Adapted from The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood—and America—Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (The New Press)
John Hersey’s article, titled simply “Hiroshima,” which occupied nearly the entire August 31, 1946, issue of The New Yorker, has been rightly hailed by many as one of the most important magazine stories of the past century. Its impact, arriving at a time when few Americans had been exposed to the extent of the atomic bomb’s horrific and lingering effects on Japanese civilians, was immediate and profound. Copies sold out within hours (Albert Einstein himself ordered a thousand); it was read in its entirety over nationwide radio; newspaper commentators instructed everyone to read it.
For many of the officials who took part in the decision to deploy the new weapon over two cities, however, the Hersey piece posed a threat to the narrative they had promoted on why this use was necessary. And what did the man with ultimate responsibility for that, President Harry S. Truman, think about the article? The White House was already pressuring MGM to make sure that its forthcoming movie drama, The Beginning or the End, painted Truman and his decision in a positive light, and ordered revisions and a costly re-take of its key scene. Those close to Truman, however, had largely remained silent about the Hersey article. They didn’t want to stir controversy and draw even more attention to it.