In the past 30 years I've probably written more words about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the American reaction, than nearly anyone. So it is exciting and gratifying to learn this week that Avatar director James Cameron, who could choose just about any subject for upcoming projects, has purchased the rights to a new book about the aftermath of the 1945 atomic attacks.
It's not known if Cameron's aim is to make an epic documentary or a Hollywood feature -- he spent his own money for the rights and it is not set up at a studio yet -- but there seems to be something in the air. In recent days I've been approached by a producer working on a documentary on the bomb's effects. Oliver Stone's upcoming "Secret History" of America series reportedly includes a segement on Truman's decision to drop the bombs.
Just last month, Cameron visited in Japan with Tsutomu Yamaguchi, one of the few victims of the atomic attacks who survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks. I interviewed another such survivor many years ago, leading me to ponder the question: Doubly unlucky or doubly lucky? Or both? In any case, the man Cameron visited made headlines last week when he passed away. During their visit Cameron reportedly promised to "pass on his rare and harrowing experience to future generations."
Many may recall the famous nuclear "nightmare" in Cameron's Terminator 2, featuring the burning of bodies at a children's playground. A large number of victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts were school kids. I visited some of the playgrounds where they perished.
The book in question is Last Train from Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back by Charles Pellegrino. It's coming out January 19 from Henry Holt and has earned some pre-pub positive reviews, including a starred rave from Publishers Weekly: "Heart-stopping. Pellegrino dissects the complex political and military strategies that went into the atomic detonations and the untold suffering heaped on countless Japanese civilians, weaving all of the book's many elements into a wise, informed protest against any further use of these terrible weapons."
A little research reveals that Cameron long ago gave the book a helpful blurb: "This book somehow combines intense forensic detail -- some of it new to history -- with unfathomable heartbreak. Pellegrino unflinchingly chronicles these most devastating of events, the only times nuclear weapons have been used against human beings, and begs us to hold hands and to pray that it never happens again. A must-read for anyone with a conscience."
Pellegrino's Web site observes on the home page: "Dr. Pellegrino served as a scientific consultant on James Cameron's Avatar project. The interstellar vehicles seen in the film are based on the designs of Pellegrino and Powell's Valkyrie rockets, fused with Robert L. Forward's designs."
But the Cameron-Pellegrino link goes back quite a ways. The director hooked up with the author after he wrote his 1996 book Her Name, Titanic, then wrote the introduction to a 2001 sequel, Ghosts of the Titanic. Pellegrino's other books include Return to Sodom and Gomorrah, Unearthing Atlantis, and the recent and controversial The Jesus Family Tomb. The latter is described as a "companion volume" to a Discovery Channel special in which Cameron had a role.
Pellegrino's Wikipedia bio lists three other cable films in which he and Cameron were involved. He accompanied Cameron for his December 22 meeting with the double A-bomb survivor. A report in the Mainichi Daily News in Japan concluded: "Cameron recalled witnessing the Cuban Missile Crisis when he was 8 years old, when the threat of nuclear war was 'burned' into his mind. While Cameron's idea for a nuclear weapons-themed film has not yet taken concrete form, the director swore that it would be 'uncompromising' if production went ahead."
It's a vitally important subject for our future, and one I've covered since I edited Nuclear Times magazine, including a trip to the two atomic cities where I interviewed dozens of the survivors, or hibakusha, and many others. This led to writing countless pieces for national publications and my 1995 book with Robert Jay Lifton, Hiroshima in America, and award-winning film that I worked on, Original Child Bomb. I've also written here at Huff Post on "The Great Hiroshima Film Cover-Up."
Russ Fischer concluded his report on the Cameron purchase of the Last Train from Hiroshima rights at the /Film site: "No doubt a powerful dramatic film could be made based on the material in Pellegrino's book. But given Cameron's definitive lack of subtlety, I'd be afraid of the disaster porn potential inherent in the material. I'd actually quite like to see him make a documentary based on the book, but at this point the nature of the project can only be speculated upon." I'll remain optimistic, while working on a new project related to this subject -- partly sparked by my own visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor & Publisher and author of nine books, including "So Wrong for So Long" and "Hiroshima in America." He tweets @GregMitch, blogs here and can be contacted at: email@example.com