The U.S. War Department's Archival Footage of the Bombing of Hiroshima

By Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg

The 1946 film A Tale of Two Cities documents the devastation caused when the U.S. dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945, and Nagasaki, three days later. Courtesy of the Prelinger Archive, the film focuses on damage to architectural structures but conspicuously avoids showing the human cost of the attacks. The only first-person perspective is provided in the form of an interview with a Jesuit priest who was teaching in Hiroshima at the time. He describes how the explosion showered him with broken glass and puts the number of dead "at least at 100,000" (now estimated to be anywhere between 90,000 and 166,000). When the interviewer asks him if he believes that "the ruins of the city emit deadly rays," he believes it's "just a rumor." The narrator does pause for a moment of reflection at the end of the film, as a man in uniform marks the outline of a person, imprinted on the ground by the atomic explosion:

The world's greatest minds in science, statecraft, and military matters are wrestling with the problems created by the atom. On this spot, outlined in stone, is a figure representing the average man, regardless of his race or creed. These atomic footprints on the sands of time can never be erased. They point a path that leads to unparalleled progress or unparalleled destruction. Just as in the darkness of the desert morning when the atomic age was born, atomic power puts the question squarely to mankind.

For more films from the Prelinger Archive, visit http://www.archive.org/details/prelinger.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/archive/2012/08/the-us-war-departments-archival-footage-of-the-bombing-of-hiroshima/260762/