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Japan 1945, A U.S. Marine's Photographs from Ground Zero, JOE O'DONNELL– Illustrated, April 15, 2008

Japan 1945, A U.S. Marine's Photographs from Ground Zero, JOE O'DONNELL– Illustrated, April 15, 2008

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Vanderbilt University Press (April 15, 2008)

  • Language ‏ : ‎ English

  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 104 pages

  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0826516122

  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0826516121

  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.17 pounds

  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 10 x 0.5 x 8.75 inches

In September 1945 Joe O'Donnell was a twenty-three-year-old Marine Corps photographer wading ashore in Japan, then under American occupation. His orders were to document the aftermath of U.S. bombing raids in Japanese cities, including not only Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but also cities such as Sasebo, one of the more than sixty Japanese cities firebombed before the atomic blasts. "The people I met," he now recalls, "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."

In addition to the official photographs he turned over to his superiors, O'Donnell recorded some three hundred images for himself, but following his discharge from the Marines he could not bear to look at them. He put the negatives in a trunk that remained unopened until 1989, when he finally felt compelled to confront once more what he had he had seen through his lens during his seven months in postwar Japan.

Now, for this remarkable book, seventy-four of these photographs have been assembled. The images of destruction--a panorama of Ground Zero at Nagasaki, a lone building still standing near the Aioi Bridge at Hiroshima, a fourteen-year-old burn victim lying in a coma--are, of course, wrenching beyond words. But the book includes hopeful images as well, and these are equally affecting--children playing on a road, young girls carrying their infant siblings on their backs as they go about everyday routines, geishas performing a traditional dance, Marine boots mingled with Japanese sandals outside a church entrance.

Exhibited in Europe and Japan during the 1990s, O'Donnell's photographs were first published in book form in a 1995 Japanese edition. This edition, the first to appear in the United States, includes an additional twenty photographs and will bring O'Donnell's eloquent testament to the horrors of war to an even wider audience.


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 bomb ing 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 moun tains 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 or phaned 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 US au thorities 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 mutilated.

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 docu ment 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 Hi roshima 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 excep tion 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 Mu nich, 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,


My story begins in 1941 when I enlisted in the US. 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 Ma rine 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 camera.

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 ser geant, 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 heart.

Upon my honorable discharge in March 1946, I placed the three hundred negatives in a trunk and closed the lid, never intend ing to open it again. I wanted to forget and go on with my life.

But that kind of grief cannot just go away. After twenty years as a photographer for the United States Information Agency, I retired with a medical disability later discovered to be caused by my radia tion 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 mem ory 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 every thing 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.

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 pas sage of nearly half a century.

As I took them out, half afraid to look at them, the frightful im ages 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 tak ing 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 writ ing children's stories and raising a family. The following year we spent hours looking at the photographs, and she would ask ques tions 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


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