Tag Archives: books

The Lies Charles Pellegrino Told In “The Last Train From Hiroshima”

Hiroshima Dome
The building that became Hiroshima’s peace memorial photographed standing amidst the ruins of ground zero post-attack.  Image credit: Wikimedia.


Charles Pellegrino’s 2010 book The Last Train From Hiroshima came under much fire for its alleged lies and falsehoods about the Hiroshima bombing. Pellegrino subsequently mounted a defense against these allegations protesting his innocence and blaming others for the flaws in the book. 1 However, I’ve found these accusations are warranted, for while Pellegrino may paint with a vivid brush, it is of a shade of prose paint whose color is lurid, and who not only repeats but also embellishes myths about the tragic event.   Myths that writer John Hersey debunked in his famous article for The New Yorker which was simply entitled “Hiroshima.”

To demonstrate, here is a quote from the first couple pages of Pellegrino’s book regarding Hiroshima’s “shadow people”:

For the Japanese scientists who first ventured into the still-radioactive hypocenters of Hiroshima and Nagasaki trying to understand what had occurred, the most fearsome deaths were the quickest. On a bridge located in central Hiroshima, a man could still be seen leading a horse, though he had utterly ceased to exist. His footsteps, the horse’s footsteps, and the last footsteps of the people who had been crossing the bridge with him toward the heart of the city were preserved on the instantly bleached road surface, as if by an accidental new method of flash photography.

Only a little farther downriver, barely 140 steps from the exact detonation, and still within this same sliver of a second, women who were sitting on the stone steps of the Suimoto Bank’s main entrance, evidently waiting for the doors to open, evaporated when the skies opened up instead.  Those who did not survive the first half-second of human contact with a nuclear weapon were alive in one moment, on the bank’s steps or on the streets and the bridges—hoping for Japan’s victory or looking toward defeat, hoping for the return of loved ones taken away to war, or mourning loved ones already lost, thinking of increased food rations for their children, or of smaller dreams, or having no dreams at all—and then, facing the flash point, they were converted into gas and desiccated carbon and their minds and bodies dissolved, as if they had been merely the dream of something alien to human experience suddenly awakening. 

And yet the shadows of these people lingered behind their blast-dispersed carbon, imprinted upon the blistered sidewalks, and upon the bank’s granite steps—testament that they had once lived and breathed. 2

Now for comparison, here is what Hersey had to say about this:

The scientists noticed that the flash of the bomb had discolored concrete to a light reddish tint, had scaled off the surface of granite, and had scorched certain other types of building material, and that consequently the bomb had, in some places, left prints of the shadows that had been cast by its light.  The experts found, for instance, a permanent shadow thrown on the roof of the Chamber of Commerce Building (220 yards from the rough center) by the structure’s rectangular tower; several others in the lookout post on top of the Hypothec Bank (2.050 yards); another in the tower of the Chugoku Electric Supply Building (800 yards); another projected by the handle of a gas pump (2,630 yards);  and several on granite tombstones in the Gokoku Shrine (385 yards).  By triangulating these and other such shadows with the objects that formed them, the scientists determined that the exact center was a spot a hundred and fifty yeards south of the torii and a few yards southeast of the pile of ruins that had once been the Shima Hospital.  (A few vague human silhouettes were found, and these gave rise to stories that eventually included fancy and precise details.  One story told how a painter on a ladder was monumentalized in a kind of bas-relief on the stone facade of a bank building on which he was at work, in the act of dipping his brush into his paint can; another, how a man and his cart on the bridge near the Museum of Science and Industry, almost under the center of the explosion, was cast down in an embossed shadow which made it clear the man was about to whip his horse.) 3

It is plain from the above that the shadows of bomb victims in the ruins of Hiroshima were not as vivid as Pellegrino claimed, and that their last vestiges gave rise to folk tales of vivid shadows etched onto stone by “Little Boy” as it exploded,  folk tales that Pellegrino simply embellished to the point of pure science fiction.  He even recast the tale of the man with the cart on the bridge to have him leading a lone horse with no cart instead of about to use his whip on his cart-harnessed charge when the bomb supposedly immortalized their shadows.  And when you compare his account to the no-nonsense reporting by Hersey on this grim aspect of Hiroshima, it becomes evident that Pellegrino grossly exaggerated the facts about the bombing right from the start of the book; thus pumping even more lies into history’s fragile bloodstream of remembrance.




1. “Atomic Veterans Incensed Over False Claims In New Book,” Veterans of The 50th Composite Group, accessed May 30, 2012, http://www.us-japandialogueonpows.org/essays/509pressrelease.pdf  Steven Levingston, “Author admits he was duped by a source while researching book on the Hiroshima,” The Washington Post, February  22, 2010, accessed May 30, 2012, http://voices.washingtonpost.com/shortstack/2010/02/author_admits_he_was_duped_by.html

2.  Charles Pellegrino, The Last Train From Hiroshima (Henry Holt, 2010), 1-2.

3.  John Hersey, “Hiroshima, part IV, Panic grass and feverfew” in The New Yorker Book of War Pieces (The New Yorker Magazine, 1947), 551.


Lies Stephen Ambrose Told In “Crazy Horse And Custer”

In this post-Gettysburg photograph apparently taken somewhere in Virginia, brigadier general George Armstrong Custer poses with General Alfred Pleasanton, the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps commander. Note that GAC is wearing his black velveteen jacket notable for not having shoulder straps like the coat Pleasanton is wearing–his brigadier’s stars are on the collars of the sailor’s shirt Custer acquired from a sailor on a Union gunboat in 1862. He was wearing this same shirt (sans stars) when he died at the Little Big Horn on June 25th, 1876. The shirt was stripped from his corpse afterward and vanished into the mists  of time. Image credit: Wikimedia.



The Rummel Farm, east of Gettysburg. July 3rd, 1863.

Troopers of the First Michigan cavalry galloped towards Confederate general Wade Hampton’s advancing horsemen. At the head of the Michiganders was a man in a black velveteen uniform topped with a red scarf and a broad brimmed sailor’s shirt adorned with silver stars.  He rode with saber upraised, his long blonde hair streaming out from beneath a wide brimmed hat which also was adorned with a silver star. Behold George Armstrong Custer, “The Boy General.”

After much hard fighting, the charge of the First Michigan, assisted by assaults on both of Hampton’s flanks by Yankee cavalrymen from nearby units, succeeded in driving back the last attempt made by Confederate cavalier James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart to disperse the Union troopers, preventing him from getting into the rear of the Army of the Potomac as it beat back Pickett’s Charge.

Now, 150 years after Custer bravely led his men into the fray at Gettysburg, an ugly accusation leveled by historian Stephen Ambrose still hovers over Custer’s performance that day.

In his book Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors, Ambrose claimed that at Gettysburg, Custer’s brigade lost 481 men.  1  Contrast this to the tally of 29 dead, 123 wounded, and 67 missing given in Gregory Urwin’s book Custer Victorious. This same total is given by Custer biographer Jeffrey Wert in his book Custer: The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer. Both writers arrived at their figures using separate sources. 2

What sources, if any, did Ambrose consult? He cites in his footnotes part one of Volume XXVII of the War of the Rebellion records. On one of the pages cited–a report of casualties suffered by the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps at Gettysburg–a listing of “451” is given for the second brigade of the Third Division (i.e. Custer’s). If taken at face value, this vindicates Ambrose’s claim, if one gives or takes a margin of 30. But there is a footnote for the section in question that reads: “But see revised statement, pp 185, 186.” Lo and behold: on page 186 Custer’s total losses for Gettysburg are listed at 257! 3 Ambrose did not mention this page in his footnotes. The above facts make it clear that Ambrose lied about Custer’s losses. All he did was take an erroneous report and inflate it slightly. In actuality, Custer’s Gettysburg losses were between 219 and 257.

Ambrose’s claim about Custer at Gettysburg demonstrates his unfortunate penchant for making unsubstantiated claims in his writings, as well as provides a good example of how ink has often been used to slander  George Armstrong Custer. 4



1. Stephen E. Ambrose, Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors (Anchor; 1st Anchor Books trade pbk. ed edition, 1996), 196.   Ambrose later repeated this claim in an article entitled “Custer’s Civil War,” which was subsequently reprinted in his anthology Americans at War (University Press of Mississippi, 1997), 52.

2. Gregory J.W. Urwin, Custer Victorious (University of Nebraska Press, 1983), 81. Urwin’s footnote for these is from David F. Riggs, East of Gettysburg: Custer Vs. Stuart (Old Army Press, 1985), 49. Jeffrey D. Wert, Custer: The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer (Touchstone, 1997), 95. Wert cites several sources in his footnote for the statistics; none are Urwin’s book nor the one by Riggs.

3. United States War Department et al., The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies; Series 1 – Volume 27 (Part I) (Washington: Govt. Print. Off, 1889), 919, 991-998.

4. For an example, see Richard Brayner, “Channeling Ike,” The New Yorker, April 26, 2010, accessed May 30, 2012, http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2010/04/26/100426ta_talk_rayner


How Many Historical Novels Has Jimmy Doolittle Appeared In?

Doolittle and LeMay England
Jimmy Doolittle and another famous air general -Curtis LeMay- pose by a P-38 Lightning in England circa 1944. This year witnessed none other than Spencer Tracy portraying Doolittle in the film version of Doolittle Raider Ted Lawson’s book Thirty Seconds over Tokyo. Little did Jimmy know that the next decent dramatic depiction of him would be not in a movie, but in a pair of historical novels penned by historical novelist Jeff Shaara. Image courtesy Wikimedia.


Following up my recent post about my World War Two novel in progress which will depict Jimmy Doolittle, here is a look at how many historical novels this legendary aviation pioneer and war hero appeared in.

In the annals of literature, there are only two historical novels that feature features aviation pioneer and WWII hero  James H. Doolittle; both are by none other than historical novelist Jeff Shaara.

The first of these two is The Rising Tide.  In this novel -which covers WWII in North Africa to WWII in Sicily- Jimmy is present at a meeting in Algiers, Algeria, between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Doolittle and Arthur Tedder (Doolittle was Tedder’s subordinate at this moment in time -December of 1942 as head of the U.S. Twelfth Air Force.) In the scene, Doolittle has no dialogue but chuckles at a comment made by Tedder as they leave the room. This “cameo” by Doolittle takes place on pages 203-205 of the hardcover edition.

Shaara’s discussion of Doolittle’s background before North Africa is accurate, but he does not mention how Doolittle and Ike wound up getting off on the wrong foot over a minor faux pas on Jimmy’s part during a pre-Operation Torch meeting between him, Ike, and George Patton.

As he recorded in his memoirs:

‘With a minimum of formality we sat down and immediately began discussing Torch. George led off with a briefing on his intentions and plans “to drive the bastards into the sea.” Ike seemed satisfied with that and turned to me. He said, “Our first job will be to acquire airfields in North Africa. As soon as they’re acquired, we’ve got to be able to operate.

He was right, of course. However, instead of saying “Yes, sir, that’s exactly what we’ll do,” I very stupidly said, “General Eisenhower, the fields will be of no value to us until the ground troops have cleared and occupied the air bases, have brought in fuel, supplies, ammunition, bombs, food, and spare parts. Then we’ll be able to operate.”

I saw his face change, and I knew that I had blown it. It was a dumb thing to tell a general with as much logistics experience and military service as Eisenhower. Here was a one-star reserve officer implying that a two-star general who had spent his entire adult life in the service didn’t know what he was talking about.

I realized I had made a horrible mistake, but it was too late to recover from it. His face froze and I fumbled for words. I never got to tell him much about our plans for the 12th.’ (I Could Never be so Lucky Again, by James H. Doolittle with Carroll V. Glines, 277, Bantam paperback edition.)

This aside, Shaara captures Doolittle perfectly in The Rising Tide.

Doolittle again appears in Shaara’s novel No Less Than Victory. Again Jimmy is at a meeting with Ike at SHAEF headquarters in Versailles, France, in November of 1944. Arthur Tedder is again present, but this time Jimmy has the floor as commander of the famous 8th Air Force. Jimmy’s “cameo” in this novel is what opens chapter 2, and occupies pages 22 to 24 of the hardcover edition.

Jeff’s characterization of Jimmy is pretty good, but there might be an out-of-character element to his depiction. In this sequence, Jimmy uses the word “damn” once and “hell” three times. One thing Doolittle was noted for was his dislike of profanity. However, Jimmy is depicted by Jeff as being irritated by the extravagant claims being made about airpower in this sequence. Jimmy himself mentions in passing the use of an cuss word in this passage from his memoirs discussing a pre-invasion briefing he gave Ike and General Carl “Tooey” Spaatz and an irritated comment he made about a weather forecast officer named Krick:

‘My distrust of long-range weather forecasting surfaced many times during the succeeding weeks, and it came to a head again when I was giving a briefing for Tooey and Ike one day at High Wycombe. I was telling about a mission then in progress and explained that the bombers were proceeding to their secondary target. Tooey immediately interrupted to ask why. I said it was because the primary target was socked in.

“But Colonel Krick assured me the primary would be clear,” Tooey said.

Before I could stop myself, I countered, “Colonel Krick is full of crap.”‘ (Emp. added; I Could Never be so Lucky Again, 357, Bantam Paperback edition.)

Judging by this, Doolittle let out a cuss word every now and then when deeply irritated; but not casually, as depicted in an atrocious 2001 movie better left unnamed.

Doolittle displays none of his characteristic genial warmth and humor in this sequence as well; this is accurate on Shaara’s part. Joanna Doolittle Hoppes quotes a letter from Jimmy in her biography of him in which he confesses that his Christmas message to the 8th Air Force lacked warmth. The demands of command during times of intense air operations at times would strip away Jimmy’s cheerful attitude.

On a whole, Shaara depicted Doolittle well in No Less Than Victory.

Apart from these two novels, however, Jimmy Doolittle rates on mentions in a scattered few others such as a novel in W.E.B. Griffin’s The Corps series entitled Battleground in which Doolittle is the boyhood hero of one of his characters. So far, only the pages of The Rising Tide and No Less Than Victory have seen him grace the pages of a historical novel as a character.

Finally, Jimmy is given an honorable dramatization in T. Martin Bennett’s recently published novel Wounded Tiger, a novelization of his screenplay of the same name which depicts the parallel stories of Pearl Harbor attack commander Mitsuo Fuchida and Doolittle Raider Jake DeShazer.


What Does “Kerfuffle” Mean?

kerfuffle sign
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.


In my recent post “Book Versus Book” I wrote: “A far cry from the literary kerfuffle [emp. added] of the mid-1990s which saw journalist Paul Hendrickson go after Robert S. McNamara over his alleged lies about the Vietnam War in the latter’s 1995 book In Retrospect: The Tragedy And Lessons of Vietnam with a book of his own which claimed to tell the truth about McNamara and Vietnam.”

What does the word “kerfuffle” mean?  According to the Urban Dictionary‘s definition,  it means “A social imbroglio or brouhaha. An organizational misunderstanding leading to accusations and defensiveness.”  According to Merriam-Webster’s definition, it simply means “disturbance, fuss,” and is chiefly used in British (aka UK) English.

I chose to use this word in the passage quoted above because I felt it aptly summed up a situation where one author rebutted another’s book with their own in an emotional manner, which the Hendrickson versus McNamara contest most certainly was thanks to how emotionally charged the former’s book was.  Therefore, it was a kerfuffle to the max.



Book Versus Book

Book versus book sign
Image copyright (C) 2015 by Tony Held, all rights reserved.


I recently came across this article about two biographies of legendary entrepreneur Steve Jobs.   One of these biographies, Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, was criticized for his alleged overemphasis on the abrasive side of Jobs’s personality.  Enough of Jobs’s friends, colleagues, and relatives were irritated by issacson’s biography that they willingly backed another, Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli’s Becoming Steve Jobs, which is said to treat its subject in a more even-handed manner.

I cannot offer an opinion as to which book is more accurate, having not read either one. Nor am I at all familiar with Mr. Jobs and his life story.  The reason why I mention these two biographies about him is because they are a prime example of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in action.  Issacson painted his word picture of Jobs, and Schlender and Tetzeli offered theirs in response to his out of their conviction Jobs had been given a posthumous raw deal by Issacson.   Admirers of Steve Jobs now have two books they can read and decide for themselves as to which one paints the truest portrait of the man.

Thankfully, the authors of the competing Jobs biographies have gone about it in a respectful and tasteful manner. A far cry from the literary kerfuffle of the mid-1990s which saw journalist Paul Hendrickson go after Robert S. McNamara over his alleged lies about the Vietnam War in the latter’s 1995 book In Retrospect: The Tragedy And Lessons of Vietnam with a book of his own which claimed to tell the truth about McNamara and Vietnam.

I read both of their books. In my opinion, Hendrickson’s retaliatory 1996 tome The Living and The Dead offered zero evidence as to McNamara’s infidelity with the truth and all but painted the man as an evil genius second only to Ernst Starvo Blofeld.  All Hendrickson’s Robert S. McNamara lacked was a cat to pet while he sat in his office dreaming up the latest military operations in Vietnam.

The case of Hendrickson versus McNamra eloquently demonstrates how waging war in the literary arena can get downright mean and dirty—a major risk for any author who wishes to confront another with a book that offers their side of the story.