American Media Coverage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombings
On August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped over the city of Hiroshima in Japan, to be followed by a second bomb over the city of Nagasaki, three days later, by the American military. The fatal consequences of the dropping the world’s first atomic bombs (with power equivalent to 20,000 tons of TNT explosives) over these cities, the mass destruction and loss of life, both short term as well as long term was magnanimous. The reportage of this event, especially in the American media, thus is a reflection of the sensibilities of the press at that time, specifically in times of war. The understanding of the positions that the press took, however, must be made in context of the information that was provided by the government and individual stands of various papers with respect to the bombings as a means to end the war.
The bomb that was dropped on the city of Hiroshima on 6 august was the first atomic bomb in the world. Not only did this bomb signify mass scale destruction, but it also ushered in an era of nuclear warfare. Thus this in itself was a historic event for the entire world, more so for the United States. Given however, the sensitive nature of the debates closely associated with the use of nuclear weapons, as well as their effects on human life, it was imperative that the event be reported in as less controversial a manner as possible. As Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor and Publisher magazine writes in his article, “It was vital that this event be understood as a reflection of dominant military power and at the same time consistent with American decency and concern for human life. Everyone involved in preparing the presidential statement sensed that the stakes were high, for this marked the unveiling of both the atomic bomb and the official narrative of Hiroshima.”
The news was revealed by the President’s address, and later in the form of a press release. On August 7, almost every newspaper carried the 14 - part press offensive that was distributed hours after the announcement, detailing the Hiroshima mission and the atomic bomb. It was with this, argues Monica Braw, that the U.S. government began its battle to control narratives about the bombings, indulging in censorship and propaganda efforts to ensure that all newspapers stuck to the governmental view of the incident. One of the main reasons for this censorship, she says, was to ensure that the reports blame the Japanese for the initiation, and horrors of the war.
The press release itself set the tone for the forthcoming reports on the bombings. An important omission, which is observed in the release, is the absolute exclusion of radiation as a side effect of nuclear weaponry. The long term effects that this radiation would have on the human population are completely overshadowed by the hailing of the atomic bomb as the “greatest, most revolutionary” weapon that the world has seen. Mitchell writes in this regard, that “The government (and the military in particular) also attempted to squelch or refute reports about the effects of the atomic bombs on humans, especially the devastating and lingering impact of radiation. Instead, the government attempted to focus media attention on descriptions of the initial blasts and the effects of the atomic bombs on inanimate objects”. Thus the extremely crucial difference between any other bomb that was ever used in the war and the atomic bomb seemed to be sidelined by the masses, which saw it only as a larger version of the same. As far as radiation effects were concerned, the U.S. government ensured that they were summarily dismissed as “Japanese propaganda”. Uday Mohan recounts in his book, how, one month after the bombings, an Australian journalist, Wilfred Burchett had attempted to bring this issue to light, stating that “30 days after the first atomic bomb destroyed the city and shook the world, people are still dying, mysteriously and horribly—people...
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