Authors: George Weller
It is through knowing the truth that the people discover their hidden will.
Singapore Is Silent
his is an important book—important and gripping. For the first time in print we can read the details of the nuclear bombardment of Nagasaki, Japan, as it was written by the first American reporter on the terrible scene.
George Weller’s dispatches from Nagasaki, just four weeks after the bombing, were censored and destroyed by General MacArthur. Weller salvaged his carbon copy but, in his subsequent travels to many corners of our troubled globe, the copy disappeared. His son, an honored writer in his own right, has only recently uncovered it and this book is the result.
George Weller was not only one of our best war correspondents but he had that quality that imbued his copy with lasting importance. He wrote in the present tense but always with the recognition that he was writing the history of his time. Many major honors, including the Pulitzer Prize, attested to this quality.
Although not in Weller’s original report, this book by his son underlines the important historical note regarding General MacArthur’s total censorship of all dispatches from Nagasaki. We can only speculate as to his motive in imposing this total blackout to keep the United States and the rest of the world ignorant of the horrors of nuclear war. With those bombings, first of Hiroshima and then, in short order, Nagasaki, the Japanese sued for peace and the war was over. Why then such rigid, total censorship? Was it perhaps simply MacArthur’s swollen ego that led him to believe that the Pacific war was his alone to win? Or perhaps was it more complicated? Was there a hope in MacArthur’s headquarters and perhaps in Harry Truman’s White House that our victory (and, certainly, the American lives that had been saved) would overshadow and justify beyond condemnation the mass destruction and casualties we had caused?
This total blackout, of course, depended on keeping reporters and photographers from the scene. George Weller was both reporter and photographer, and his daring and secret entry into Nagasaki just four weeks after the atomic attack threatened to destroy that hope. He wrote and photographed the still-smoldering and dying city and its dead and dying population. His reports, so long delayed but now salvaged by his son, at last have saved our history from the military censorship that would have preferred to have time to sanitize the ghastly details with a concocted, fictional version of the mass destruction and killing that man’s (read that “America’s”) newest weapon had bestowed on civilization.
Or possibly was it one of those vastly unreasonable hopes held in the American high commands that by imposing silence in the press they might protect longer the secrecy of our atomic arsenal?
Also delayed by MacArthur’s censorship were Weller’s dispatches from his visits to American prison camps within a forty-mile radius of Nagasaki. There he uncovered the Japanese military’s savage treatment of their American prisoners. Among those stories is that of a Japanese prison ship that once packed into the freighter’s hold 1,600 American prisoners. When the hold was finally opened 1,300 of the prisoners were dead—only 300 had survived.
There is so much in this volume that we never knew or have long forgotten. It comes at a time when our nation is again at war and our citizenry can only guess as to how thick are the blindfolds of censorship that distort the truth of our military engagements and our international commitments.
This volume of the last generation’s history is an important reminder, a warning to inspire civilian vigilance. Yes, indeed, this is an important book.
George Weller (r.) with Admiral Chester Nimitz on board the U.S.S. Missouri for the treaty signing, Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945.
On December 7, 1941, a Sunday morning, Japanese dive bombers launched a surprise attack on the U.S. base in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor, destroying much of America’s fleet in the Pacific. Within a week the United States was at war with the Axis powers: Japan, Germany, and Italy.
Within six months the Japanese controlled Malaya, Singapore, the Philippines, Formosa, the Netherlands East Indies, Indo-China, Burma, Korea, Thailand, and strategic Pacific islands like Guam and Wake. They also controlled large parts of China.
In the prior world war, the majority of the losses had been combatants—meaning civilians turned soldier. World War II made mass civilian deaths central to the equation of modern war, to force an enemy to capitulate. When it was over, civilian deaths (55 million) were more than double those of combatants (22 million).
Beginning near the end of 1944, the United States waged a punishing air assault against Japan. Its industrial areas were all heavily populated cities that were largely made of wood, ideal for incendiary bombs. For example, in a three-hour air raid on Tokyo in March 1945, sixteen square miles of the city were destroyed, a million people made homeless, a hundred thousand torched to death—and nearly a fifth of the city’s industrial capacity obliterated. This was known as area bombing, and years of Japanese atrocities against civilians and soldiers all over the Pacific and across Asia were thought ample justification. Since Japan knew only the concept of “total war,” now it was receiving the same in return.
Throughout the war the atomic bomb was being developed with great determination and speed under President Franklin Roosevelt, who died in office in April 1945. He was succeeded by his vice president, Harry Truman.
Following Hitler’s suicide, in May 1945 Germany—what was left of Nazi Germany—signed an armistice with the Allies, ending World War II in Europe. Japan was now choosing to go it alone against the United States, Britain, Australia, and the Netherlands.
In late July the Allies issued the Potsdam Declaration, asking Japan for unconditional surrender. Japan, still in the political grip of its military, refused.
At this time there were around thirty-five thousand Allied prisoners of war being held in Japanese camps, under extremely harsh conditions.
On August 6, 1945—a Monday morning—after nearly four years of war with the Japanese, the United States dropped an atomic bomb code-named “Little Boy,” with a warhead of uranium 235, over the city of Hiroshima, on the island of Honshu. It killed about one hundred thousand people, mostly civilians, either that day or during the next few weeks.
On August 8 the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and launched an enormous, successful blitzkrieg against the 2 million Japanese soldiers occupying Manchuria.
A few hours later, on the morning of August 9, the United States exploded a second atomic bomb—this one code-named “Fat Man,” armed with a warhead of plutonium 239—over Nagasaki, a port city devoted to military industry on the island of Kyushu. It killed about forty thousand people that morning and throughout the coming month.
On August 14, after lengthy discussion with his cabinet, the Japanese emperor Hirohito agreed to surrender. The terms resembled those proposed several weeks earlier, except that it was understood the emperor would remain in power.
In Tokyo Bay on September 2, on the U.S. battleship
in front of hundreds of reporters arrived from around the world, the Japanese foreign minister signed a treaty of surrender with General Douglas MacArthur, now commander of all Allied forces in the Pacific.
My father, George Weller (1907–2002), one of the most experienced American World War II correspondents, was among those present. The war was over; the last chapter of his war was about to begin.