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Susan Green

Bikini Atom Test Filmed as Spectacle;
Navy Plays Down Threat to Mankind

(2 September 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 35, 2 September 1946, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“That wasn’t so terrible, was it?”

This was the surprised comment heard here and there in the theater after the presentation of the newsreel of the second Bikini test explosion. People had expected something truly terrifying. What did they see?

From the screen had come first an ominous boom. Then the reel showed a great fountain of steam and water, gradually mushrooming out with astonishing grace – a truly beautiful spectacle. The only alarming feature was the noise. Flashing back and forth between the explosion area and the observation ship, the camera caught the Navy’s finest watching through field glasses. Later came views of ships listing or sinking, with close-ups of the destruction on those still afloat. All was small potatoes compared to the scenes of awful war devastation we are used to seeing. Finally we saw the scientists nonchalantly testing for radio-activity – almost as if on a fishing trip.

Navy Flim-Flam

To be sure the commentator informed the audience about the two-mile height of that fountain of steam and water, and of the millions of tons of water displaced. But the picture is more to be believed than the words and “That wasn’t so terrible, was it?” So now we can snuggle down contentedly to enjoy Ginger Rogers in Heartbreak or Mark Stevens in The Dark Corner or some other figment of Hollywood imagination having nothing at all to do with those terrible A-bombs, which aren’t so terrible after all.

This entirely false impression is, of course, exactly the one that the Navy Department wanted to make on our minds. The admirals were out to “prove” that the atom bomb is only another weapon which the admirals can handle – with some necessary improvements in submarines and aircraft carriers. No mere atom bomb would be permitted to demonstrate that navies are obsolete. So the tests were arranged to “prove” their point. They did not represent the conditions of real war, especially in respect to placement of craft and in respect to number of bombs exploded. The resulting propaganda is: “The A-bomb is not so terrible. Leave it to the admirals.”

A few scientists and journalists, deeply worried at the threat of complete human extinction contained in the A-bomb, did not keep quiet about this Navy flim-flam. However, nearly all other agencies of capitalist publicity helped create the impression: “That wasn’t so terrible, was it?” The newsreel, accidentally or otherwise, turns out to be more of the same minimizing of the deadliness of the fission bomb.

But those moviegoers who also read the papers a bit thoughtfully must have been jolted into some sense of reality by the Navy announcement on August 11 that it had perfected a pilotless plane for carrying bombs. This bomb-carrying projectile will enable the snuffing out of “the prescribed target with no help from human hands or brains.”

With a bit of imagination one can see future warfare with all its real horror: Jet planes moving faster than sound, dropping not one but a series of perfected A-bombs on teeming cities. That’s the prospect for World War III – not the test at Bikini!

Beware of Apathy!

We must fight the complacency that is developing in the minds of people. The awfulness of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings alerted the elementary feeling to preserve ourselves from such a fate. But since then, while making the A-bomb more destructive and its conveyance to a target more exact, the war makers have succeeded in lulling our sense of alarm. This is a prerequisite to World War III, now in preparation.

Perhaps people unreasoningly believe that it can’t happen here. But there is no immunity from atom bombing. New York, Washington, Pittsburgh and Chicago are as vulnerable as London, Paris, Moscow. While the American war makers are more open in advertising what they have by way of instruments of horrible destruction, the other major powers are not asleep. The projectiles recently bursting over Sweden, emanating from Russia, give evidence of tests by that nation, if such evidence is needed. A Russian physicist attending the Bikini show told reporters that the Stalin government will also, before very long, be making tests of its atom bomb.

Certainly Washington has no illusions about the danger of the A-bomb to the United States. For instance, the Army-Navy Munitions Board is busy planning a type of wormlike existence. This board is surveying natural caves and man-made caverns, such as mines, to find those adaptable for “vital industrial production and other military purposes” – even though it is known that such hide-outs give no protection from a direct atom bomb hit.

Again, Representative Trimble of Arkansas introduced to the last Congress as amendment to the Constitution – not acted upon – to provide for a substitute President and Vice-President in case an A-bomb were to destroy Washington and with it the President, Vice-President, all members of the Cabinet, of Congress and of the Supreme Court. Mr. Trimble not only rightly considers the A-bomb as a very terrible physical menace, but he apparently thinks it would also destroy the need for democracy. For his amendment would empower the top officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force arbitrarily to choose “a civilian to act as interim President.” This interim President would then call a meeting of all state governors to choose from among themselves a President and a Vice-President.

The serious point, of course, is that everybody in the know realizes that there is no immunity from the A-bomb.

Furthermore, everybody who is anybody has learned, as Hanson Baldwin summarized it in the New York Times after the Bikini show, that “the offense has gained a tremendous lead over the defense – one that the defense may never be able to overcome.” This is another way of saying that the belligerent that dumps its load of A-bombs first will be the victor, because there will be very little left of the enemy after the first offensive.

That is why the world-wide intelligence services of all the nations are feverishly snooping out each other’s secrets. That is why work goes on in army and navy laboratories night and day. That is why scientists who should be serving mankind are giving their talents to create more fabulous means of annihilating mankind.

War in the Making

What this extensive and intensive research is producing are atom bombs that will make Hiroshima look like a bad joke; pilotless planes to carry these bombs faster than sound; radio, radar and television to perfect precision bombing of targets. What the laboratories are concocting are biological weapons to make life impossible for those who might escape bombing and the effects of radiation – bombs to spread epidemics among people and deprive them of food by poisoning animals, crops and water.

This is the kind of war in the making. Let not the propaganda of the Navy nor the gracefully mushrooming fountain that the screen shows as the Bikini explosion, dim the reality.

What, then, is to prevent the destruction of civilization? What is to prevent the reversion of the remnants of the human species to a cave-dwelling existence? In a word, what is to prevent World War III?

Not the United Nations, where the rival imperialist interests cannot possibly find a humane solution of the question of atomic energy. Not the so-called Peace Conference, where the wearisome verbal contests have been correctly called “an extension of war by political means.” Not the handful of scientists who protest the use of atomic energy for war. Nor the few radical intellectuals who make similar protests.

Our doom is sealed if we say of the A-bomb: “That wasn’t so terrible, was it?” and leave it to the admirals. The fight against World War III is the fight against capitalism and imperialism – to destroy them before they destroy humanity. The choice must be made between socialism and annihilation. This is a job for the masses, with militant organized labor in the forefront.

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