When the Body Disappears
emily s. rosenberg and shanon fitzpatrick
A few weeks after American pilots dropped atomic bombs on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, a member of Hollywood’s
First Motion Picture Unit arrived in Japan. Dispatched with the army’s
U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey to study the effects of the air war, he
assembled an eleven-person film crew employing Technicolor and Ko-
dachrome film and began to document the aftermath of the bombing.
He also discovered that Japanese camera crews, deployed immediately
after the bombs fell, had already filmed twenty-six thousand feet of
color footage, a cache that U.S. authorities confiscated and over which
he assumed control. After returning to the United States with ninety
thousand feet of both sets of color film, he used the footage to make
several short documentaries intended for military purposes and began
discussing a possible project with Warner Brothers. Top military offi-
cials, however, raised alarms about the negative impact that the scenes
might have on America’s atomic bomb building and testing programs.
Images of dead and burned bodies and of men, women, and children
in shock and in pain—that is, the chilling evidence of the true horror
of atomic weaponry—disappeared into a classified container in the
United States. Photos of burned-out trolleys surrounded by rows of
skulls and bones, of children with burned and distorted faces, of people
clustered around water wells clogged with radioactive sand remained
unseen. As radiation illness took its toll on human bodies in Japan over
the ensuing months and years of U.S. occupation, American authorities
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