Monday, February 23, 2009

Fugo: Death From the Sky And Government Censorship

In my previous post, Fugo And My Fallible Memory, I mentioned that I was quoted in a recent issue of Saucer Smear, an excerpt from a snail mail letter. Regarding a possible Roswell-fugo balloon connection, I had said that during World War II the US government kept the public unaware that bomb-packed balloons –- all the way from Japan –- had reached the United States. I wrote: “…that’s how our government works: Prevent panic but put unsuspecting citizens in danger with the cover-up.”

After doing some research, I still think the government went too far with the censorship over the fugo attacks. But the problem of censorship and the public’s right to know isn’t that cut and dry, as the events surrounding the fugo story demonstrate.

While the government was concerned about panic and fear, it had another reason to keep any fugo incidents out of the print and broadcast media: it didn’t want word to get back to Japan how successful the long-range balloon launches had been. If the enemy learned that the balloons had done some damage, he might be encouraged to send even more.

As I had commented in my previous post, there seems to have been some awareness of the fugo threat before the government opened up and informed the public at large. On May 5th, 1945 a minister in Southern Oregon was with his wife and some children from his church on a picnic. His wife and the five children were in the woods, shouting they had found something that looked like a balloon. Apparently his wife and the kids were unaware of the danger. He had heard of the Japanese balloons. He tried to warn them but it was too late: one of them touched the fugo, causing it to explode, killing all six of them. The minister was unharmed, beyond the reach of the blast.

After this incident the government decided to loosen up on the censorship. At the website the copy from newspaper articles of that time are reproduced. One article from a Washington state newspaper, dated May 22, 1945, carried the headline: "Residents of West Warned.”

The article reveals the fugo threat and the justification for the some of the secrecy being dropped. According to this article: “The armed services said they took the position that the possibility of saving even one American life through precautionary measures would more than offset any possible gain that the enemy might make from the mere knowledge that some of the balloons had arrived on this side of the Pacific.”

At the same time the government would still hold back details about where and when each balloon was found and its effect. This specific information would be kept from the enemy so that he couldn’t use it to take corrective measures.

Now this was a reasonable compromise. Citizens would be wary if they encountered one of the unexploded balloons and also would know to contact the authorities.

Due to the strict censorship, one boy was unaware of the danger from a “plaything” he had found from a landed fugo. An article from The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington, dated August 15, 1945, described how the small boy picked up an anti-personnel bomb. Since the device resembled a small airplane, he wound up its “propeller” –- in reality arming it. He was one-sixteenth of an inch from being blown up.


Doug said...

Of course, were something analogous to occur today, the government could split the difference and release the info but do so on what was ostensibly a nutwing source so it would be dismissed as ridiculous (and avoid a panic) but when eventually the "serious" media picked up on it they could truthfully say they made it available.

I'm thinking Fox News.

Ray said...

Fox News: We distort. You're deceived.

X. Dell said...

Lol, the two of you.

It's interesting to compare and contrast the dissemination of information from 1945 to now. Truth be told, I think the Internet would be abuzz with the news of a detoonate fugo long before the acknowledgement of a government source, or media reportage confirmed it.

Ray said...

X. Dell:

And that leads to an interesting question in this age of Homeland Security. If a blogger did reveal something the government wanted to cover up, would they have his post deleted and have him charged with violating national security?

Of course, if the meme is out of the barn, replicating all over the web, it's too late to slam the door shut.