“To Hell and Back” is a phrase that can bear a pretty heavy metaphorical load when it comes to talking about the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It’s also the title of a book by Charles Pellegrino.
Pellegrino’s book is a moving and grueling close-up look at the horrors experienced by the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki both on the day of the bombing and in the days and years afterward. I have the heart of a dried-up raisin but even I got a little teary in places.
There are few opportunities for inspiring “triumph of the human spirit” narratives amid the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombings were titanic, apocalyptic events that mock human scale and comprehension. Pellegrino depicts dazed “ant-trails” of survivors threading through the instantaneously blasted landscapes and past heaps of the dead, dying, and horrifically maimed in the shadow of an eight-mile high radioactive cloud. Fate and the desperate efforts of the rescuers saved some, but many lives literally disintegrated in seconds, minutes, days, and years after the bombs were dropped.
Near the hypocenter, the experience of death was overwhelming and random in a dehumanizing way. For some, it came down to the decision to wear a white shirt or a dark shirt. The white shirt might reflect the intense, instantaneous radiation of the blast with remarkable efficacy; a black shirt absorbed the radiation and incinerated the wearer. For others it was their location at the time of the blast, even near the hypocenter.
The bottom line for many survivors is that their families, their communities, their city, most of the world they knew, their health, their spiritual equilibrium, even their social status had been annihilated in an event of overwhelming horror. The survivors experienced physical and mental trauma; ostracization; guilt; shame; and lingering illness.
Nevertheless, Pellegrino documents instances of courage, compassion, and ingenuity and people sustaining their humanity through acts of love and sacrifice.
An inspiration for the title of the book is the “double” hibakusha, people who experienced and survived both the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One survivor of Hiroshima goes back home to Nagasaki and tells his co-workers of the awful weapon he had experienced; he warns them if they see a blinding flash—the pika—they must use it as a signal they have a few seconds to seek shelter before the don—the crash, the massive shock wave created by the bomb, arrives.
And so “duck and cover” was born.
A document of human horror, To Hell and Back is also a memorial to the survivors and their struggle to restore sanity and meaning to their lives with little outside help. And it also sounds like a backhanded reference to Pellegrino’s own travails at the hands of the nuclear denialists.
His book was originally published in 2010 as The Last Train to Hiroshima. But the book—and Pellegrino himself– became a piñata for indignant veterans, nuclear denialists, and atomic bomb fanboys.
The substantive problem with Last Train was that an informant who claimed to have been part of the squadron of planes escorting the Enola Gay and provided several pages of gripping detail had made up his story.
Pellegrino acknowledged the error and retracted, but it became clear that the intention of his opponents was not to correct errors; it was discredit Pellegrino, the book, and the idea that the sufferings of the victims should be remembered when considering the bomb and its legacy.
The attacks on the book went beyond scientific nitpicking along the lines of “could a human really be vaporized by an atomic bomb?” and snowballed into attacks on Pellegrino, his credentials, and his integrity. The New York Times provided a platform for the anti-Pellegrino crowd, helping stampede the publisher, Henry Holt and Company, into withdrawing Last Train to Hiroshima.
The battle continued on various message boards; Pellegrino held his own, especially after it transpired that the New York Times and other media outlets, while pursuing their ambitions to serve as journalistic gatekeepers and bring a literary malefactor to justice, had themselves been gulled by a series of malicious forgeries supplied by Pellegrino’s enemies.
The attack on Last Train appears to have been very much of a piece, both in themes and protagonists, with longstanding U.S. government and military veteran groups’ efforts to suppress the more disturbing issues and viewpoints surrounding the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
On the scientific side, the US government had a vested interest in suppressing the details of pervasive and persistent radiation effects that undercut the usability of nuclear weapons and threatened to deliver a gigantic bill for human and environmental remediation.
Here’s one of the first important U.S. military documentaries on Hiroshima/Nagasaki, A Tale of Two Cities from 1946. There’s a lot of image management going on; for instance, the Nagasaki bombardier missed the designated bull’s eye by 3 miles, which is spun as a judicious decision to drop the nuke right between two major targets to get both!
A Tale of Two Cities, 1946
What’s very interesting is the very early interest in poo-pooing radiation effects. Physicists suspected from the outset that radioactive contamination from a nuclear blast was a pervasive, unmanageable problem; the Pentagon has always been, in a rather unscientific and immoral way, committed to advertising the fiction that contamination issues are manageable and the health impacts minimal.
The movie pushes the “clean blast” story (bomb detonated above ground to minimize fallout, which is I think a bit of a stretch; some scientists decided a ground detonation would soak up too much of the shock wave to yield a psychologically satisfying degree of devastation & proposed an airburst instead); presents the statement of a Jesuit priest that he worked in Hiroshima with no ill effects after the attack; and offers the reassuring observation that that it was back to business as usual on the roads of Nagasaki after the massive radiation release: “people using them without ill effects shortly after the explosion”.
Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US military has been kept busy in its crusade to assert the sanitary and housebroken character of nuclear events. In 1954 it faced a particular challenge when eggheads miscalculated the yield of the Castle Bravo shot, a sizable chunk of Bikini Atoll was vaporized into radioactive dust, the Lucky Dragon No. 5 got contaminated, and Godzilla was born (no lie; read it here).
The Hiroshima Bomb at Bikini 1954: Deadly Miscalculation at Castle Bravo
Managing and covering up the consequences of atmospheric nuclear releases is also very much a contemporary problem for the US, as I’ve discussed in my CounterPunch piece on the U.S. apparent coverup of the radiation problems of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, which was contaminated offshore of Fukushima during post-earthquake/tsunami rescue operations.
My piece picks apart the peacetime radiation effects issue in history, from one of the most significant fallout events in U.S. history—in Albany, New York—and the Chernobyl disaster, in addition to Fukushima, to describe the U.S. government “long war” on unfavorable radiation effects science and its concerted effort to minimize the accounting of radiation casualties to the absolute, irrefutable bare minumum.
The Reagan has never been completely decontaminated, several hundred members of the crew and other U.S. military personnel are suing for compensation for medical issues, and the Reagan has been sitting in the naval base at Yokosuka for a suspiciously long time for an aircraft carrier that’s supposed to be pivoting all over the western Pacific at this crucial juncture (the USS John Stennis out of San Diego & aircraft carriers transiting from the Middle East are picking up the d*ck-swinging slack).
But Hiroshima/Nagasaki denialists are only peripherally interested in issues of radiation effects. They want to suppress or minimize all accounts of human suffering in order to pre-empt discussions of the morality of U.S. tactics in the ultimate “good war”.
Like the coverup of radiation effects, feel-good denialism has been a factor in attitudes toward Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the start.
Douglas MacArthur believed that the A-bomb got too much credit, especially since it threatened to dilute the glory of Douglas MacArthur’s victory in the Pacific, and his team devoted a significant effort to poor-mouthing the strategic significance of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as dismissing the magnitude of human suffering it caused. In the words of MacArthur’s point man for spinning the public health effects of the attacks, Crawford Sams, the A-bomb was “a poor killer”.
Milestones in U.S. denialism include MacArthur’s imposition of censorship on reporting from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the suppression of gruesome footage of the medical consequences of the bombings, recorded shortly after the surrender both by a Japanese newsreel company and the U.S. Army’s own lavishly-funded Technicolor documentary unit.
As chronicled by Greg Mitchell, the footage has emerged fitfully and incompletely.
Erik Barnouw of Columbia University edited the two hours and forty five minutes of the Japanese footage into a 15 minute piece shown on US television in 1969.
Some of the U.S. Army footage, known as the McGovern footage after the unit director, found its way onto the Internet.
Be warned before clicking: these two videos, especially the McGovern footage, are essentially medical atrocity videos.
But also, if you can sit through the videos, you notice that to the amateur observer much of the movie documents horrific burn trauma that, aside from footage of people whose eyes got melted by the flash, doesn’t look demonstrably and exclusively like radiation effects.
It just looks awful and inhumane. And that’s probably why the films were suppressed.
The bombings were assaults on soft, primarily civilian targets with minor military value. Per the recommendation of the Manhattan Project Targeting Committee, the US Army Air Force refrained from attacking Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and two other sites so the power of the atomic weapon could be demonstrated on relatively undamaged cities in order to terrify and demoralize the Japanese people and government to the maximum.
In fact, the bombings come uncomfortably close to acts of international terrorism as defined by 18 U.S.C. § 2331 of the U.S. Code: “Appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”
Key punctuation points in the war against humanitarian and pacifist attempts to detail the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the campaigns against plans for a historically accurate setting for the Enola Gay exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute in 1994 and 2003. The result was replacing the nuanced exhibit with a single presentation of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the Hiroshima bomb.
Many of the same protagonists emerged with the same themes to savage Pellegrino in 2010.
One of the interesting and melancholy developments is that the denialist campaign to minimize the human consequences of the atomic bombings seems to be losing some of its heat in 2016. Not necessarily because understanding, reflection, and compassion (in Japanese omoiyari, a concept embraced by some hibakusha that Pellegrino celebrates in his book) are finally prevailing; it’s because the World War II generation is dying and it’s easier to ignore a bygone horror when the living, human legacy of injury and suffering is no longer before our eyes.
The good news is that Pellegrino’s book is back, new and improved, expanded, documented, fact-checked, and footnoted and published by Rowman & Littlefield thanks to the efforts of Mark Selden of Cornell. You can do the publisher a favor by buying the book direct from the R&L website. And for the most complete and authoritative reporting on nuclear/radiation issues in Japan, bookmark the Asia-Pacific Journal/Japan Focus e-journal.
This is a revised and expanded version of an article that appeared in Asia Times and CounterPunch.
Peter Lee writes on East and South Asian affairs and their intersection with US global policy. He is the moving force behind the Asian affairs website China Matters which provides continuing critical updates on China and Asia-Pacific policies. His work frequently appears at Asia Times.
Originally published on 2016-06-01
Author: Peter Lee
Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection, Public Domain & Pinterest.
Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!
Donate to Support Us
We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.
“Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Keep in mind that, much sooner than later, the great avenues will again be opened through which will pass free men to construct a better society. Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!” President Salvador Allende’s farewell speech, 11 September 1973.“It’s hard to find someone with the fighting spirit, courage and the story of Allende. He was a man who actually had the branded name in history: democratically the left came ...
State frontiers are established by human beingsand may be changed by human beings.Adolf Hitler. Mein KampfDiplomacy, with all the conventions of its forms,recognizes only real facts.Charles de GaullePart OneAll of Adolf Hitler’s actions, from the time he rose to power in 1933 until 1939, could be described as one triumph after another. He met each challenge he faced: he took over as head of the country, returned Germany’s lost territories without a struggle, and was given permission from England and France to rearm. But one further task lay before him, and failure now would make his previous achievements almost pointless. ...
The prophet Cassandra’s curse was that when she told the future, no one listened; history’s curse is that when it tells the past, no one does.The West has no shortage of charges it hurls against Russia, but most of them can be grouped into one of three categories: that Russia intervened in the American elections, that Russia is dragging the world into a new cold war, and that Russia is becoming increasingly aggressive and expansionist. Sometimes when charges are brought against you, the best witness you can call to your defense is history.Election InterventionThis history of Russia, America and political ...
No matter how hard White House officials try, they cannot construct a coherent ‘Trump doctrine’ that would make sense amid the chaos that has afflicted US foreign policy in recent months.
However, this chaos is not entirely the making of President Donald Trump alone.
Since 1945, the United States has vied for total global leadership. The 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent disintegration of the Eastern Bloc, gave it complete global hegemony.
The US became the force that stabilized and destabilized any region in the world, as it saw fit – which always served the interests of the US and ...
In 1991, a delegation of the German Bundestag visited Kosovo for the first time in order to talk with Kosovo Albanian nationalist leaders. This prompted – as early as 1991! – the warning by a senior member of the Yugoslavian parliament that “the British and the Germans would create a common intervention force with 70,000 soldiers in order to intervene in Kosovo.”  Indeed an early and accurate prophecy! So what about Germany’s role in preparing for the Kosovo war?There were and there are strategic differences between German and the US policies about how to retain or enhance hegemony. “As ...
PrefaceIt is the 30th anniversary of the first post-WWII democratic elections in Serbia and the rest of the ex-Yugoslavia.My aim in this article is to elaborate on the feature of the multi-party elections in Serbia in 1990 and to give an answer to the crucial question why did Slobodan Miloshevic with his SPS party win? After the investigation of the case we found that critical reasons for Miloshevic’s/SPS absolute electoral parliamentary and presidential victory in 1990 have been: 1) The countryside and small urban settlements voted for SPS due to the informative blockade; 2) Old population voted for SPS; 3) ...
Fighting against the U.S. Corrupted Administration: Chronology of Events in the Case of Ronald Thomas WestRepublished by permission by the author.Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection & Pinterest.Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!Donate to Support UsWe would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.
Although the 2016 presidential election is still in the primaries phase, contenders have already brought up America’s failed foreign wars. Hillary Clinton is taking flak over Libya, and Donald Trump has irked the GOP by bringing up Iraq. But what of Kosovo?
The US-led NATO operation that began on March 24, 1999 was launched under the “responsibility to protect” doctrine asserted by President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. For 78 days, NATO targeted what was then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – which later split into Serbia and Montenegro – over alleged atrocities against ethnic Albanians in the ...
It's no secret that President Trump believes NATO is an anachronism. It's also no secret that French President Emmanuel Macron wants a Grand Army of the EU and a single EU Finance Minister to further integration of the EU into the United States of Europe.
He and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have been championing these two things since the day after Macron took office. They are both pushing hard for the EU to conduct independent foreign policy, framing Trump's belligerence as the catalyst for its need now.
So, I’m not surprised in the wake of Merkel’s garden summit with Russian President Vladimir ...
What you can see here, as the example: Serbian shrine Bogorodica Ljeviška (Virgin Mary of Ljevishka) is a cathedral church in the city of Prizren in the western part of Kosovo & Metohija region. The city was a capital of medieval Serbia. This church is built by Serbian king Milutin between 1307-1309. This church belongs to one of four masterpieces of Serbian sacral architecture in the Middle Ages in Kosovo & Metohija that was a central part of Serbian medieval state. The video is in the Serbian language.Rachak Village in Kosovo 1999- Lies and the truth from Vladislav B. Sotirovic ...
Part IThe historical background of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is going back to 1917 (the Balfour Declaration) and the establishment of the British protectorate over Palestine (the Palestine Mandate) after WWI with its provision for a national home for the Jews, although formally not to be at the expense of the local inhabitants – the Palestinians. Nevertheless, it became in practice the focal problem to keep an appropriate balance between these stipulations to be acceptable to both sides – the Jews and the Palestinians.The people and the landSince the time of the Enlightenment followed by the Romanticism, in West Europe emerged ...
March 24, 2018, marks the 19th anniversary of NATO illegal and illegitimate bombing of Yugoslavia, Serbia and its Kosovo, province during 78 days. It has – one is tempted to say: of course – been conveniently forgotten by the West itself.
It was masterminded by the United States under Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright after the so-called negotiations between Serbs and Albanians in Rambouillet outside Paris (the parties never met face-to-face).
While Clinton may be best remembered for his relations with Monica Lewinsky and his wife, Hillary Clinton, some of us also remember him (and Albright) for bombing Afghanistan, ...
Two decades later Bosnia is still suffering the consequences. ISIS has declared the Balkans the next front for the Islamic Caliphate, and in remote mountain villages, Muslims are already flying the ISIS flag.Central Bosnia in 2015Russia Insider (h/t Maksim) The Balkans is the latest arena where the West is trying to circumcise any attempt of Russia to regainits influence. This anti-Serbian resolution and initiative is the part of the broader strategy and the latest Western attempt to demonize Serbs and delegitimize pro-Russian Republic of Srpska (Serbian part of Bosnia) in an effort to forcefully centralize Bosnia and give the driving seat to ...
Barring unexpected delays, Silvia Foti is months away from fulfilling an old promise that’s become her life’s work: to write a biography of her late grandfather, who is a national hero in his native Lithuania.
Foti, a 60-year-old high school teacher from Chicago, made the pledge to her dying mother 18 years ago. She has spent a long time studying the life of her grandfather, Jonas Noreika, as well as acquiring the writing skills necessary for chronicling it and finding a publisher.
But rather than celebrating Noreika’s legacy as her mother requested, the biography that Foti wrote confirms and amplifies the findings ...
In an interview for the German news magazine Zuerst! (April 2015) Srdja Trifkovic considers the significance of Otto von Bismarck’s legacy, 200 years after his birth.Dr. Trifkovic, how would Bismarck react if he could see today’s map of Europe?Trifkovic: He would be initially shocked that the German eastern border now runs along the Oder and Neisse rivers. Otto von Bismarck was a true Prussian. In his view, cities such as Königsberg, Danzig or Breslau were more properly “German” than those in the Rhineland. His first impression therefore would be that Germany has “shifted” to the West, and that an important social and ...
24 March 1999 was a day of gross shame and ignominy in the historical annals of Britain and America. It was the day when the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation became the North American Terrorist Organisation. NATO, for the first time since its founding in 1949, launched a vicious, unprovoked and illegal attack against the sovereign nation of Yugoslavia, in a preplanned act of aggression sponsored by US President Bill Clinton.
The 78 days of NATO air strikes took place without the necessary UN Security Council authorisation. It is equally loathsome that Clinton’s violence against the Serbs, who were our gallant allies ...
To Benjamin H. Freedman, who committed himself to finding and telling the facts about Zionism and Communism. and encouraged others to do the same. The son of one of the founders of the American Jewish Committee, which for many years was anti-Zionist, Ben Freedman founded the League for Peace with Justice in Palestine in 1946. He gave me copies of materials on the Balfour Declaration which I might never have found on my own and encouraged my own research. (He died in April 1984.)
The Institute for Historical Review is providing means for the better understanding of the events of our ...
July 3, 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of when the United States’ first military assault against Afghanistan with the CIA-backed Mujahideen began. It would be a mistake to treat the present-day conflict as being separate from the U.S. intervention that began in 1979 against the then-government of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan. Afghanistan was not always known as the chaotic, ‘failed state’ overrun by warlords as it is now; this phenomenon is a product of that U.S.-led regime change operation. The article below, originally published on March 30, 2019, summarizes and analyzes the events that transpired during and after the Cold War ...
The Consequences of WWI and the YugoslavsThe end of WWI in November 1918 as a consequence of the military collapse of the Central Powers and the following series of peace treaties of Versailles on June 28th, 1919 between the Allies and Germany, of St Germain on September 10th, 1919 with Austria, of Neuilly on November 27th, 1919 with Bulgaria, and finally of Trianon on June 4th, 1920 with Hungary, produced major border changes in Central, South-East, and East Europe as the continent saw the emergence of several of new states and the enlargement of others fortunate enough to be on ...
The entire sand-castle (a product of Obama CIA Director John Brennan’s imagination) the “Russians hacked the election” is finally washing away with an incoming tide. How this plays out is anyone’s guess.
The open question is, how the new information will be leveraged, if it were to actually break into the open widely, with the bad boy Trump essentially captured by the surreal evil that surrounds him. Other than pure evil (e.g. Mike Pence), only a narcissist or a fool would ever desire to be president of this particular USA republic. In ‘The Donald’, we have both.
1 August 2017 an audio ...
Chile, September 11, 1973
Why London Presented Hitler with Vienna and Prague?
Accusing Russia: Listening to History
‘Trumpism’ is Symptom of Decades-Long Imperial Arrogance
How Germany Paved the Way to the Kosovo War 1998-1999
The Multi-Party Elections in Serbia in 1990
Fighting against the U.S. Corrupted Administration: Chronology of Events in the Case of Ronald Thomas West
Kosovo: An Evil Little War (Almost) All US Candidates Liked
Paving the Road to the End of NATO
Documentary Movies about Kosovo-Metochia
The Historical Background of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Remembering the 1999 War on Yugoslavia (Serbia & Montenegro)
The Disaster That Bill Clinton Created in Bosnia by Backing Muslims Against the Serbs
Untold History of Lithuania: A Chicago Teacher Showed Her Grandfather was a Nazi Collaborator
Bismarck’s System of Continental Alliances
The NATO – The Tool of European Neo-Fascism and Pope’s “Blessed Silence”
Behind the Balfour Declaration
Afghanistan: The Forgotten Proxy War
How Yugoslavia was Created: The 1917 Corfu Declaration
Incompetent Espionage and Wikileaks