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This is Fresh Air. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Today, the remarkable story of the reporter who told the world the truth about the impact of nuclear weapons. After the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima 75 years ago, the American government portrayed the weapon as equivalent to a large conventional bomb and dismissed reports of radiation sickness as Japanese propaganda, though military censors restricted access to Hiroshima. Correspondent John Hersey managed to get there and write a devastating account of the death, destruction and radiation poisoning civilians experienced.
We'll talk with writer Lesley Blume, who tells her story in her book Fallout The Hiroshima Cover Up, and the reporter who revealed it to the world. Also, Maureen Corrigan reviews Alice Randall's new novel about a once thriving African-American neighborhood in Detroit.
This month marks the 75th anniversary of the first wartime use of a nuclear weapon. The atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. While the horrors of the explosion and radiation from the bomb are now widely acknowledged, they were far less known in the months after the attack. American GIs serving in the occupation force in Japan would regularly visit Hiroshima to pick up atomic souvenirs from the rubble to take home the scale of the destruction and suffering was eventually told in the book Hiroshima by journalist John Hersey, which became an international bestseller.
What many don't know is that Hersey's book was originally a lengthy article that took up an entire issue of The New Yorker magazine. A year after the bombing, it became one of the most influential pieces of journalism ever written. Our guest today, writer Lesley Blume, has a new book which tells the story of Hersey's quest to bring the real story of Hiroshima to the American public and the impact it had on the world's understanding of nuclear weapons. Lesley Blume is a Los Angeles based journalist, author and biographer.
She spoke to me from her home office via an Internet connection about her new book, Fallout The Hiroshima Cover Up, and the reporter who revealed it to the world. Well, Lesley Blume, welcome to Fresh Air. Thank you for having me. You know, we've all grown up in a world with nuclear weapons, and we know they were developed during World War Two in this top secret Manhattan Project and then used, of course, in 1945 to end the war with Japan.
But in 1945, this was all new. First of all, how much did Americans know about the nature of the weapon that was used in Hiroshima?
Well, Americans didn't know about the bomb period until it was detonated over Hiroshima. And, you know, the Manhattan Project was cloaked in enormous secrecy, even though tens of thousands of people were working on it. I mean, many of them didn't even know what the end product of their labor was going to be. President Harry Truman did not know about the bomb. He learned about it only upon the death of his predecessor, you know, in the spring of 1945.
That's how under wraps the the project was. So when President Harry Truman announced that America had detonated the world's first atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, he was announcing a new not only a new weapon, but the fact that we had entered into the atomic age and Americans had no idea about the nature of these then experimental weapons, namely that these are weapons that continue to kill long after detonation. And it would take quite a bit of time and reporting to to bring that out.
So a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Japan surrendered. And after years of war, Americans were, of course, deliriously happy that it was over. What did they know about the destruction and death that the weapon had visited on Hiroshima?
Well, I mean, at first it appeared that the US government was being almost ecstatically forthright about the new weapon, and when President Truman announces the the bombing, he says, look, this is the biggest bomb that's ever been used in the history of warfare and the Japanese should surrender or they can expect a rain of fire and ruin from the sky, unlike, you know, anybody's ever seen before. We've unleashed the power of the sun. I mean, it was almost biblical language.
So they knew everybody who heard the announcement knew that they were dealing with something totally unprecedented, not just in the war, but in the history of human warfare. What was not stated was, you know, the fact that this bomb had radiological qualities, not even blast survivors on the ground, would be would die in an agonizing, agonizing way for in the days and the weeks and months and years that that followed.
Right. And so in in the weeks and months that followed, what was being said about radiation and its effects? I mean, American generals have testified before Congress on this. How did they take the risk?
Yeah, immediate. You know, very little. I mean, a lot of it was really painted in, you know, landscape devastation. You know, photographs, landscape photographs were were released to newspapers showing, you know, the decimation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And I mean, they were rubble pictures. And also, you know, obviously people are seeing the mushroom cloud photos taken from from the bombers themselves or from recon missions. And but in terms of the radiation, even in the announcement, Truman's announcement of the bomb, he's painting the bombs in conventional terms.
He says, you know, these bombs are the equivalent to 20000 tons of TNT. And so Americans, you know, they they don't understand. They know that it's a mega weapon, but they don't understand the full nature of the weapons yet. You know, the radiological effects are not in any way highlighted to the American public. And in the meantime, you know, the U.S. military is scrambling to find out, you know, the how the you know, the radiation of the bombs is affecting the physical landscape, how it's affecting human beings because they're about to send tens of thousand occupation troops into Japan.
So they you know, they're sending their own recon missions in late August of nineteen forty five onto the ground to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to to see if they can, in good conscience, clear the atomic cities for occupation. And they do declare, you know, privately, you know, amongst themselves that the radiation has dwindled to nothing because of you, because of the height at which the bomb had been detonated. They said that much of it had been reabsorbed back into the atmosphere, but they would also, you know, start to study the blast survivors who had taken in radiation to their bodies when the blast went off.
And look at how it affected them. The fact is that the people who created the bombs didn't have a full understanding of what the bombs were going to wreak on landscape and humans. And we're going to be studying that for years while they were on the ground occupying Japan.
You mention a lieutenant general, Leslie Groves. I think he was actually involved in the Manhattan Project right now, rather involved.
Yes. The spearhead or of that project. He was charged with building the bomb for wartime use and managed to do it in three years, which is quite miraculous. And in his his mind, I mean, Leslie Groves never had any moral qualms whatsoever about how, you know, the decimation or, you know, the of radiation agonies. Afterwards, he had been told, get this bomb ready for for wartime use. And he did that. And, you know, that was in his eyes a huge triumph.
Right. And he was I think he was the one who said that that you could live there forever of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Right. No problem.
Yeah. So. Well, you know, again, as news started to filter over from Japanese reports about what it was like on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the aftermath, you know, wire reports started picking, picking up, you know, really disturbing information about, you know, the total totality of the decimation and, you know, this sinister what they called, you know, a disease X that was ravaging blast survivors. This was starting. So this news was starting to trickle over early in August of nineteen forty five to Americans.
And so the U.S. realized that not only were they were they going to have to really try to study very quickly how radioactive the atomic cities might have been, you know, as they were bringing in their own occupation troops, but they realized that they had a potential PR disaster on their hands, you know, because the US had just won this.
Horribly hard earned military victory, and we're on the moral high ground, they felt in defeating the axis powers and, you know, they had avenged Pearl Harbor, they had avenged Japanese atrocities throughout the Pacific theater in Asia. But then, you know, reports that they had decimated, you know, a largely civilian population in this excruciating way with an experimental weapon. You know, it was concerning because it may deprive the U.S. might have deprived the U.S. government of their moral high ground.
You know, there were reports from Japan about the level of destruction and also about lasting effects from radiation poisoning.
How did U.S., U.S. military respond to these reports?
Well, they went they went on a PR they created a PR campaign to really combat the notion that, you know, the U.S. had decimated these populations with a really destructive radiological weapon. And, you know, they dispatched Leslie Groves and Robert Oppenheimer themselves, went to the to the Trinity site of testing to and brought a junket of reporters so they could show off the area. And they said, you know, that there was no residual radiation whatsoever and that therefore, any news that was filtering over from Japan were, quote, Tokyo tales.
So right away, they went into overdrive to contain that narrative.
So I understand you're saying they took them to a site in the United States where a weapon had been tested and showed them that there was no residual radiation?
Yes, they did. They went to the Trinity site, which is in New Mexico, where the first atomic bomb had had been tested, successfully tested on July 16th of nineteen forty five. And meanwhile, you know, this junket of two dozen reporters gets there and around the detonation site, you know, the sand in the desert has been turned to green glass because of the impact of the bomb. And they're all wearing booties. But, you know, to to cover their shoes from possible radiological particles.
But, you know, Leslie Groves is there to give a junket saying that everything's OK here. And, you know, you could live here forever. You could live in Hiroshima and Nagasaki forever to. There's nothing to see here, folks.
So the U.S. military was saying these reports of terrible suffering and lingering radiation effects were Japanese propaganda. This also happened in the context of, you know, the moral judgments that might people might make about such a weapon. And the military was putting it in the context of the way the war had begun and the way the Japanese had behaved. How did all that set the context for the American response?
Look, Americans were still enraged by Pearl Harbor and they, you know, had had a horrific time fighting in the Pacific theater. And, you know, casualties were enormous. You know, Japanese tenacity in battles was unlike anything Americans had encountered before. Americans were horrified by Japanese atrocities in China and throughout Asia. And the feeling of righteousness, of righteous rage and vengeance in dropping the bombs was near total. And, you know, Harry Truman himself articulated that in his speech when he when he announced the bombing, he said the Japanese have now been repaid many fold.
And just, you know, one quick stat really illustrates the mindset of the Americans towards the bombings. At that time in August of 1945, a poll was taken and nearly a quarter of the Americans surveyed said that they wished that they could have dropped many more atomic bombs on Japan before the country had had surrendered. So that's that's a pretty strong indication of how high the support was.
There were clearly reporters in the Pacific theater who wanted to get the story about about the effects of atomic weapons. And and there was some reporting on the whole.
Did it did it capture and convey what was happening to the American people?
Yeah, I mean, many of the reporters who were coming in with the occupied forces for them getting in on the ground to Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a huge scoop.
And a few of them did make it in there and a few of them were able to get out. Really alarming initial reports that were, you know, heavy, heavy on facts about devastation and the fact that there was some kind of a terrible affliction still killing off blast survivors, but light on details because nobody knew what what on earth, you know, was was in reality happening in the aftermath of the bombings.
However, they didn't you know, these reports, some of them appeared only in truncated form in American press. And after they came out, General MacArthur's occupation forces were able to quickly organize to suppress additional such reporting.
So people so reporters couldn't get in. And meanwhile, you had the American government saying, you know, you're hearing a lot of Japanese propaganda that you should be skeptical of.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, American officials were saying for the most part, you know, this is just you know, these are the defeated Japanese is trying to create international sympathy to create better terms for themselves in. Occupation, ignore them. So there was a lot that people didn't know about what had happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it was John Hersey that ultimately kind of changed that. Tell us a bit about him. Who was John Hersey?
Where was he in his career?
So John Hersey was he was young, but he was already, you know, incredibly celebrated. He had won the Pulitzer Prize for a wartime novel called A Belfour Radogno. He had been a war correspondent since 1939 for Time Inc. He had at one point had been groomed to be Henry Luce's managing editor and heir apparent to a time in which he he neglected to take Mr Lewis up on his offer. He was also a commended war hero, and he had been in an embed covering a battle between the Japanese and the Americans in the Solomon Islands and had helped evacuate a wounded Marine for which he received his his commendation.
He was extremely well known and well regarded war correspondent in August of 1945 when the bombs went off. Right.
So he he leaves Time magazine. He ends up at The New Yorker. What kind of magazine was The New Yorker in 1945?
Well, The New Yorker, it was, you know, one of the great ironies of my book and of this story is that The New Yorker would be the one to break this. The story. The New Yorker had been founded in the 1920s as a intentionally nesh sophisticated humor magazine about about urban life. And, you know, its co-founder, Harold Ross, used to freak out. If the circulation got to be over 300000, he would say, you know, something must be must be wrong.
But, you know, Pearl Harbor really changed everything for for The New Yorker. I mean, he both Harold Ross, the founder, and his deputy editor, William Shawn, they'd been newsmen and that, you know, the newsman blood surged back right away. There was in their eyes, there was no no option other than to take the magazine onto a wartime footing. You know, even though it had been a humor magazine. You know, up to that point, Harold Ross said to one of his colleagues, nothing feels funny anymore.
And they, too, began to dispatch war correspondents around the world. So they were they were the little guys in the in the field of media publications. But they they could pack a powerful punch.
You know, it's interesting you write that in the months following, you know, the end of the war, that there was an American occupation force and there were lots of American reporters in Tokyo and yet relatively little interest in trying to get to Hiroshima to see what had happened. Why?
Well, I think it was a combination of factors. I mean, first of all, in the early days of the occupation, there obviously would have been enormous interest in trying to get to to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and again, if you were successful. But, you know, as the occupation really took hold and you became increasingly organized, these the reports were intercepted. You know, the last one that came out of Nagasaki was intercepted and lost. I mean, there was almost no point in trying to get down there because the obstacles that were put up for reporters were so tremendous by the military censors.
Yeah, by military censors and by General MacArthur's, what they call the pro the press relations office. I mean, I can't overstate how restricted your movements were as a reporter, as part of the occupation press corps. You know, there was a joke that went around, you know, that the occupation forces, they told you how much gasoline you could use. They told you how much, you know, food you could eat and how many cigarettes you could smoke, namely because they were the dispensers of all those things, you know, so you could not get around, you could not eat, you couldn't do anything without the permission of the army.
They had the control was near total by the time Hershey would attempt to get in, you know, months later, you would have to apply for clearance to come into the country. You had to apply for clearance to travel any place in the country. You were given X amount of time on the ground, you know, wherever you went and you were closely monitored. I mean, even the FBI was keeping tabs on who was coming and going from Japan within the press corps.
You know, and I found it fascinating. You write that while journalists didn't have access to wherever they wanted to go, like Hiroshima, there were plenty of visitors among American GIs. You referred to them as occupation heirs. Well, meaning what? What were they doing?
Yeah, that was an extraordinary term that I came across. And it's it's how occupation officials and soldiers refer to themselves.
And, you know, look, at one point, tens of thousands of troops were in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki as occupation troops. Most of them had been withdrawn by the time Hersi is on the ground, you know, months later.
But, you know, again, Hiroshima was seen as a site of just enormous victory for these guys.
And a lot of them would go even to to ground zero of the bombings in Hiroshima. And, you know, as you mentioned earlier, they saw it as a souvenir site. I mean, so the it's essentially a graveyard. There are still remains that are being dug up in Hiroshima and Nagasaki today, but, you know, many of them kind of pillaged the ruins to to grab a souvenir to bring home. I mean, it was the ultimate victory souvenir.
So whether it's a broken teacup to use as an ashtray or what have you, you know, they went and they took, you know, their equivalent of selfies at ground zero at one point. And Nagasaki, Marines cleared, you know, a football field sized amount of space in the ruins. And they had what they called the Atomic Bowl, which was a New Year's Day football game where they had the conscripted Japanese women as cheerleaders. I mean, it was it was an astonishing scene in both cities.
But again, they were seen as sites of a victory. And most of the occupation areas were totally unrepentant about about what had gone down there.
Do we know if any guys got radiation poisoning from their souvenirs? Unclear. I mean, a lot.
There is a big movement of former occupation Iraqis who call themselves the atomic vets, who believe that they received high radiation doses from their occupation periods during during their time in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Let me reintroduce you again. Leslie Bloom's new book is Fallout The Hiroshima Cover Up and the reporter who revealed it to the World. She'll be back to talk more about John Hersey and the story of Hiroshima after we take a break. I'm Dave Davies, and this is fresh air support for this podcast.
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My guest is Lesley Blume, whose new book tells the story of journalist John Hersey's reporting, which revealed the scale of destruction and suffering visited on the people of Hiroshima, Japan, by the atomic bomb dropped on the city 75 years ago. Blum's book is Fallout The Hiroshima Cover Up and The Reporter Who Revealed It to the World.
So John Hersey manages to get to Hiroshima and he, of course, had covered the war in Europe and had seen horrific damage from allied bombing of German cities. What did Hiroshima look like then and how did it compare to Hersey's expectations?
Oh, well, I mean, Hirshey had seen everything from that point from from combat to concentration camps.
But he and he let's not forget, he came in through Tokyo, which had been decimated.
But he later said that nothing prepared him for what he saw in Hiroshima.
I mean, the devastation was just so total. And even though he and, you know, people around the world had seen devastated cities for years at that point, um, the thing that terrified him the most was that this had been done by one single 10000 pound primitive bomb.
One weapon had created all of this destruction and misery. And, you know, even though it was nearly a year later, I mean, it was still just a sort of smouldering wreck. You know, many people had returned to Hiroshima to try to start rebuilding their lives on the ruins. But I mean, that really amounted to living in these rusted shanties on top of on top of, again, what is essentially a graveyard right now.
He had to find people who had experienced the explosion, survived it and were willing to talk about it. And they didn't have a lot of time how to do it. Well, he he was lucky. He but he was also strategic. He had read an article before he got in about some German priests who had been in Hiroshima and survived and had given a survival testimony to that had run in Time magazine. And so he knew that they had had returned to her Sheema.
So he sort them out. Unfortunately, a couple of them spoke English and Hersi one over there, their trust, they gave him their testimonies about what it had been like for them on August six, 1945. And then not only did they agree to be his translator because they spoke Japanese, Hersi did not. They also began to make introductions for him within the blast Survivor community.
Right. So he ends up focusing the story on six people who survived the blast. Two were clergymen, one Catholic, one Methodist, two were physicians. Both of those were men and then two women. One was a widow who had three children and was at home cooking rice when the explosion happened. And then a 20 year old woman who was at work at her job as a clerk in a tin works. I thought maybe you could tell us about Reverend Animoto, who was a I guess he was a Methodist clergyman who was in the area at the time.
And I'll just give a little warning to listeners that we're going to be dealing here with some in some accounts that are obviously. May be very upsetting about what happened in Hiroshima, so if you don't want to hear that, you might turn away for a couple of minutes. So tell us a little bit about what Reverend Nomoto experienced.
Reverend Minamata on at the moment of the bombing was slightly outside of the city. He had been transporting some goods to the outskirts of the city and he was up on a hill. And so therefore, he had a bird's eye view of what what happened. He he fell to the ground when the actual bomb went off. But then when he when he got up, he saw that the city had been enveloped in flames and black clouds. And slowly he would see you saw a procession of survivors starting to straggle out of the city.
He was just absolutely horrified by what he had seen and baffled, too, because, you know, usually an attack on this level would have been perpetrated by, you know, a fleet of bombers. But this was just a single flash. And the survivors who were making their way out of the city and who would not survive for long, I mean, most of them were naked. Some of them had flesh hanging from their bodies. I mean, he saw just unspeakable sights as he ran into the city because he had a wife and an infant daughter.
He wanted to to find his parishioners. The closer he got towards the detonation, the worse the scene was. I mean, the ground was just littered with scalded bodies and people who were trying to drag themselves out of the ruins and wouldn't make it. You know, there were walls of fire that were consuming the areas. The enormous fire storm was starting to consume the city. He just at one point was picked up by a whirlwind because winds had been unleashed throughout the city and these tornadic whirlwinds and he was lifted up in a red hot world and then dropped from a height of about eight feet.
I mean, it was just unbelievable that he survived not only the initial blast, but then heading into the city center and, you know, the extreme trauma of having witnessed what he witnessed. It's remarkable that he that he came out of it alive.
Right. And he he mentioned grabbing some cushions and dousing them with water to try and get through the flames and find his family. He did find his wife and daughter, right? It was.
And that, again, another another near miracle. Somehow, you know, his wife and child had been in their house, which collapsed on them upon detonation. They'd somehow been managed, somehow managed to escape. And as Reverend Tonna motto is, you know, tearing hysterically through the city center looking for survivors, he runs into his wife, who's in a bloodstained dress and just making her way out of the neighborhood with their baby in there and her arms trying to find any respite.
But it's unclear to any of them where where there's going to be any kind of place to escape from the flames. Eventually, the family does make its way to a park on the outskirts of the city. And the park was, you know, at one time, you know, the manicured, beautiful topiary garden. And it becomes a scene from hell as survivors make their way into it. And the ground is just frankly, it's just slick with corpses.
And that's where where they are able to seek refuge.
Did many of the people that he spoke to seem to be suffering from radiation poisoning?
And he was able to including Reverend Teramoto had been very sick with what you know, he called in in his own diary, the Arab disease. You know, they still really didn't understand. They understood that at that point. You know, what had happened is that they had taken into their bodies an enormous amount of radiation during the blast, but there was still no way to treat them. Japanese doctors were completely at a loss. I mean, sometimes they would give them, you know, vitamin injections and I would have terrible, terrible effects.
Father Kleinsorge, who was the German priest who had been Hersey's main entree to the last Survivor community, also had been horrifically ill. The young widow who Hersi also profiled him, Mrs. Nakamura, you know, she and her children were all, you know, racked with radiation poisoning and been throwing up since the early hours of escaping.
So one of the things that Hersi did in detailing, you know, it really in excruciating detail, the the after effects of having received these astronomical amounts of radiation was he was showing the world that these were not conventional weapons and they were not. As General Leslie Groves had told Congress earlier, earlier, a few months earlier, that they were not they did not give black survivors, quote, a very pleasant way to die.
And end quote, the general actually said that to Congress that dying of radiation poisoning is a very pleasant way to die. Yes, I know that John Hersey went back decades later to to revisit. And a lot of the these people were still alive had they suffered from medical effects, most of their lives from the radiation. In varying degrees, yes, Father Klein, Zorba, the German priest, seems to have been most decimated, he was in and out of hospitals for, you know, his entire life.
And, you know, by the time he he died, you know, his doctors just said that he had been, quote, a living corpse for years. Kocho Animoto, who had been an infant at the time of the bombing, you know, had, on the other hand, had kind of a gallows humor about the effects of the bomb on her and her mother. They both lived into long age. Kocho said that she had been rendered incapable of having children because of the radiation.
But Kocho Teramoto was actually studied at length by the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, which was, you know, an American commission that came in to look at the Japanese guinea pigs to see how radiation affected their bodies in the long terms. And so she was an examination subject for years, something that she felt enormous humiliation about.
Let me reintroduce you. We're going to take another break here. Leslie Bloom's new book is Fallout The Hiroshima Cover Up and the reporter who revealed it to the World. We'll continue our conversation after the short break. This is Fresh Air.
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This is Fresh Air, and we're speaking with journalist and author Leslie Bloom Blume. Her new book is about journalist John Hersey, who in 1946 wrote the first detailed account of the death, destruction and radiation poisoning in Hiroshima, which U.S. military censors had largely hidden after the bombing there in 1945. Her book is called Fallout. So Hirshey and his editor at The New Yorker knew they had some very compelling material and they had to make some decisions. But does this all run once?
Does it do they do a series of articles? Do they include photos or other visuals? What's the approach in the writing, what they decide? Well, you know, initially it was going to run in a four part series called The Reporter at Large, which was something that The New Yorker did regularly. And then when Hersey's editor William Shawn is reading through Hersey's initial report and by and by the way, Hersi came home and wrote, you know, a 30 an over 30000 word story, which is enormously long for a magazine story.
And so, you know, it was it was written that long because with the expectation that it would be broken up over over a few weeks. Right. But his editor reads it and he says it's just too powerful and it will lose traction. We have to run this all in one issue. And what's more, he says and he presented this to his boss, Harold Ross, the editor of The New Yorker. He said, what's more, nothing else can run in this issue.
It has to be entirely devoted to to this to this story, which was, you know, what one person told me called an unprecedented editorial splurge. And the material was already going to be wildly controversial. But for them to present it in this way was hanging a lantern on on what they were up to in a way that was just astonishing at the time.
You know, that there was some pushback. I mean, the military objected. President Truman didn't like it. And they the opponents drafted former Secretary of War Henry Stimson to write a long piece about this, which appeared in Harper's magazine. Did it dispute any of Hersh's reporting?
It didn't mention Hersey's reporting by at all. I mean, but what was clear is that, you know, the U.S. military and the U.S. government had been put on the defensive. They didn't like being put on the defensive and they needed to to reassert the narrative right away.
And so even though Hersi never in his in his article brought up, you know, should we or shouldn't his his story was not about the decision explicitly about the decisions to drop the bomb, that all of a sudden whether we should have dropped it or not, was had been called into question, you know, across the country and around the world. And the government is scrambling to state to reclaim the narrative, which is we had to drop the bombs.
It saved both American and Japanese lives. And, you know, that's the article. The sort of retaught article is it takes a sort of a page out of the Hersi book of reporting where it appears to be just sort of a nothing but the facts ma'am type article. But again, it doesn't ever affect it doesn't ever address radiation in the article. And it doesn't address the fact that so much had been covered up from the American public over the last 18 months.
You know, he went back nearly 40 years later for a follow up to to. Visit some of the people that he had talked to after the Hiroshima bombing, and they all had interesting lives, one of them, Reverend Htun Omoto, had become something of an activist that he'd gone around giving speeches and interviews and lectures. One of the most bizarre stories in this book is in 1951, he ends up in Los Angeles for what he thinks will be an interview on NBC TV, a standard interview.
Tell us what happens to Reverend Teramoto turns up at the at the station.
And it turns out he's not doing a news interview. He has been booked unwittingly on an episode of This is Your Life Now.
People are gonna remember this. You have to explain what the show is.
Well, so it's it's a show in the 1950s where you sit down and the producers trot out, you know, people from there trotting out people who have been important to you throughout your life. And so, you know, the person, each person, as they're introduced, they stand behind a little curtain and they say, I was, you know, what do you when you were three years old and you scraped your knee or whatever, you know?
And so in this case, they were bringing out people from reverend to life, including one of the bombers from the Enola Gay. And so, you know, poor Reverend Hatamoto, he's sitting there on the set and, you know, trying to maintain his composure. And it's a very you know, the set is just full of bells and whistles. You know, they're yeah, they have the sound of, you know, the bomb whirring. They have the sound of the talk, the clock ticking.
I mean, it's just this highly produced dramatic production. And, you know, this poor reverend is just sitting there just totally bewildered, but trying so hard to to stay composed.
And the moment where they bring out the bomber to to shake hands, I mean, it's just you can't even imagine what's going, you know, going through that tunnel.
Motos Mind and Hersi would report on this later on. And he he said that the bomber appeared to be crying to many millions of viewers who were watching this. But in reality, Hersi reported, it turned out that he had been out bar hopping beforehand.
Is it too much to say that John Hersey's reporting here change the world's perception of nuclear weapons? I certainly don't think so, and he didn't think so either.
And he was extremely modest person when it came to, you know, evaluating his his place in the world. Look, the Japanese could not for years tell the world what it had been like to be on the receiving end of nuclear warfare because they were under such dire press restrictions by the occupation forces. And so it took John Hersey's reporting to show the world what the true aftermath and the true experience of nuclear warfare looks like. The Japanese would not be able to tell, you know, speak in their own words until, you know, the occupation was over in the early 1950s.
It changed overnight for many people. What was described as one of hers by one of Hersey's contemporaries as the, quote, Fourth of July feeling about Hiroshima.
I mean, there was a lot of dark humor about, you know, the bombings in Hiroshima.
I mean, it just really imbued the event with a sobriety that it really hadn't been there before.
Hersey's reporting played an enormous role in creating that visceral feeling around the use of nuclear weapons. And he himself later said, you know, that the the thing that has kept the world safe from another nuclear attack since 1945 has been the memory of what happened in Hiroshima. And he certainly created a cornerstone of that memory.
You know, at the end of the book, you share some thoughts about why this story is important, this kind of journalism, why the project for me came from current events, even though it's a historical narrative.
And, you know, I you know, I am a second generation news person. I'm married to a news person. And my father worked for Walter Cronkite.
And, you know, the attacks from the highest levels of our government, you know, especially from our president on our free press and journalists and citing journalists as enemies of the people is felt very personal to me.
And I wanted to find a historical narrative that really drove home how deadly important a free press is not only as a cornerstone of democracy, but in protecting the common good. And John Hersey's story was the sharpest and most poignant example that I could find of that.
You know, it's a case where, you know, the government had a certain narrative about what happened at Hiroshima that they wanted to kind of impose and it would have worked.
Reporters were distracted by other things. But here's one case where somebody persisted, got in, found the story and had a vehicle for communicating it to people. And it just made an enormous difference, didn't it, and saved potentially millions of lives.
I mean, the world did not know the truth about what nuclear warfare really looks like on the receiving end or. Did not really understand the full nature of these then experimental weapons until John Hersey got into Hiroshima and reported it to the world.
Well, Lesley Blume, thank you so much for speaking with us. It was my pleasure. Thank you for having me on.
Lesley Bloom's new book is Fallout The Hiroshima Cover Up and the reporter who revealed it to the World. Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews Black Bottom ST's Alice Randall's new novel about a once thriving African-American neighborhood in Detroit. This is Fresh Air.
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Alice Randall is a country songwriter and an award winning novelist best known for her first novel, The Wind Done Gone, a sort of retelling of Gone with the Wind from the perspective of an enslaved woman. Randall's latest book, Black Bottom Saints, is a historical novel about the Black Bottom neighborhood of Detroit. Once a thriving center of black owned businesses and nightspots, book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review.
Back in the heyday of Detroit, from the Great Depression through the 1950s, Joseph Zigi Johnson knew just about everybody who was worth knowing in the shops, bars, churches, theaters and nightclubs that lined the streets of that city's celebrated black neighborhood called Black Bottom. Johnson was a gossip columnist for the African-American newspaper The Michigan Chronicle. He also was a legendary nightclub emcee at two of the swankiest hot spots in town, The Flame and the Driftwood Lodge. And he founded the Zygi Johnson School of the Theater to lift up the children of the city's black breadwinners, the workers, most of the men on the assembly lines of Detroit's automobile plants, which ran 24/7, seven days a week.
As Ziggy tells us in Alice Randall's buoyant and innovative new novel, Black Bottom Saints, this was the economic opportunity that created Caramel Kamelot. Zygi Johnson is just one of the over 50 mostly Real-Life African-American artists, doctors, sports figures, activists and behind the scenes, movers and shakers who populate this novel, many of whom I've never heard of and most of whom I now want to know more about. I can't think of a more sparkling way to get some education about the history of black Detroit beyond Motown than to read Randall's novel as its short chapters with by.
You get a taste of what it might have been like to have sat in the audience of one of those nightclub shows that Ziggy emceed where maybe Moms Mabley was waiting in the wings while rumors were flying that Dinah Washington, along with her husband, the NFL superstar Dick Night Train Lane, might be stopping by. Except here, Randall is our emcee. And not all the featured guests in this novel are headliners. Black Bottom Saints opens in 1968, where Zygi Johnson lays dying in a room in Kurtwood Hospital, a black owned, black staffed historic institution in Detroit.
Knowing the end is near, Ziggy decides to set down his memories. It's a conventional enough premise for a novel. And the only time that Randall relies on convention to tell this panoramic story. Consider the baroque form of this narrative. Like many of us who were raised Catholic back in the day, Zygi is familiar with Saints Day Books, a kind of devotional manual in which each day of the year is designated a saint's feast day. Zigi hits upon the idea of structuring his jam packed memories in the form of a secular Saints Day book.
He squeezes in a calenders worth of anecdotes about black bottom personalities. This way, and as befits a nightclub emcee, Zygi concludes each of his Saints entries not by recommending food for their feast days, but rather specialty cocktails. In fact, one of the very first Saints zigi celebrates is Tom Bullock. Bullock was the first African-American to write a cocktail recipe book, a country club bartender. Barred from tasting his own drinks, his book, The Ideal Bartender, came out in 1917 and sported an introduction by George Herbert Walker, the maternal grandfather of President George H.W. Bush, Zigi recalls.
He first met Bullock at the Plantation Club in St. Louis and tells us every bar I ever walked into was improved by my knowing that every bar in America owes something to one brilliant sybian Thomas Bullock. Bullock's feisty cocktail, by the way, is the blue blazer, whiskey, sugar, lemon peel and a match to set the whole concoction of flame. Scorpion is a word that Ziggy uses a lot to refer to black people. It's his opinionated, distinctive voice that rescues Black Bottom Saints from being the static series of tweaked Wikipedia entries.
It might have been his anecdotes about real life famous folks like the Mills Brothers, brick, top butter beans and Susie may be like that blue blazer cocktail part, straight whiskey, part flaming invention. But they take readers deep into the world of mid 20th century black entertainers who traveled the country by train carrying the backdrops, the showgirls and the main acts with them. And turning away from the spotlight, Ziggy celebrates his reciprocal relationship with the black auto workers who packed his nightclubs.
When I'm driving, I'm driving some other black man sweat and prosperity, some other black man's competence. And the next week that man will be sitting in my audience. His approval will matter. Black Bottom ST's is a gorgeous swirl of fiction, history and motor oil. There are also plenty of cocktail recipes here to make the rougher stories go down a little smoother.
Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed Black Bottom ST's by Alice Randall on tomorrow's show. Atlantic executive editor Adrienne LaFrance explores the conspiracy theory Kuhnen about a purported cabal of deep state conspirators connected to Democrats who engage in child sex trafficking. Kuhnen adherents often appear at Trump rallies, and one supporter has won the Republican nomination to a Georgia congressional seat. I hope you can join us.
Fresh Air's executive producer is Danny Miller, our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Teresa Madden, they Challoner, Seth Kelly, Joel Wolfgramm and Kayla Latimore. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly CVN Esper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show for Terry Gross. I'm Dave Davies. This message comes from NPR sponsor Chevron, Chevron has spent over one billion dollars building one of the largest integrated carbon capture and storage facilities capable of capturing up to four million tons a year.
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