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Carl Davis

Behind the “Experiment” at Bikini

Navy Seeks to Dull Atom Bomb Fears

(12 August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 32, 12 August 1946, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Exactly one year ago a frightened world learned of the latest invention for destroying property and lives – the atomic bomb. The reverberations of the blast at Hiroshima traveled around the world with a speed approximating the leveling of one of the largest cities in Japan. Such terrifying destructive power had only been visualized in adventure and semi-scientific pulp magazines. But the real atom bomb brought the war with Japan to an abrupt end. It raised the question of the ability of mankind to withstand concentrated blasts of the greatest explosive instrument ever devised and to which no defense is possible.

The horror of the people was followed by conferences, forums and resolutions to seek some way to avoid war. But the skillful propaganda of the ‘’statesmen” and professional military men has resulted in a growing complaisance toward the atom bomb.

The army and navy men in this country began a new type of propaganda. “This was not the last of new inventions and discoveries for war. There were other even more terrifying weapons!”

As if this would diminish the power of the atom bomb! After all, this was only one of the new weapons. There were still others: rocket bombs, rocket flown atom bombs, bacterial bombs, death-dealing rays, etc. Thus, by a system of comparisons the deadly power of the atom bomb was minimized.

Method in Madness

There was purpose in this campaign of madness. The professional army men sought to defeat the propaganda of the scientists, liberals and pacifists that the discovery of the atom bomb meant the elimination of the mass army. The navy men did everything in their power to deny that the atom bomb made a huge navy obsolete.

A struggle broke out in Congress over setting up controls and management of production of the atomic bombs as well as the peaceful and industrial aspects of atomic energy. Those elements who wanted exclusive civilian control of atomic energy and those who, acting as the spokesmen of the military men, sought to give control to the War and Navy Departments, battled it out. The Senate already decided against military supervision of the Atomic Control Board. The head of the House Military Committee, Andrew May, that notorious swindler of the people, led the fight to weaken civilian control of the Board.

The Navy finally organized the expensive expedition to Bikini to “test” the effect of an atom bomb upon a modern navy. The experiment was a phony from the start, since, as some of the liberal press already pointed out, the purpose of the Navy Department was to prove that the atom bomb in no way made a navy obsolete and that all that was required was a “change in design” and a new strategy in the disposition of ships. In this experiment, the Navy determined the power of the bomb dropped upon Bikini lagoon. It placed the ships in special order. It was a controlled experiment.

Of course, it will be no news to our readers when we say that in atomic warfare not one bomb but hundreds will be dropped. And they will be of infinitely greater power than the one the Navy used in Bikini. Professor Robert Oppenheimer, the outstanding atomic physicist in this country, has declared that already an atomic bomb capable of destroying a hundred square miles can be built; that with new productive methods it will be possible to produce atomic bombs at a cost of only a million dollars each!

Yet with all that is known of the power of the atom bomb, the Bikini experiment was so treated in the press as to make the weapon seem like any other explosive weapon. The whole fleet was not sunk! The lagoon was not dried out or turned into a boiling inferno! No hundred foot tidal waves were caused that traveled thousands of miles! Therefore ... the atom bomb was really not such great shakes.

Fear from Bikini

Yet the secret report to the President which has not yet been made public reveals that the worst fears about the effects of the bomb have been confirmed again by the Bikini show. William L. Laurence, correspondent for the New York Times, who just returned from Bikini, writes alarmingly about the complaisance at large which characterizes the reactions to the experiment. The thing that Laurence does not seem to understand is that this reason was manufactured by the kind of propaganda which issued from the Navy Department and the press itself. Laurence writes:

“Scientists and others closely connected with the development of the bomb, who know its potentialities for wholesale destruction and who devoted their energies during the last year to arouse public awareness of the danger confronting civilization, consider it of vastly, greater importance to gauge the effect of the Bikini tests on the change of attitude of the public toward the greatest problem facing mankind today.

“Considered from this point of view the Bikini tests add up to a tragedy of errors for which the world may pay a heavy price unless measures are taken in time to counteract them.”

But it is easy to determine the responsibility for this reaction, since it was manufactured in Washington, D.C. Laurence may look to his own New York Times in Hanson Baldwin’s column for such additional responsibility. Baldwin, an Annapolis man with a strong Navy bias, wrote only a few days ago that the atom bomb was proved to be only another of the new weapons of warfare. Laurence goes on to say:

“Watching the cloud of death that spread over the Bikini fleet, this observer considered it obvious that amphibious invasions ... would become impossible against an enemy possessing atomic bombs.

“A few atomic bombs exploded in the air and under water would not only sink all the invasion craft but also kill every man aboard them. Those who by miracle might escape the blast and heat would surely die by the invisible, all-penetrating radiation.”

All else that Laurence writes about so alarmingly is already known. The Bikini experiment was a reflection of the war spirit, the preparation for new wars; it was a warning to other nations. It was a Navy spectacle to prove the untenable thesis that the atom bomb did not make a navy as it is now obsolete. All of this could have been and was foretold in advance. In that sense, nothing new was learned at Bikini.

The issue remains. Given the continued existence of capitalism, the world faces new wars and the danger of the extinction of civilization. The issue is: either capitalist barbarism, the death of civilization, or socialism! For that is the danger the world faces: Socialism or death!

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