Historians know of Einstein’s regret for assistance in the atomic weapons program. His unopened letter to President Truman remained on the desk of the only president to authorize use of atom bombs. Einstein’s Project(name of a play) was to show horrors of such atomic widgets to people in the town square and witness citizens unanimous demand such weapons never be used again.
Seventy years removed from 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings perhaps the spirit of Second Lieutenant Herbert Sussan (1922-1985) compels me to relate a moving personal experience.
While doing peace education for Maryknoll in the Quaker stronghold of Philadelphia during 1984 I met an author who wrote a column, “How to End the Atomic Arms Race.” He mentioned Lieutenant Herbert Sussan and Lieutenant Daniel McGovern, both sent as photographers by the Pentagon (War Department in 1945) to film Hiroshima and Nagasaki following the atomic bombings.
The Quaker author gave Sussan’s New York phone number to me. I introduced myself as a member of the Maryknoll Foreign Mission Society who was doing peace education and would like to meet him soon. Sussan invited me to take AMTRAK the next day to Penn Station in NYC. I wondered how I would pick him out among hundreds in the busy station. Sussan replied, “That will be easy. I am six feet tall with a balding forehead and a brain tumor protruding from the left side of my head. See you around noon at Penn Station!”
Herbert was easily found in the train station. We went off to a small restaurant nearby where he told me the emerging golf ball size brain tumor was contracted from radioactivity during twenty hours of intense filming Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thousands of feet of film were then confiscated by the War Department because military leaders did not want US citizens to view such carnage in color. “But I kept one reel for myself,” Herbert said cunningly with a wink. My quick response was, “Can I borrow it to show in Philly?” There was an immediate sense of trust between both of us. He left for his nearby apartment, returned and gave the priceless reel to me with assurance I would protect his photographic treasure.
A group of university students were present in Philly’s Maryknoll Mission Education house as s friends of Liz Mach, a veteran nurse/missioner who spent decades in Africa. I showed Herbert’s film to them. After viewing the film confiscated by Sussan, Liz burst out screeching in anger, “Don’t you ever show that again! I became physically sick watching it!” My effort to provide peace education by showing the horrors of atomic war “fizzled” on the first attempt. I then phoned Herbert to tell him we should meet again in New York so I could return the film.
Instead of a reunion in busy Penn Station, Herbert suggested we go north to meet in peaceful Ossining, NY. At a small sandwich shop near the majestic Hudson River, he understood immediately why I would be the target of intense anger after showing the film. He explained, “That is precisely why the military took all of the other films and hid them in a Pentagon basement. If US citizens saw what two bombs did in August 1945 the arms race might cease”. Herbert died in 1985. I regret not having the film to share with others. Please read Atomic Coverup by Greg Mitchell for verification of my tale.