands were to be occupied. MacArthur had fought a slow, cautious, methodical war, taking no chances with his postwar target, the presidency. His peacemaking was its twin, with censorship prolonged after victory long after the slightest pretext for it existed.

After submitting to the censors of the MacArthur command ever since I had escaped from Java in March, 1942, I felt I could not take much more. I remembered how his censors, perhaps eager not to offend or alarm the White House, killed a dispatch I wrote criticizing Roosevelt's defeat by Stalin at Yalta. With security no longer in question, I was not going to be stifled again. But I was not unaware that in planning to slip into an atomic city first, I was also risking repudiation by the conformists in my own profession. Four years earlier they had ceased bucking the communiqué-fed hamburger grinder, and they disliked-while perhaps secretly admiring-anybody who kept on trying to report the war, to make the public think as well as feel.

My plan of extrusion formed itself a few hours after we all sat on the gun turrets of the Missouri, watching Japan surrender to MacArthur and Nimitz. This measured rite over-almost wrecked by a Russian photographer in Lenin cap who was chased around like Harpo Marx-the correspondents were summoned ashore to a press conference. The war was ended, as we had reported, but the censorship was not. There was no chance, therefore, to ask from Tokyo why the Kurile Islands, regular patrol grounds of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, were to be handed to Russia. What the command wanted covered was the prison camps of northern Japan. The dam was to be opened to one last orgy of home town stories, more mindless and more alike than the slow molasses drippings of four years of sloppy, apolitical, dear-mom war. Everything had been arranged: destroyers and planes were to take the correspondents north. North, north, north, away from where the war had been decided a month before.

Once, in midwar, I had been able to escape the darkrooms of the four main theaters of war by going home and running off a book called Bases Overseas, claiming for the United States a worldwide network of small strong points where her men had died and her treasure been expended. I did not feel that the right way to end this war was to be herded north, away from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to chew more fodder about what-beasts-the-Japs-are and Jimmy-looks-skinnier-today. Only a few days before, but after the Mikado's surrender, a Saturday Evening Post writer who wore colonel's leaves refused to pass my story about the 503rd Paratroops on Corregidor, my old outfit, that revealed there were still Japanese bodies unburied in the tunnels. "That's contrary to the Geneva Convention, and might make the Japs cancel their surrender," he said. . . . The American psychological grasp of the Japanese was shallow.

I listened as the chief conducting officer, rod in hand, pointed out on a map the prison camps where the newsmen were to be allowed to land and play savior. "Southern Japan remains closed. However, there is a little place down here"-he pointed to the southern end of Kyushu-"where their navy had a kamikaze base. Anybody interested in the divine wind?"

"Geisha schools next door?" asked a jaded voice.

"Nuh-uh. And the pilots are all in the stockade, I'm afraid." Ah, no interviews, then. Enemy personnel, minimize glorification of.

"What happened to their planes?" asked a hopeful photographer.

"Not much left after the flyboys worked 'em over. But we do have the strip working again. That's a story in itself." Nobody seemed to agree. For Stripes, perhaps. SUICIDE STRIP OPERATIVE-ENGINEERS IN OVERNIGHT MIRACLE. Full of bewildering unit numbers, and ten terse words from the colonel.

No hand was raised for the kamikaze junkpile. Everybody signed for a prison camp, or nothing, and walked out. At the door I turned back to have another look at the map. The kamikaze hole was named Kanoya. While the officer was sorting out his camps and correspondents, I cased Kanoya. A railroad came down to it. Kyushu, in fact, was covered with little railroads. But were any operating?

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a long way north, and it was partly mountain country, where bridges had been knocked out.

And then I felt rising in me, like a warm geyser, a jet of confidence. It is like the moment when a poem unties your mind.

"I might kill a couple of days with that Kanoya thing," I said. "Who's conducting?" He told me the name of a captain, new to me, not one of MacArthur's little foxes I had been dodging since Buna and Moresby.

"Okay, I'll take a chance."

"Sign here."

The conducting officer, when I met him later, turned out to be a young, friendly captain who had earned a late overseas assignment by impeccable performance somewhere back home. He had already dutifully pulled together everything about Kanoya that could be wrung out of intelligence. Next morning, as we got aboard the plane, I asked him: "What made the general take Kanoya and leave out all the rest of southern Japan?"

He knew, because he had asked. "He had to give back to Eisenhower and Marshall all the C-54s he borrowed to bring our headquarters in from Manila. So we're down mostly to C-47s. They need fuel between Atsugi and Okinawa."

I wanted to get some idea how hard this eager officer was going to press me to produce. "No pain for you, I hope, if I don't find a story in traffic safety," I said.

"It's a gamble," he said cheerfully. "No pain, no strain."

Neither of us mentioned the conspicuous nearness, in flying distance, of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There had been just enough atomic ferment at the press conference to warn the command that the reporters could not much longer stall off the editors at home. The look-Mom, I'm-free stories couldn't last forever.

As we buzzed south at a safe five thousand feet, keeping offshore as if Japan would strike again, I asked myself how I could shake off this earnest, able officer without souring the end of his war, late and little as it was. What gave me trouble was that I liked him. He really wanted to help me, not throttle me.

When we landed at Kanoya the strip was stiff with Japanese soldiers, drawn up in honorific array. Perhaps they were expecting MacArthur himself. They were ready, if need be, to surrender their ancestral swords. What they got, instead, was a natty, cheerful captain leading a rumpled laundry bag of a correspondent. It was obviously a letdown.

Politely we inspected the smashed hangars, the bomb racks, the dormitories where the pilots slept for the last time before taking off for Iwo and Okinawa. We got almost too much attention. It bonded us together, preventing me from looking around to find a way to escape. . . . Had I had enough of Kanoya? my guide wanted to know. "Because I've made arrangements for us to fly back tomorrow." This was alarming. Unable to think of a reason to stay longer, I began to fear that the trip was all a sterile gamble.

Working around the edge of the base that afternoon, I found that the least conspicuous way to get to the mainland was to hire a motorboat. It was only a few hundred yards. I managed to dig up a railroad schedule. All I could read was the numbers. Kanoya was stiff with ambitious Nisei who could have read it at a glance. But I feared that these loyal patriots would turn me in for an extra stripe.

The help I needed appeared suddenly in a tall thirty-year-old sergeant in Army Airways Communications intelligence named Gilbert Harrison, later the organizer of the American Veterans' Committee, and later still the editor of The New Republic. By his easy irony and barbed distaste for military authority, I guessed he might be the outrigger I needed. After some wary soundings to make sure he would not turn me in, I spilled my plan to him. "Can I come?" he said instantly. . . . We arranged for me to get away by motorboat under cover of night and pointed for a rendezvous over on the mainland.

I shook off my captain early, tapped away at my typewriter until he went to bed in a nearby room, and then went to bed myself, fully dressed. In case he ran a bed check, I left my shoes outside the door. Not long before dawn, I slipped past his door, out under the stars. I felt faint pangs. What punishment might MacArthur's dutiful colonels wreak on a trustful, gentlemanly, dewy-fresh captain who was given only one, repeat one, correspondent to watch and lost him? To avoid generating alarm and despondency, I put aside my guilt as I stepped into the boat to cross the stream.

When I landed on the opposite shore, the village lights were just winking out. Nobody was awake but a few fishermen, coiling their nets on the beach after the night's catch. I don't remember Harrison being with me, and I think he spent the night in camp, to avoid causing any alarm. As I remember we formed up at the railroad station in Koyama, the end of the line. The gentle captain seems to have assumed that I went out for an early morning walk and got lost, delayed or shacked up.

Harrison protected his disappearance by sending a dutiful service story about Kanoya's redemption to his commanding officer in Manila. Actually the sergeant was in better legal shape than I was. He had orders allowing him five days to reach Tokyo, means unstated. The orders didn't say that he couldn't visit southern Japan any more than a powder room says "Ladies, No Men." So he chose to imagine that his superiors didn't care how he went. Nothing happened to him, indeed, until ten days later when his colonel found him in the officers' mess in Tokyo and asked: "Are you enjoying yourself here, sergeant?"

The first train north did not leave until four in the afternoon. We kept worrying that the Americans on Kanoya might be willing to smudge their image as liberators by asking the Japanese police to pick us up. These police were ubiquitous, the only government Japan had. By train time I felt confident enough to order the soldiers around the station to carry our bags.

For the conquerors to choose to travel in third class, which was crowded as a cage of monkeys, seemed puzzling to the soldiers, passengers and train crew. But we had no Japanese money and it seemed to me that there, where a fuss would cause maximum trouble, we had the best chance of brazening our way through. We also were protected, by this eccentric self-abasement, from the prying questions of passengers of rank who might have the brains and mischief to turn us in.

Continues...

Excerpted from First Into Nagasaki by George Weller Copyright © 2006 by George Weller. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2007

    Great Reporting makes you think about alot

    First into Nagasaki is a great book. Highly recommended, bordering on outstanding. So much is made of WW2 from the European side and Weller recounts some of the most heroic and pivotal events of the late pacific war. His book makes you think about a lot and is also information that needs to come out to contradict some of the modern thinking about the war and the nuclear age. Although I did not agree with every thing that was presented, this book is put together by his son from original reports. There is no doubt that it ranks up there with some of the great reporting of war. You should check it out.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted January 28, 2011

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