Friday, May 9, 2008

Photos of Hiroshima from the Robert L. Capp Collection

An announcement from H-Japan...

The Robert L. Capp collection at the Hoover Institution Archives contains ten never-before-published photographs illustrating the immediate aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing. These photographs, taken by an unknown Japanese photographer, were found in 1945 among rolls of undeveloped film in a cave outside Hiroshima by U.S. serviceman Robert L. Capp, who was attached to the occupation forces. Unlike most photos of the Hiroshima bombing, these dramatically convey the human as well as material destruction unleashed by the atomic bomb. Mr. Capp donated them to the Hoover Archives in 1998 with the provision that they not be reproduced until 2008. Three of these photographs are reproduced in Atomic Tragedy with the permission of the Capp family. Now that the restriction is no longer in force, the entire set is available below. Please contact Sean L. Malloy ( if you have any information that might help identify the original photographer.

These are some very disturbing photos. Proof that visual anthropology is not always pretty. War is stupid. Nuclear weapons are stupid. What were they thinking? And what are they thinking now? View these pictures at your own discretion.

Link to Atomic Tradegy


There has been some buzz on H-Japan about these photos actually being of Hiroshima.

David Palmer writes:

I would tend to agree with the Hiroshima Peace Museum assessment having serious doubts about these photos.

In late 2004, I presented the paper "The Missing 72 Hours: Are there Hidden Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Photos?" at the Kyoto Peace as a Global Movement III conference. It was based on an assessment of all known photos of the Hiroshima atomic bombing up to that year, including consultation with the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum on the issue. One interview I did with a Hiroshima hibakusha a year earlier led to him showing me photos he believed were such hidden photos never before seen - which he honestly believed - and which had been handed down from person to person for some 40 years or so.

We had the photos digitalized so that they could be circulated to a range of scholars in the US, Japan, and Europe. Eventually, a number of people in Japan identified them as the 1923 Kanto earthquake, and most likely the Korean massacres in Tokyo (Kanto-ku). Several elements in the photos indicated they were not Hiroshima or 1940s era. These included the buildings, burnt out, that do not match Hiroshima buildings - or terrain. Also, 1920s era straw hats (flat top with brim) were in these photos - something not characteristic of attire in 1945 Hiroshima. It turned out also that the photos were in the collection of the Tokyo Science Museum (which had liaised with the Hiroshima Peace Museum) - it was common after the earthquake to make post cards of the photos and sell them throughout Japan.

Certain parts of the Capp collection photos also have these characteristics. Note, also, that in one photo an arm has clearly been severed, as if cut off. This would be characteristic of the anti-Korean riots, not Hiroshima in August 1945.

Finally, the bodies do not have characteristics of radiation burns that are universal in Hiroshima photos.

The problem of Capp finding the film, however, raises more complex identification issues - but the key is the elements of identification within the photos. It might be useful, too, for those with the original film to have it analyzed for chemical makeup to try to determine the date the film may have been manufactured.

However, when the investigation I initiated - which turned out to be Kanto earthquake photos, not Hiroshima atomic bomb ones - included observations by Hiroshima hibakusha, who were volunteers at the Peace Museum - their response was that regardless of the fact that these were not A bomb photos, the images were very similar to what they remembered in their own experiences.

For 72 hours - as I indicated in my conference paper - there was a void of photography. After that period, official Japanese Imperial Army photos generally show the "atomic wasteland" and individual injuries. They are entirely different than the hibakusha drawings and paintings of a vast human catastrophe. The handful of photos by Matsushige Yoshito - taken some 1000 meters from the hypocenter - are all that we have so far of that 72 hour period. Japan's military tried to surpress all information - radio, printed, and photographic - of the Hiroshima atomic bombing immediately after it occurred because they feared it would ruin public morale. Subsequent US censorship obviously was aimed at preventing the truth of the catastrophe from impacting on world opinion.

This was a project I could not continue because I was denied funding, including from the Japan Foundation. I am convinced, however, that there are photos, somewhere, but it will take a team of researchers and reasonable funding to locate them and authenticate them. They are photos, I believe, that neither the Japanese government nor the US government want the public to see.

They reveal a horrendous war crime (by the US) and continued cover-up of military censorship (by both the US and Japan).

Ann Sherif writes:

Some of the photographs from the Capp collection supposedly of Hiroshima casualties appear in the book by Malloy, Sean L. Atomic Tragedy: Henry Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2008)( p. 3, pp. 139-140). On p. 3 of the book. Malloy states ""Mr Capp donated these photos to the Hoover Institution Archives in 1998 with the provision that they not be reproduced until 2008. Mr. Capp has since passed away, and I am grateful to his wife and family for allowing me to reproduce these photos in time for inclusion here."

1 comment:

jon said...

This from the Hiroshima Peace Media Center
Photographs used by an American historian in his recent book and on his website, alleged to be “never-before-published photographs” of the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima, have proven to be, instead, images of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. This finding was made through a joint investigation by Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Chugoku Shimbun.