“Why write a book thirty-eight years after an event? Readers have often asked why I did not tackle the task earlier due to my unique experience of being the first Western journalist in Hiroshima after the Atomic Bomb. There are many reasons, including the fact that within days of having written what I only later understood was an historic dispatch from the nuclear-stricken city, I was transferred to Europe and from there to innumerable other international hot spots. It was not until 1971, a quarter of a century after the first nuclear war was unleashed against human beings, that I returned to Hiroshima.
This was in a period when world attention was focused on the `conventional’ (although no less genocidal) warfare in Indochina and when the dangers of nuclear war seemed to have receded, temporarily, into the background. Also I had assumed—most mistakenly—that what had happened in Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 and its aftermath had been so well documented and reported that there was nothing new to add to the subject. It was only when the appalling threat of nuclear war again loomed on the horizon, reinforced by a complacency about the effects of such a holocaust which was based, in turn, (as I discovered to my shock) on ignorance as to what had happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that I felt it was high time to record my own experiences in detail.
Visiting Hiroshima repeatedly in the decade since 1971, investigating the fate of the survivors and studying everything relevant that I could find on the subject, I arrived at the conclusion that I had previously failed to grasp the full extent of the crimes committed there and at Nagasaki. In particular, I had greatly underestimated the extent and persistence of the official cover-up of the reasons for dropping the bombs and of the long-term effects on survivors.
In my view, it has become urgent—virtually a matter of life or death—for people today to understand what really did happen in Hiroshima nearly forty years ago. Once again we all face the actual risk of being consumed by the same nightmarish blast, inferno and radioactive shroud that killed almost half of that city’s population back in 1945.
Splashed across the front page of the London Daily Express under which my original report from Hiroshima was first published was the sub-heading: ‘I Write This As A Warning To The World’. Obviously I could little imagine at the time that the bombs which wiped out Hiroshima and Nagasaki—totally dwarfing the aerial blitzes of the rest of the Second World War—would soon seem puny in their destructive power compared to the capacity of thermonuclear strategic weapons to wipe out entire societies. Indeed the doomsday arsenals of the present cold war build-up might erase human culture, if not the earth’s biosphere itself. The danger is therefore absolute.
Dr Jerome Weisner, chief science adviser to several American presidents and former head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reacted as follows to President Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ announcement of 23 March 1983: ‘Most technical people doubt that anti-nuclear devices in space will work, but if they do, it’s wishful thinking to believe they would provide impenetrable defences. There are ten thousand or more nuclear weapons on each side. A defence system that would knock out 90-95 per cent would be a miracle—and the remaining 5-10 per cent would be enough to totally destroy civilization. …’ Other experts have estimated that the present stocks of nuclear weapons are sufficient to destroy the world thirteen times over and the megatonnage is constantly being improved.
We are constantly being reassured by Western leaders that the actual threat is minimal—so long, that is, as we continue to provide them with a blank cheque for the build-up of even more apocalyptic nuclear weapons systems under the sea and in outer space. They pursue the chimera of restoring the absolute nuclear superiority they briefly possessed at the end of the Second World War, in the deadly delusion that this would allow them to dictate the course of history and to dam the tide of social change. Moreover, if the first forty years of the nuclear epoch are precedent, they are lying to us, massively and systematically.
In 1945 I was too overwhelmed by the enormity of what had happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki to appreciate the cool deliberation and advance planning that went into manufacturing the subsequent cover-up. There was a whole series of questions—so obvious in retrospect—that I failed to ask or piece together at the time: Why, as a well-known and accredited war correspondent, did I encounter such difficulty in transmitting my report to my newspaper? Why did I return to such hostility from American military authorities in Tokyo? Why was I immediately whisked off to a military hospital, if not to isolate me from my colleagues? How did it happen that when I was discharged from the hospital, my Contax camera—containing a full roll of pictures taken in Hiroshima —was stolen? Why did General MacArthur want to expel me from Japan?
At the time I put most of these incidents down to the mysterious behaviour of war-time bureaucracies. Later I was forced to suspect more sinister explanations. Ineluctably, as I learned of the experiences of journalist contemporaries and Japanese survivors, I was forced to recognize the existence of an official policy to suppress accurate reportage of the terrible after-effects of nuclear war. This cover-up—which continues today—is closely related to other attempts to disguise the reasons why President Truman decided to drop two atomic bombs on an already prostrated and defeated Japan. The total accumulation of lies, half-truths and manipulated public opinion, at the ultimate expense of hundreds of thousands of lives (including Americans as well as Japanese), makes the Watergate Affair look like rather small change.
If the threat of nuclear war has become the central issue of our time, precipitating an international peace movement that cuts across all geographical and ideological boundaries, then it is my clear duty, based on my own special experience to add this contribution to our collective knowledge and consciousness. With apologies that it has been so delayed.” Wilfred Burchett, Preface to Shadows of Hiroshima