George Weller was a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter who covered World War II across Europe, Africa, and Asia. At the war's end in September 1945, under General MacArthur's media blackout, correspondents were forbidden to enter both Nagasaki and Hiroshima. But instead of obediently staying with the press corps in northern Japan, Weller broke away. The intrepid newspaperman reached Nagasaki just weeks after the atomic bomb hit the city. Boldly presenting himself as a U.S. colonel to the Japanese military, Weller set out to explore the devastation.
As Nagasaki's first outside observer, long before any American medical aid arrived, Weller witnessed the bomb's effects and wrote "the anatomy of radiated man." He interviewed doctors trying to cure those dying mysteriously from "Disease X." He typed far into every night, sending his forbidden dispatches back to MacArthur's censors, assuming their importance would make them unstoppable. He was wrong: the U.S. government censored every word, and the dispatches vanished from history.
Weller also became the first to enter the nearby Allied POW camps. From hundreds of prisoners he gathered accounts of watching the atomic explosions bring an end to years of torture and merciless labor in Japanese mines. Their dramatic testimonies sum up one of the least-known chapters of the war—but those stories, too, were silenced.
It is a powerful experience, more than 60 years later, to walk with Weller through the smoldering ruins of Nagasaki, or hear the sagas of prisoners who have just learned that their torment is over, and watch one of the era's most battle-experienced reporters trying to accurately and unsentimentally convey to the American people scenes unlike anything he—or anyone else—knew.
Weller died in 2002, believing it all lost forever. Months later, his son found a fragile copy in a crate of moldy papers. This historic body of work has never been published.
Along with reports from the brutal POW camps, a stirring saga of the worst of the Japanese "hellships" which carried U.S. prisoners into murder and even cannibalism, and a trove of Weller's unseen photos, First into Nagasaki provides a moving, unparalleled look at the bomb that killed more than 70,000 people and ended WWII. Amid current disputes over the controlled embedding of journalists in war zones and a government's right to keep secrets, it reminds us how such courageous rogue reporting is still essential to learning the truth.
GEORGE WELLER was born in Boston and graduated from Harvard in 1929. As an admired but penniless young novelist, he began reporting on Greece and the Balkans for the New York Times in the 1930s, then made his name covering the war for the Chicago Daily News. He won a 1943 Pulitzer Prize for his story of an emergency appendectomy on a submarine in enemy waters. Throughout a long career Weller reported from five continents; he was a Nieman Fellow in 1947 and also won a 1954 George Polk Award. His work includes two highly praised WWII books, Singapore Is Silent and Bases Overseas. He died at his home in Italy, aged 95.
Anthony Weller, George Weller's son, is the author of three novels—The Garden of the Peacocks, The Polish Lover, and The Siege of Salt Cove—and a memoir of India and Pakistan called Days and Nights on the Grand Trunk Road. He has traveled widely for numerous magazines and is also a much-recorded jazz and classical guitarist.
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