The first and last radio broadcast from The Bikini Atolls
"We thank god that it [the atomic bomb] has come to us, instead of to our enemies." - Harry Truman
World War II finally came to end in August 1945 when the US dropped two bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But that was the debut, rather than the end, of the most massive weapon mankind has ever seen. And those who died that day were only the first ones to suffer from the bombs.
Once World War II was over, the world also immediately entered the Cold War, and men were not to waste any time in further refining these weapons. American politicians, military leaders, and scientists were keen to better the technology. Atomic testing was said to be "for the good of mankind and was done to end all world wars".
But of course, such a dangerous experiment cannot be set off at home. Instead, the Americans chose to conduct it at Bikini Atoll on the microstate of Marshall Islands, then overseen by the United States as part of a United Nations mandate. The operations would begin in January 1946.
Residents on the Bikini Atoll, all 167 of them, were asked to leave their homes in preparation. Locals who "did not even know what a camera was" were told to make way for science and mankind. After they packed, their homes were burned down to make sure that no one would return. In exchange, they were offered kind words, such as "you are like the children of Israel whom the Lord saved from their enemy and led into the Promised Land".
After six months of preparation, the tests took place in July 1946. A great blast and seemingly all was over. Some who witnessed the test on the navy ships even claimed that it was a disappointment. But little did they know, the test was life-changing in more ways than they would have expected.
Since Operation Crossroads, another 2,055 nuclear tests have taken place, with the United States carrying out more than half of them (1030). In the Pacific alone, the US conducted over 100 nuclear tests up until 1962. Of course, these tests are accompanied by ones carried out by the Soviet Union / Russia, as well as France, United Kingdom, and China.
It has now been more than 70 years since the first tests took place at Bikini Atolls. But the atolls themselves remain uninhabitable, and the tiny country of Marshall Islands today continues to suffer through the consequences of the nuclear tests. In 2010, Bikini Atoll was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the following claims,
"Through its history, the atoll symbolises the dawn of the nuclear age, despite its paradoxical image of peace and of earthly paradise."
Bikini Atoll is now a playground for adventurous souls who fancy a scuba dive in the area.
Radio Bikini, the documentary
Operation Crossroads was a historical moment. It represents the first nuclear tests since Nagasaki, and the American government wanted the world to see this. Altogether, the government prepared 104 cameras and 208 video cameras, which together were sufficient to make eleven Hollywood productions just by capturing the first few seconds of the explosion. Ultimately, these cameras gave us a chance to witness what a nuclear explosion is like, and the damages that mankind could do.
Radio Bikini is a documentary that accounts for what happened at the Bikini Atolls, Marshall Islands. The director, Robert Stone, sewed together little-seen footages to tell the story of Operation Crossroads. Radio Bikini captured the confusion experienced by the locals and the joyful arrival of the American navy soldiers. It also showed a glimpse of the real destructive power of the atomic bombs, starting from the 19 warships destroyed but going far beyond them.
The great Albert Einstein once said, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking. And we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” He is probably right.
Radio Bikini scored a 7.5 / 10 on IMDB and was nominated for an Academy Award in 1988 for Best Documentary Feature.
Alternatively, read about it in the book Operation Crossroads: The Atomic Tests at Bikini, written by the documentary's producer Jonathan Weisgall.
Director: Robert Stone
Release date: June 10, 1988
Running Time: 56 minutes