Table of contents for Japan 1945 : a U.S. Marine's photographs from Ground Zero / Joe O'Donnell ; foreword by Mark Seldon.

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Foreword by Mark Seldon		vii (or vi?)
Preface	ix?
Japan 1945: Images
Afterword		00
<page vi?, vii>
by Mark Selden
After the Bomb:
Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Photographic Record
Mark Selden
In the wake of Japan's surrender, the U.S. 
military set out to document the damage inflicted 
from the air on the Japanese homeland. 
Firebombing had destroyed central areas of 64 
Japanese cities, killed hundreds of thousands of 
civilians, and left thirteen million homeless in 
the final months of the Pacific War. The atomic 
bombing of Hiroshima would take another 140,000 
lives, and that of Nagasaki an additional 70,000 
by the end of 1945, leaving many more to suffer 
lifelong effects of blast, fire, and radiation.
	On September 2, 1945, 23-year old Marine 
Sergeant Joe O'Donnell filmed the American 
landing near Sasebo. His panorama reveals a 
formidable U.S. naval armada in a pristine 
coastal area off Kyushu with paddy fields etched 
into the hills and rolling mountains as far as 
the eye can see. Over the next seven months he 
would travel by plane, jeep, and horseback across 
Western Japan, chronicling the devastation 
wrought by the American air campaign in Sasebo, 
Fukuoka, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. His 
photographs, of course, reveal the obliteration 
of Japanese cities. More important, some of the 
most poignant images in this collection 
illuminate the plight of bomb victims including 
the wounded, the dead, the orphaned and homeless.
The Photographic Record of the Atomic Bombing
Pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have seared 
the consciousness of people throughout the world. 
But what images have circulated widely, and what 
images have been censored or suppressed? When the 
plutonium bomb exploded over Nagasaki, within 
one-millionth of a second the temperature rose to 
several million degrees centigrade, giving rise 
to a fireball and mushroom cloud whose image was 
circulated throughout the world in a U.S. Army 
Air Force photograph shot minutes after the 
explosion. Who has not been transfixed by the 
mushroom cloud, the visual counterpart to 
President Harry Truman's official proclamation 
announcing the bomb to the world on August 6, 
1945: "It is an atomic bomb. The force from which 
the sun draws its power has been loosed against 
those who brought war to the Far East." The 
mushroom cloud, rising above Hiroshima or 
Nagasaki, elides the city below and its 
inhabitants. This iconic representation of U.S. 
supremacy at the moment of nuclear monopoly 
provides no visual reference to the dead, the 
wounded, or the irradiated. Yet no viewer of that 
image can be entirely oblivious to the fate of 
its invisible victims.
	A second signature official photograph 
circulated by U.S. authorities pans the ruins of 
Hiroshima. The gutted frames of a few buildings 
is all that remains visible on a site where a 
city of 350,000 people had stood. Again 
interdicted from the picture are the dead and 
	Six decades after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 
the most compelling photographic images detailing 
the human consequences of the bombing of Japanese 
cities remained hidden from American view. Joe 
O'Donnell's photographs provide the first 
sustained American gaze on the destruction 
inflicted by the bombing of these cities, 
represented here by Sasebo, Hiroshima, and 
Nagasaki. They document the toll that firebombing 
exacted on the built environment: Sasebo in 
September 1945 is a city in ruins, inviting the 
viewer to reflect on the striking resemblance to 
the atomic landscapes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 
However, while there is an abundance of detailed 
data on the numbers and conditions of the atomic 
dead and wounded, we know nothing of the numbers 
who died in Sasebo and scores of other bombed 
cities. The significant exception is Tokyo where 
a single devastating raid is said to have taken 
100,000 lives, left more than one million 
homeless, and destroyed much of the inner city.
	The U.S. aerial bombardment of Japan, 
building on techniques honed in the 1944 
British-U.S. bombardment of Dresden and Munich, 
would shape subsequent wars. The direct attack on 
civilian populations through strategic bombing, 
so strongly condemned by President Franklin 
Roosevelt in his 1937 warning to the Nazis, would 
subsequently become the signature and centerpiece 
of American warfare. It was an approach that 
other air powers would emulate, though none would 
rival the U.S. in the toll inflicted on civilians 
in air campaigns.
	O'Donnell, in his most memorable work, 
takes us to the center of the human toll of the 
bombing. Photographing a 14-year old Nagasaki 
burn victim (62, page 00), he recalls that "flies 
and maggots feasted on his oozing sores. I waved 
the flies away with a handkerchief, then 
carefully brushed out the maggots, careful not to 
touch the boy's skin with my hand. The smell made 
me sick and my heart ached. . . ." At that 
moment, literally brushing away the human horror 
inflicted on a single youth, O'Donnell resolved 
that "I would not take other pictures of burned 
victims unless ordered to do so."
Although we encounter one other image of a 
severely burned "Victim With Rope" (61, page 00), 
a man whose multiple layers of rags hid his 
burned, rotting flesh, Japan 1945 exemplifies 
what John Dower has called the photographer's 
averted gaze. The decision to turn away from the 
most horrific images of inhumanity-notably the 
maiming and killing of women, children, and the 
elderly-is here made explicit by the 
photographer. Gazing into the horrors that 
nuclear war inflicted on civilians, O'Donnell 
averted his gaze. While recording the destruction 
of the cities, he is as good as his word to go no 
further in documenting the human wreckage wrought 
by nuclear or incendiary bombing.
The Japanese Photographic Record of the Atomic Bombing
Japanese photographers shot from inside the 
inferno that was Hiroshima and Nagasaki, arriving 
within hours, or in some cases days, of the 
holocaust. Their photographs convey, as no others 
could, the horror of the destruction that the 
bomb visited on human beings, nature, and the 
built environment: in closeups of mangled and 
burned corpses of children, in hospital wards 
overflowing with the dead and wounded, in the 
patterns of a summer kimono burned into the back 
of a victim, in dazed people fleeing the flames, 
sometimes walking, sometimes crawling or being 
carried, in detailed records of wounds inflicted 
by blast, heat, and radiation, and in the shadow 
of a human figure burnt into a stone façade, to 
name a few.
	Nagasaki Journey: The Photographs of 
Yosuke Yamahata, August 10, 1945 is the work of 
atomic photography that is most accessible for 
American readers. With smoke rising across the 
city, Yamahata, a Japanese army battle 
photographer, presents a landscape of death, 
destruction, and disorientation. Few visual 
records so compellingly portray the shock and awe 
of war. However, as Abé Mark Nornes observes,
[Yamahata's photographs] look as though he was 
unsure how to go about photographing the 
battlefield of atomic warfare. The horizon is 
often tilted, as if the whole world is askew. 
Many of the photographs seem to be about nothing 
in particular or about rubble. The occasional 
snapshot shows the inexplicable: a scrap of 
something hanging high in a tree, a dead horse 
underneath a carriage, a body burned beyond 
recognition. The people in the photographs . . . 
inhabit the edges of the frame, looking out to 
spaces beyond the camera's viewfinder. . . . 
Nagasaki is gone. The composition of the photos 
always seems to miss its mark, as though Yamahata 
had no idea how to frame his experience.1
	Perhaps the phenomenon described by Nornes is another version of 
the photographer's averted gaze, or what the 
psychologist Robert Lifton has termed psychic 
numbing in the face of the enormity of the 
destruction. For this viewer, that disorientation 
heightens the emotive power of the Yamahata 
images and those of other photographers operating 
in the immediate aftermath of the bomb. They 
detail, as no later photographs could, the 
magnitude and character of the destruction and 
disorientation, capturing the faces and bodies of 
its victims, many of them infants and children.
Joe O'Donnell and the American Photographic Record
By the time that O'Donnell arrived in Japan, 
three weeks after the atomic bombings, the dead 
had been cremated and the cleanup of cities 
begun. To be sure, orphaned children and the 
homeless still roamed the streets, but the most 
severely injured had been moved to hospitals or 
were cared for at home. Traces of the dead were 
nevertheless present everywhere in the sights, 
sounds, and smells. And in O'Donnell's images. 
Climbing to the top of the ruins of a Sasebo 
building, he found that "the high-rises had acted 
like huge ovens that roasted the trapped people . 
. . the stench of the smoke-blackened bodies . . 
. filled the stairways and halls" (10, page 00). 
In Nagasaki "the extraordinary temperatures 
caused brains to boil and skulls to explode" (70, 
page 00). What lingered was the "feeling of 
stench, or smell. The look of a place that is 
barren. Nothing moving. No birds, no dogs, cats, 
	Three young women in kimono cover their 
noses and mouths with scarves to block the smell 
of burning flesh from a nearby crematorium 
(22page 00). Three skulls and scattered bones 
remain in a field surrounded by scattered sake 
bottles left to console the spirits of the dead 
(60page 00). One poignant image is of a 
pre-teenage boy, his young brother on his back. 
"I was photographing cremation sites, and I was 
on a little hill looking down at the water. They 
had a pit dug, and they were burning human bones 
and people. I turned and looked down and saw this 
little boy. . . . I didn't know why he was 
bringing his brother. I had no idea he was dead, 
and all at once, the men came up to him. They had 
white masks on and they took the little boy off. 
The boy stood there at attention and watched them 
lay his brother on the coals, and that boy never 
moved" (66page 00).3
	Some of the most memorable photographs 
are of a cross-section of the surviving victims 
of the bombings. Particularly poignant are the 
children . . . a young girl in kimono who had 
lost all hearing after a bomb exploded nearby 
(64page 00); a barefoot boy of perhaps six 
wheeling a makeshift cart carrying two young boys 
through the rubble of Nagasaki (63page 00).
	While the thousands of photographs 
O'Donnell took in his official capacity as a 
Marine photographer disappeared into military 
archives, he was able to circumvent the censors 
and bring out three hundred images shot with his 
personal camera. These are the basis for the 
present volume.
	The bombing of Japan left indelible 
impressions on the photographer. "The people I 
met, the suffering and struggles I witnessed, and 
the scenes of incredible devastation . . . caused 
me to question every belief previously held about 
my so-called enemies."4 Locking the negatives in 
a trunk on his return to the United States in 
spring 1946, he resolved never to open it. The 
memories "were so devastating-the faces of people 
with no ears, no eyebrows, no hairs, no lips-it 
was pretty hard to look at, and it was just that 
I, personally, didn't want to go through it again 
. . . And so I locked that trunk . . . and it 
stayed locked for 45 years."5
Censorship and the Photographic Record of the Atomic Bomb
The history of the photography of the atomic 
bomb, no less than of documentary and fictional 
writing, is one of official censorship. The 
United States suppressed the most powerful images 
of the impact of the bomb on Japanese cities and 
people. Throughout the occupation years it denied 
the world, and particularly the Japanese people, 
access to photographic images of Hiroshima and 
Nagasaki. Concurrently, it monopolized and 
restricted scientific evidence about the effects 
of the bomb. In Japan, on August 6, 1952, a 
special issue of Asahi Graph opened the 
floodgates to atomic photographic and graphic 
arts. Books and magazines were published and 
exhibits staged. Eventually, survivors' paintings 
and drawings were collected, exhibited, and made 
into books and documentaries. Yet to this day, 
many of the most powerful images of the 
destructiveness of the atomic bombs, have rarely 
been seen outside Japan.
	The United States introduced 
comprehensive military censorship of photographic 
and other war images during World War II and has 
practiced it ever since. Notably elided from view 
are the dead and maimed bodies of soldiers and 
civilians. Documenting war without what Susan 
Sontag has called the "deflating realism" of its 
photographed agonies culminated nearly six 
decades later in the introduction of embedded 
reporters and photographers in the Iraq War of 
2003. O'Donnell's photographs were to have been 
included in the Smithsonian's planned Enola Gay 
exhibit in 1995, the fiftieth anniversary of the 
Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. When super 
patriots faulted the museum for insufficient 
triumphalism, the entire exhibit was scrapped. 
Visitors were left to view the aircraft that 
dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima with a spare 
account of the events that elided all mention of 
the toll in human lives or the half century 
debate over the decision to drop the bomb. The 
publication of Joe O'Donnell's photographs is one 
important milestone in coming to grips with 
atomic bombing and the place of the United States 
in defining the nuclear age.
Other Photographic Resources
*	Many photographs by official U.S. sources 
and by Japanese photographers can be seen in 
Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Physical, Medical, 
and Social Effects of the Atomic Bombings (New 
York: Basic Books, 1981) by the Committee for the 
Compilation of Materials on Damage Caused by the 
Atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
*	Nagasaki Journey: The Photographs of 
Yosuke Yamahata, August 10, 1945 (San Francisco: 
Pomegranate Books, 1995) edited by Rupert 
Jenkins, is the most readily available English 
language introduction to Japanese atomic 
*	The fullest graphic record of the atomic 
bombings is in the six volume Japanese work by 
Nihon Tosho Sentaa (Japan Book Center), Hiroshima 
Nagasaki Genbaku Shashi Eiga Shûsei [Hiroshima 
and Nagasaki: The Atomic Bombings as Seen Through 
Photographs and Artwork] (Tokyo: 1993).
*	Document 1961: Hiroshima-Nagasaki (Tokyo: 
The Japan Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen 
Bombs, 1961) brings the camera up close to 
produce the most memorable and haunting visual 
examination of the human consequences of the 
atomic bombing.
*	The other classic visual imaging of the 
atomic bomb is Maruki Iri and Maruki Toshi, 
Genbaku no zu [The Atomic Murals], (Tokyo: 
Kodansha, 1980) and the accompanying video 
recording of the work, "Hellfire: a Journey from 
Hiroshima" produced by John Junkerman and John W. 
Dower (First Run/Icarus Films, 1986) which 
introduces the memorable atomic murals painted by 
*	Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK), 
Unforgettable Fire: Pictures Drawn by Atomic Bomb 
Survivors (New York: Pantheon, 1977) is the best 
collection available in English of survivor 
drawings and paintings.
*	The film by Erik Barnouw and Paul Ronder, 
Hiroshima-Nagasaki, August 1945, made using 
footage shot by the Nichiei Japanese team in the 
weeks following the atomic bombings and 
confiscated by U.S. authorities, not to be 
returned until 1967.
*	A celebratory volume is Donald M. 
Goldstein, Katherine V. Dillon, and J. Michael 
Wenger, Rain of Ruin. A Photographic History of 
Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Dulles, VA: Brassey's, 
1995) provides the fullest access to the official 
military record and documents the destruction of 
the two cities while largely eliding the human 
consequences of the bomb.
*	The Hiroshima Peace Museum and the 
Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum present print and 
graphics materials at and 
from which the most powerful images have been 
eliminated in one of the most poignant examples 
of the averted gaze.
I am indebted to John Dower and Herbert Bix for 
critical comments on an earlier draft of this 
1.	Japanese Documentary Film: The Meiji Era 
through Hiroshima (Minneapolis: University of 
Minnesota Press, 2003), p. 191.
2.	Joe O'Donnell, interviewed by Noah Adams, 
All Things Considered, NPR, June 28, 1995.
3.	Ibid.
4.	From Preface of this book, page 00.
5.	Joe O'Donnell interview, All Things Considered.
My story begins in 1941 when I enlisted in the 
U.S. Marine Corps. A nineteen-year-old high 
school graduate full of anger towards the 
Japanese, I wanted to get to the South Pacific. 
However, the Marine Corps had other plans, and I 
soon found out that, instead of a rifle, the only 
thing I would aim at the Japanese would be a 
	Four years later while en route to Japan 
with the invasion forces, I heard about the 
atomic bombs. With everyone else on board ship, I 
celebrated the war's end, little knowing that for 
me it was just beginning.
	As a U.S. Marine Corps photographer, I 
waded ashore at Sasebo on September 2, 1945. I 
was a twenty-three-year-old sergeant, and my 
orders were to document the aftermath of U.S. 
bombing raids in various Japanese cities.
	For seven months I toured the mainland of 
Japan, from Sasebo to Fukuoka, to Kobe, from 
Nagasaki to Hiroshima, the war inside myself 
growing. The people I met, the suffering I 
witnessed, and the scenes of incredible 
devastation taken by my camera caused me to 
question every belief I had previously held about 
my so-called enemies. I left Japan with the 
nightmare images etched on my negatives and in my 
	Upon my honorable discharge in March 
1946, I placed the three hundred negatives in a 
trunk and closed the lid, never intending to open 
it again. I wanted to forget and go on with my 
	But that kind of grief cannot just go 
away. After twenty years as a White House 
photographer, I retired with a medical disability 
later discovered to be caused by my radiation 
exposure. While numerous surgeries and treatments 
helped to ease my physical suffering (which can't 
be compared to the sufferings of those 
unfortunate people who survived the bomb), I 
remained obsessed by what I had seen.
	On a religious retreat to the Sisters of 
Loretto Motherhouse in Kentucky, I saw a 
sculpture that had been done by a resident nun, 
Sister Jeanne Deuber. The sculpture, a life-sized 
figure of a flame-scarred man on a cross, was 
titled "Once." It was created in memory of the 
victims of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and 
Nagasaki by the United States. When I looked at 
the photographs of atomic bomb victims imprinted 
on the Christ-like figure's body, I felt 
everything from inconsolable grief to violent 
outrage. So much horror, so much waste, so much 
inhumanity to innocent people, many of them 
women, children, and the elderly! It was a 
terrible emotional ordeal for me to relive the 
past, but in the end I was inspired. [Photo of 
crucifix about here]
	I purchased the sculpture, went home, and 
opened the trunk. Miraculously, the negatives had 
survived cold, wet basements and hot, humid 
attics; they were in excellent condition despite 
the passage of nearly half a century.
	As I took them out, half afraid to look 
at them, the frightful images turned into real 
life scenes from my memory. I could see the 
victims with maggots covering their bodies, hear 
their cries for help, smell their burned flesh; 
and I could remember three children sharing an 
apple dense with black flies. I became depressed 
and dreaded going to sleep because the repulsive 
nightmares kept taking me back.
	Finally I realized I could no longer run 
away from my feelings. In 1988 I met a young 
woman, Jennifer Alldredge, who was writing 
children's stories and raising a family. The 
following year we spent hours looking at the 
photographs, and she would ask questions to get 
me to remember. That collaboration resulted in a 
book published in Japan in 1995 by Shogakukan. This 
new edition from Vanderbilt University Press adds 
almost twenty photographs.
	I would like to thank my wife Kimiko and 
my friend Furman York for their assistance in 
gathering the materials for this edition.
-Joe O'Donnell

Library of Congress Subject Headings for this publication:

War photography -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
World War, 1939-1945 -- Japanese Americans -- Pictorial works.
Bombing, Aerial -- Japan -- Pictorial works.
World War, 1939-1945 -- Aerial operations, American -- Pictorial works.