TOKYO – An American journalist who sneaked into Nagasaki (search) soon after the Japanese city was leveled by a U.S. atomic bomb found a "wasteland of war" and victims moaning from the pain of radiation burns in downtown hospitals.
Censored 60 years ago by the U.S. military, George Weller's (search) stories from the atom-bombed city surfaced this month in a series of reports in the national Mainichi newspaper.
A woman at a hospital "lies moaning with a blackish mouth stiff as though with lockjaw and unable to utter clear words," her legs and arms covered with red spots, Weller wrote.
Others suffered from a dangerously high-temperature fever, a drop in white and red blood cells, swelling in the throat, sores, vomiting, diarrhea, internal bleeding or loss of hair, his censored dispatch said, describing the then-unknown effects of atomic radiation.
By hiring a Japanese rowboat, catching trains and later posing as a U.S. Army colonel, Weller, an award-winning reporter for the now-defunct Chicago Daily News (search), slipped into Nagasaki in early September 1945, Mainichi said — about a month after the Aug. 9 bombing that killed 70,000 people.
In a Sept. 8, 1945 dispatch, Weller wrote of walking through the city — a "wasteland of war" — and finding evidence to back the talk of radiation fallout in American radio news reports.
"In swaybacked or flattened skeletons of the Mitsubishi arms plants is revealed what the atomic bomb can do to steel and stone, but what the riven atom can do against human flesh and bone lies hidden in two hospitals of downtown Nagasaki," he wrote.
Weller's reportage about the unknown affliction he called "disease X" appeared in Mainichi in Japanese and on its Web site in English.
The United States dropped two atomic bombs — the first on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, and the second three days later on Nagasaki, about 614 miles southwest of Tokyo. The twin bombings led to Japan's Aug. 15, 1945, surrender ending the war.
Weller, who died in 2002, was the first foreign journalist to set foot in the devastated city, which Gen. Douglas MacArthur, head of the U.S. occupation in Japan, had designated off-limits to reporters, the newspaper said.
Carbon copies of his stories, running to about 25,000 words on 75 typed pages, along with more than two dozen photos, were discovered by his son, Anthony, last summer at Weller's apartment in Rome, Italy, Mainichi said.
Anthony Weller, a novelist living in Annisquam, Mass., couldn't be reached for comment. He previously said he plans to publish his father's stories.
Though he skirted American authorities to get into Nagasaki, Weller submitted his reports — the first was dated Sept. 6 — to the censors. The stories infuriated MacArthur and he personally ordered them quashed. The originals were never returned to him.
Anthony Weller told Mainichi he thought wartime officials wanted to hush up stories about radiation sickness and feared that his father's reports would sway American public opinion against building an arsenal of nuclear bombs. The first batch of stories were finished just as a delegation of American scientists was to visit the city to test for radiation.
Though thousands of burn victims had died within a week after the attack, doctors were stumped by "this mysterious 'disease X"' which sickened and was killing many Japanese as well as allied soldiers freed from prison camps a month later.
Weller met a Japanese doctor and X-ray specialist who thought that the bomb had showered the population with harmfully high levels of beta and gamma radiation. But nobody could say for sure.
"The atomic bomb's peculiar 'disease,' uncured because it is untreated and untreated because it is not diagnosed, is still snatching away lives here," Weller wrote.
Weller was 95 when he died in December 2002. He won the Pulitzer Prize for an eyewitness account of an emergency appendectomy carried out by a pharmacist's mate on a Navy submarine underwater in the South China Sea. He also covered the French Indochina war in Southeast Asia and World War II in Europe. He also sent dispatches from the Mideast, Africa, the Soviet Union and other parts of Asia.