Seventy-six years ago when the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima — the first wartime use of a nuclear weapon — a U.S. newspaper published one of the most detailed articles that detailed the damaging effects of the explosion and radiation from the bomb, which were not yet known and widely acknowledged at the time.
The article titled “Loeb Reflects On Atomic Bombed Area” in The Atlanta Daily World of October 5, 1945, was written by a Black journalist, Charles H. Loeb. The Atlanta Daily World, which was one of the earliest Black newspapers in America, was distributed widely throughout Black America via the National Negro Publishers Association.
Loeb, a Black war correspondent known for his articles in World War II, was the first to speak openly about what the U.S. government, the military and the White media were attempting to hide at the time — that bursts of deadly radiation had killed and made others sick in Hiroshima, The New York Times reported. In fact, after the bombing of Hiroshima, residents in the city started showing symptoms of radiation while Japanese authorities also began raising issues about the lasting effects of radiation poisoning. But the U.S. immediately started a work of propaganda to deny the matters raised by the government of Japan.
Years before the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, an international treaty banned the use of chemical weapons in 1925. And after the bombing, General Leslie L. Groves, who led the Manhattan Project, the research program that led to the bomb’s creation, wanted nuclear bombs to be seen as “a deadly form of traditional warfare rather than a new, inhumane type,” according to the report by The New York Times.
At the time, many did not know much about the atomic bomb, including the fact that it could kill long after detonation. Thousands of people who worked on it did not know much about its end product except perhaps for those who dealt directly with it. According to historians, General Groves was aware of the harmful effect of the radiation but kept it almost secret to officials, including President Harry Truman. President Truman authorized the bombing but got to know about its radiation effects later.
Weeks after the bombings, Groves organized an expedition of scientists who, among other things, were to prove that there was no radioactivity in Hiroshima. Per their investigations, there was no radiation in the area of the Hiroshima explosion. The White press followed, stating in their reports that Hiroshima was safe, and accusing the Japanese people of engaging in “propaganda”.
Then came the report by Loeb in The Atlanta Daily World that criticized the expedition of the Manhattan Project that was aimed at putting to rest the damaging effects of the bomb. Loeb also told of the radiation poisoning. “There is considerable evidence that there is still radioactive activity in the area of the explosion,” Loeb wrote. “The Japanese claim that many of those who visited the area after the blast subsequently became ill and died of radioactive diseases.”
Thanks to Loeb’s article, the world got to know the truth about the bomb and how its radiation issue caused thousands of deaths, cancer, cataracts, stroke, malformations in newborns, and other sicknesses.
Other Black newspapers at the time picked up Loeb’s article and went on to discuss the bomb’s radiation and its long-term damage to humans. As time went on, managers of the Manhattan Project and American authorities could no longer deny the fact that people died from the bomb’s radiation. In June 1946, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey said the radiation emissions were responsible for up to 20 percent of the deaths.
Loeb, who had been to Hiroshima and visited the sites of the explosion on a tour organized for the press by the army, continued his work as a journalist and newspaper editor. He had nightmares about the bodies he had seen in Hiroshima and died in 1978, at age 73, survived by his wife and two daughters, Jennie Elbert and Stella Loeb-Munson.
Before becoming a journalist, Loeb, born in Baton Rouge, La., had taken a pre-med curriculum at Howard University but had been unable to go to medical school due to lack of tuition. Studying for medical school however helped him better understand the effects of the bomb’s radiation in Japan, historians say.