Published on Dec 11, 2009 by 11sjg11
In 1970, when I was the Manager of the “Center for Mass Communication,” (CMC), at Columbia University, we received an amazing letter from Japan. CMC was the branch at Columbia which produced and distributed educational and documentary films. The letter was from a professor of law at Tokyo University, and informed us that nine Japanese newsreel cameramen went to Hiroshima the day after the atomic bombs had been dropped and took several hours of 35mm film of the devastation. They did the same after an atomic bomb was dropped over the city of Nagasaki. When General MacArthur and his staff occupied Japan, they screened this footage and felt that the actual shots of the results of the damage of the two cities, and in particular the injuries suffered by the survivors, was so horrible that it should be marked top secret, and withheld from the public indefinitely. Immediately upon learning of this, we at CMC asked the US Government to allow us to screen this footage, and the government denied that this film ever existed. Month after month we persisted and finally the Government admitted that the footage did exist, and was kept in the National Archives in Washington. It took many more months, and after the intervention of both of our Senators from New York, the National Archives agreed to screen this footage for us. I asked my writer/editor, Erik Barnouw to accompany me to Washington, and we sat transfixed for four hours as we watched what the two cities looked like immediately after the bombing, and also what happened to the survivors who were afflicted with what was then called, “radiation sickness.” Again, after many delays, we finally were able to procure an internegative and workprint, as well as some printed notes. I asked Erik to supervise the production of a short film, and hired Paul Ronder as the editor, and Geoff Bartz (who is now chief editor at HBO), as assistant editor to create a short, sixteen minute documentary. When it was completed, I booked a five hundred seat auditorium at Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), and invited the entire staff of the United Nations Foreign Press Association to a screening. At the conclusion of the screening, there was utter silence. The following day, newspapers world-wide described the film and its incredible effect on viewers. The film was deemed too horrifying to be shown on television, but after months of criticism, the Public Broadcasting Service finally showed it nationwide. For the first time, some quarter of a century after the bombs were dropped, the American public was able to see exactly what the effects of an atomic bomb on a city, and on human beings, actually were.
Sumner Jules Glimcher, Professor Emeritus, New York University