The shell of a building that once was a movie theatre in Hiroshima September 8, 1945, a month after the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare was dropped by the US. (AP Photo/Stanley Troutman)
Wayne Miller has passed away at the age of 94. That name surely means nothing to you, even if I add, “Photographer.” It didn’t even ring a bell for me, and I’m a student of the atomic bombing of Japan and its aftermath.
Miller was among the first group of Americans to arrive in Hiroshima about a month after the bombing, in early September, 1945. He was a Navy man attached to the official wartime photography unit, directed by Edward Steichen (and took some memorable battlefield shots earlier). He made his way to the atomic city by train—see his oral history here—and snapped a few pictures in a handful of locations, then left. This was just days, maybe hours, afrer Wilfred Burchett, the Australian, became the first outside journalist to get to Hiroshima and write his fabled “warning to the world.”
Few of Miller’s pictures were ever published in the months and years to come—and the ones that were focused on damaged buildings and devastated landscapes. But Miller had also visited a makeshift medical facility in a battered bank building (all of the hospitals in the city had been destroyed) and he took striking pictures there of victims of the bombing suffering from massive burns, the new-to-the-world “keloid” scarring from the atomic flash, and also the new and frightening “A-bomb disease” (slow death from exposure to radiation). Due to strict and long-running postwar military censorship, then press cowardice, Americans were not allowed to see any of these types of images, in photos or in film, for decades, while the nuclear arms race ensued and the decision to drop the bomb was stoutly defended, setting a precedent for future use. In that oral history, Miller (who became famous after the war for his peacetime photos) disclosed that two rolls of color film that he shot in Hiroshima simply disappeared and he didn’t see any other photos published either.
A few days after Miller’s visit to Hiroshima, a plane full of US reporters, including (later famous) William Lawrence, arrived at the scene. They also toured the ruins and a makeshift hospital—but none wrote about the condition of the patients, or perhaps they did and the reports were censored for all time. George Weller, the first US reporter to reach Nagasaki, saw his many dispatches from there disappear for sixty years.
I tell the full story in my book Atomic Cover-Up, which covers the suppression of photos but mainly the historic film footage shot by a special US military team that showed, in color, the human effects of the bomb—but was kept hidden for decades, even as one of the veterans who made the film tried to get it released. Some of that footage is in the video below. Also see my book with Robert Jay Lifton, Hiroshima in America.
What is the US nuclear program like today? Read Greg Mitchell on the recent violation of safety rules in our own nuclear facilities.