“It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe,” said President Harry S. Truman in “outmost solemnity,” referring in an official announcement to the atomic bomb that was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, just hours earlier. As was reported in a New York Times article entitled “Our Answer To Japan” on August 7, 1945, this attack was “what every military man has dreamed of, what Hitler frantically searched for to the last, what thousands of scientists worked in a mad race in the rival laboratories—the decisive ‘secret weapon,’ the magic key to victory (…).” Indeed, the ‘key to victory’ in World War II had been found by the Americans. The fact that we “beat” the Germans and the British to building this destructive bomb, and dropped it on a “major army base” in Japan, was hailed by the government and the press as the decisive factor that brought a speedy end to the war. Unfortunately, this “victory” was deliberately emphasized and glorified by American newspapers all around the nation as a scientific breakthrough, and thus related to the American public in a positive light—but in actually, the public was left in the dark about Hiroshima for many years to come.
When considering the immediate impact, as well as the painful aftermath of the atomic bomb, it is hard to believe that the American press, which has always prided itself as a free and unpartisan institution, did not question the information that they were fed by the government. Based on the information that was printed in many reputable newspapers at the time, notably the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, the American public was force-fed all that they were supposed to believe about the attack—that it was a fair and justified response to Pearl Harbor, that only military bases were bombed and not residential areas, and that using the atomic bomb on civilians was the only way to end the war with the “barbarians,” or the Japanese (“Our Answer to Japan”).
What struck me the most about the coverage by the New York Times was the blatant acceptance of statements, and their validity, as they were released by the government. In order to justify its interests and the killing of thousands of civilians, the government knew exactly what to tell the public in order to keep the popular opinion high. The attack on Hiroshima was made out to be a military feat, as President Truman assured the American people that it was “an enemy army base” that immediately went up in an “impenetrable cloud of dust and smoke (“Our Answer to Japan”). Had the press challenged this information, they would have accurately reported that the bomb had mostly destroyed residential areas. However, the most ironic article that was printed in the Times on August 7 was entitled “Heard Round the World.” In this article, the author states that in regards to the “exploitation” of the atomic bomb, all that the American public had to fear was “a totalitarian government, (that) by suppressing information and free discussion, by feeding its own people on a propaganda of lies, will prevent its people from knowing the facts until it is too late, while it plots secretly against the rest of the world.” Ironically, this “secret plotting” is exactly what the United States government did—after all, they certainly did not announce that they would be attacking Japan with a nuclear weapon. On the same day that this article was printed (August 7, 1945), the Times’ Jay Walz reported that the atomic bomb was build in three laboratories around the country and that the employees of the plants did not even know what they were working on, because it was top secret (“Atom Bombs Made in 3 Hidden ‘Cities’”).
While the New York Times printed the technicalities of this great “breakthrough” invention and how it would change the future—Instead of focusing on the immediate effects that radiation could have and how many lives were lost in Japan—the Los Angeles Times did not offer more in-depth coverage of the attack, either. Instead of reporting on the government’s actions, the Los Angeles Times spread propaganda on the morning of the attack (August 6, 1945), reporting that “some Jap spies have been caught re-handed in America. Others have hired people of other nationalities (…) to do their work.” This kind of reporting was clearly an attempt to incite fear and suspicion into the hearts and minds of the American people. By pointing the finger of blame at foreigners, the public was distracted from questioning the actions of their own government.
“Loose Talk Reaches Japs,” Los Angeles Times, 6 August 1945, pg. 1
“New Age Ushered,” New York Times, 7 August 1945, pg. 1
Jay Walz, “Atom Bombs Made in 3 Hidden ‘Cities,’” New York Times, 7 August 1945, pg. 1
“Heard Round the World,” New York Times, 7 August 1945, pg. 22
“Our Answer to Japan,” New York Times, 7 August 1945, pg. 22