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.