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The Atomic Bomb Disaster Documentary the US Actually Wanted Us to See (and the One They Didn't)

On the eve of the 68th anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a look back on 'A Tale of Two Cities', a textbook bit of American propaganda--and arguably the original disaster porn.

by Brian Anderson
Aug 5 2013, 2:10pm
via MilitaryPublicDomain

The flash was so blinding that it burned bystanders' shadows into concrete. Not long after, as the US's Army-Navy Screen Magazine would put it, rushed the wind of death

Such was the grim and awesome power of codename Little Boy, the first of two American nuclear bombs dropped on Japan toward the end of World War II. To set the record straight, vindicate its actions, or both, the US War Department figured it had to tell the story as only the good guys could, to make an authoritative chronicle of just how American weapons of mass destruction levelled more than whole cities. And so A Tale of Two Cities (1946) was born. 

On the eve of the 68th anniversary of Little Boy's detonation, an initial 13-kiloton blast believed to have killed upwards of 100,000 people but whose true death toll ultimately remains unknown, it's worth revisiting the 12-minute short for any number of reasons. Not to be confused with The Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the chilling A-bomb aftermath documentary the US kept concealed for decades, below, A Tale of Two Cities is textbook propaganda. These were the original disaster porn, really. 

The Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the only film shot immediately after the bombing, while the cities were still deserts of debris. It was produced by the Dept. of Defense, and kept concealed for decades.

A Tale of Two Cities is little more than a tour of the sheer destruction of the twin bombs, including an eyewitness interview with a Jesuit priest stationed far enough out of reach to live to tell the tale. But with the sort of triumphantly sweeping shots of bombed-out cityscapes, the flattened structures stretching on for miles, shored up with fanfaric narration, it's as the reel said to all those nations, political figures, and everyday folk outside of the dual-ground zeroes, not only aren't you happy this wasn't you. But if and when the next bomb drops, as you're blinded by the flashed and blown down by the winds of death, what comes next?


More on the bomb:

The Bomb That Dwarfed the Sun

Doctor Teller's Strange Loves, from the Hydrogen Bomb to Thorium Energy

The US's Insane Attempt to Build a Harbor with a Two-Megaton Nuclear Bomb

The Bomb
a tale of two cities