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60th anniversary of atom bombing

Author details how story was released          Send a link to a friend

[AUG. 10, 2005]  ATLANTA, Ga. -- On Aug. 6, the world observed the 60th anniversary of the first wartime use of an atom bomb. The target of the bomb, dropped from a B-29 named Enola Gay, was Hiroshima. The 9,000-pound bomb, nicknamed "Little Boy," along with a second weapon, "Fat Man," dropped at Nagasaki a few days later, brought World War II to a quick end.

The story of Hiroshima was announced to the world at 11 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945. Eben Ayers, acting press secretary at the White House in Washington, distributed the news release that electrified America and the rest of the world. In it, President Harry Truman, actually at sea on an American battle cruiser, said that an atom bomb had been dropped 16 hours earlier over Hiroshima.

In a national poll conducted late in the year 2000 by the Newseum of Alexandria, Va., American journalists chose the atom bomb as the top news story of the 20th century.

The story of how the biggest secret in American history was revealed to the world is detailed in an acclaimed biography, "Arthur W. Page: Publisher, Public Relations Pioneer, Patriot," by Atlanta author Noel Griese. Included in the book is the story of how Page, arguably the most influential public relations practitioner of the 20th century, wrote the atom bomb statement issued by Ayers from the White House for President Truman on that momentous Monday in 1945. Contrary to the widely held belief of historians that New York Times science reporter William Laurance was responsible for writing the story, Griese makes it clear that it was Page, not Laurance, who authored the announcement for Truman.

The news release handed out to reporters at the White House that fateful morning began, "Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese army base. The bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. It had more than 2,000 times the blast power of the British 'Grand Slam,' which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare. It is an atomic bomb."

That one bomb released as much explosive energy as the payloads of 2,000 B-29s. Americans instantly recognized from the story that there would be a fast end to the war in the Pacific rather than a protracted period of invasion with heavy casualties on both sides.

The story was issued from the White House while Truman was at sea on the cruiser USS Augusta, returning from the Potsdam Conference in Germany.

Arthur Page wrote the release soon after returning in 1944 from 100 days in England and France. He had served there as a special War Department consultant responsible for overseeing troop information for the Normandy invasion.

Following a second trip to Europe having to do with Gen. George Patton's quarrels with the Stars and Stripes newspaper, Page was recalled to full-time active duty at the Pentagon in April 1945. For the record, he was to prepare the American public for the redeployment of troops in Europe to the Pacific for the long-awaited invasion of Japan. In reality, it was so he could act as a sounding board on the atom bomb for his friend and neighbor Henry L. Stimson, America's secretary of war.

Page was an appropriate choice. Although employed as the public relations vice president of AT&T, he had served during the war as chairman of the Joint Army and Navy Committee on Welfare and Recreation, responsible for worldwide American troop morale -- oversight of the Red Cross, USO and its Camp Shows, motion pictures, Yank magazine, the Stars and Stripes newspaper, and other activities. He was an influential member of the Council on Foreign Relations. An internationalist, he understood how history was made.

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Page attended meetings of the eight-member Interim Committee created by Stimson to recommend to President Truman whether or not to deploy S-1, the code name for the bomb.

There was never any doubt at the time that the uranium-235 version ultimately used at Hiroshima would work. However, the plutonium-239 device deployed at Nagasaki had still to be tested at the Trinity site near Alamogordo in New Mexico. Interim Committee members unanimously recommended that if the plutonium "gadget" worked, it and the uranium bomb should be used without warning against selected Japanese military targets.

According to Page, Stimson "had a great conscience about whether he ought to use this doggoned thing or not, and if so, how. What he wanted to do was to have somebody he could talk it over with."

Page was recruited by the Interim Committee to write President Truman's announcement. Several members, especially Harvard President James Conant, rejected as too flowery and exaggerated a draft news release to announce the bomb written by William Laurance of the New York Times.

Page was asked to prepare a new version of the announcement for President Truman. He used as his main source a 7,500-word statement originally written for Stimson by the War Department, selecting only the most dramatic elements and recasting the words for dramatic effect. He also revised the Stimson statement.

The final product for President Truman was only 1,160 words long.

Page, who had three sons and a son-in-law in the U.S. Navy, had far fewer reservations about use of the bomb than did Stimson. Of his own views on the bomb, he said in his oral reminiscences: "It was very distressing to me, not because I had any question about what you do about weapons you've got when you're fighting. I didn't have half as much conscience about it as (Stimson) did. But it is really a most bothersome thing to have something on your mind you can't talk to anybody about."

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs led Emperor Hirohito of Japan to insist that his generals surrender rather than resist an impending American invasion. The Japanese surrendered on Aug. 14, 1945, bringing an end to World War II. Americans celebrated V-J (Victory over Japan) Day on Aug. 15.

Griese's biography of Page covers his 77-year life from infancy to Harvard student to vice president of the Doubleday, Page & Co. publishing house to the public relations vice presidency at AT&T and a final career as a consultant and "cold warrior" with Radio Free Europe.

Book details: Anvil Publishers Inc., ISBN 0-9704975-0-4, 448 pages, index, bibliography and notes, hard-bound $24.95. Information available at www.anvilpub.com.

[Anvil Publishers news release]


 

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