Saturday, June 16, 2007

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

Chicago Daily News reporter George Weller broke all the rules when he went into Nagasaki about four weeks after it had been blasted by the second atomic bomb dropped on Japan. He escaped his military escort, rode a still-running Japanese train, and pretended to be an American army officer. The ruse worked to the point that he obtained official Japanese cooperation, but his on-the spot reports were snagged by General MacArthur's censors and destroyed. The carbons from his typewriter were found in 2003. First into Nagasaki is the first publication of most of the stories from his months in and around Japan in the fall of 1945.

Why were Weller's reports suppressed? His accounts were not sensational. In fact, the military accounts of destruction and loss of life were higher, and most of his pieces dealt with soldiers and civilians who had been Japanese prisoners of war. In a memoir that he wrote later (also in this book), he surmised that MacArthur and his staff wanted full control of the story, which the reporter threatened.

The prisoner of war stories are more interesting than the Nagasaki story, which is as much about Weller's adventure as about the military event. The reporter spoke with hundreds of service men who had spent years in brutally hard work camps, often recording their own words. First Into Nagasaki should have an index so the descendants of these men could more easily find their stories.

From his interviews, Weller also learned much about the Pacific theater of war, and this book includes stories about Wake Island, the Philippines, and Japanese prisoner transport ships. World War II readers will want this book.

Weller, George. First into Nagasaki: The Censored Eyewitness Dispatches on Post-Atomic Japan and Prisoners of War. Crown Publishers, 2006. ISBN

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