Visions

Silent Nagasaki

by Alex Wellerstein, published February 7th, 2014

Teaching and other work has bogged me down, as it sometimes does, but I'm working on a pretty fun post for next week. In the meantime, here is something I put together yesterday. This is unedited (in the sense that I didn't edit it), "raw" footage of the loading of the Fat Man bomb into the Bockscar plane on the island of Tinian, August 9th, 1945. It also features footage of the bombing of Nagasaki itself. I got this from Los Alamos historian Alan Carr a while back. I've added YouTube annotations to it as well, calling out various things that are not always known.

You have probably seen snippets of this in documentaries and history shows before. But I find the original footage much more haunting. It was filmed without sound, so any sound you hear added to this kind of footage is an artifact of later editing. The silent footage, however, makes it feel more "real," more "authentic." It removes the Hollywood aspect of it. In that way, I find this sort of thing causes people to take the events in the footage more seriously as an historical event, rather than one episode in "World War II, the Movie."

I posted it on Reddit as well, and while there was some share of nonsense in the ~700 comments that it accrued, there was also a lot of expression of empathy and revelation, and a lot of good questions being asked (e.g. Did the people loading Fat Man into the plane know what they were loading? Probably more than the people who loaded Little Boy did, because they knew what had happened at Hiroshima). So I think some learning has happened, and I think the fact that this has gotten +100,000 views in just a day is some sign that there is quite an audience out there for this sort of stripped-down history.

There is also Hiroshima footage, but it isn't quite as good, on the whole. It is largely concerned with the crew of the plane taking off and arriving. Which is interesting, in a sense, but visually doesn't mean much unless you know who everybody is.

There is a lot of Trinity test footage as well which I will upload and annotate in the future as well.

Until next week!

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16 Responses to “Silent Nagasaki”

  1. Stan says:

    Fascinating. One of your annotations here answered a question I asked you some time ago regarding the marks in the Enola Gay and Bockscar.
    I look forward to see the annotated footage of the Trinity test.

  2. I enjoyed the footage and agree with all your comments. The question about whether or not the crew loading Fat Man knew what they were loading, my guess is that they knew they were not loading just another pumpkin. They probably did not know in detail how this bomb differed from the last one, or what the targets were specifically, but they knew to be very careful and there no doubt were others around there to monitor the bomb and they would have been obvious. This was not a drill. After Hiroshima it would not be hard to guess that this was the second bomb.

  3. Gizmo says:

    Sobering to watch in silence. 70,000 people just like that, yet I cannot judge with the passage of time.

    War is war I guess, people did what they had to do. 🙁

  4. Dean Baird says:

    We often refer to Nagasaki as the second wartime use of a nuclear weapon.

    I prefer to identify it as the LAST use of a nuclear weapon. Hiroshima was the first. Nagasaki was the last. With wisdom, we’ll keep it that way.

    • Hi Dean: I agree. I wrote a bit along the same lines here: “So ‘Why did they bomb Nagasaki?’ might not be the right question at all. The real question to ask might be: ‘Why did they stop with Nagasaki?’ Which, in a somewhat twisted way, is actually a more hopeful question. It is not a question about why we chose to bomb again, but a question about why we chose not to.”

  5. Found your video on YouTube via BoingBoing. Is there any chance you could share the video data so I could use some moments from it without having to suffer YouTube re-encoding quality loss? And 360p resolution? Won’t re-post the whole thing just need some full-motion clips of fat man at highest resolution possible.

  6. Abel Streefland says:

    There certainly is an audience, for the video even was featured on the website of one of the major Dutch newspapers!
    Nice material and background information. Fascinating stuff, still.

  7. Alex says:

    The black and white part of the movie isn’t the same bomb or the same ppl. For example, check the trap that is covering the bomb while they switch between the colored and black and white, also on the b/w part, there is a strong wind that is not in the colored part.

    I didn’t check if it was the same ppl, but enough indications that the b/w part is of an other mission/operation and was put later together to make an whole movie.

  8. Carl Cather Jr says:

    MY TIME IN HIGH SCHOOL IN PHYSICS IN 1944 WAS VERY DISTURBING TO ME AS I HAD GIVEN A LECTUJRE TO 200 PEOPLE AT A HIGH SCHOOLINAUGUST 1942,,,,,AGE 13 BECAUSE I KNEW ALL ABOUT THE ATOMIC BOMB IN AUGUST OF 1942 HAVING SPENT THREE MONTHS LEARNING ABOUT THE BOMB FROM ONE OF MY DADS STUDENTS…….MY FATHER SAME NAME HAD WRITTEN HIS MASTERS THESIS ON HOW TO BUILD AN ATOMIC BOMB AT U OF ILL IN 1922 AND IN 1933 FERMIE HAD HIM PLACED ON ACTIVE DUTY IN THE NAVY TO START THE PROCESS WHILE I WAS SENT TO LIVE WITH MY GRANDMOTHER…I TOLD MY DAD THAT I KNEW WHAT HE HAD DONE AND HE SAID YOU CAN NEVER SAY ANYTHING ABOUT IT……ONE TROUBLE I HAD IN THE NAVY ….THEY THOUGHT I WAS MY FATHER AND WANTED ME TO GO ON SECRET MISSIONS INTO THE 1960S…….SOMEWHAT STRANGE LIFE AS A YOUNG BOY…ACTUALLY HAD TROUBLE GETTING A DISCHARGE

  9. Ray Downes says:

    I came across a reference to still photographs taken likely at the same time of the film here – http://www.alternatewars.com/Bomb_Loading/Bomb_Guide.htm.

    Some signatures can be seen in these photographs, such as this one: http://www.alternatewars.com/Bomb_Loading/77-BT-181.jpg

    I’d bet that you’ve already seen these images, but just in case …

    Thanks so much for all of your efforts with your blog. I’m drawn to the time period and subject, as my father was a S.E.D. and my mother ran a mass spectrometer at Oak Ridge.

  10. Trevor says:

    Did we have to drop it over such a populated target and what were other targeted options discussed? Great research and un-biased history, the bomb tells it all.

    • Hi Trevor,

      The possibility was floated of doing a “demonstration” of the bomb on unpopulated territory (e.g. in the middle of Tokyo Bay). A scientific panel composed of Oppenheimer, Compton, Lawrence, and Fermi unanimously rejected the suggestion, writing that “we can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use.”

  11. […] this year, Dr. Wellerstein posted on his blog and on Reddit, a social news site, an annotated silent movie a little more than 11 minutes long […]

  12. Bob Johnson says:

    The article in the NY Times today about the re-born interest in the atomic age is quite interesting and sets the stage for more stories and photographs to pique out interest in this history. I have an award-winning book that was published in 2102 that tells a number of these stories, including some about Native Americans, and Bikini Islanders. In addition, there are two chapters related to the making of the uranium slugs in a machine shop located in a residential neighborhood of Oxford, Ohio in the 1950’s. Secret scary stuff.

    The book is titled Romancing the Atom: Nuclear Infatuation from the Radium Girls to Fukushima (Praeger 2012). You can see more on my web site: http://www.romancingtheatom.com.

    Robert R. Johnson
    Michigan Tech University