The American Experience: Season 1, Episode 2

Radio Bikini (10 Jun. 1988)

TV Episode  -   -  Documentary | History
7.5
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Ratings: 7.5/10 from 448 users  
Reviews: 12 user | 11 critic

It starts with a live radio broadcast from the Bikini Atoll a few days before it is annihilated by a nuclear test. Shows great footage from these times and tells the story of the US Navy ... See full summary »

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Title: Radio Bikini (10 Jun 1988)

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Cast

Episode credited cast:
Kilon Bauno ...
Himself - Chief of the Bikinians
John Smitherman ...
Himself - Veteran of nuclear weapons tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Warren Austin ...
Himself - US Delegate to UN (archive footage)
Bernard Baruch ...
Himself (archive footage)
W.H.P. Blandy ...
Himself (archive footage) (as Vice Admiral William H.P. Blandy)
...
Himself - Concerned About Bikini Test (archive footage)
James Forrestal ...
Himself (archive footage)
Vyacheslav Molotov ...
Himself (archive footage)
Woodrow P. Swancutt ...
Himself (archive footage) (as Woodrow Swancutt)
Harry S. Truman ...
Himself (archive footage)
Harold Urey ...
Himself - Concerned About Bikini Test (archive footage)
Lee Van Atta ...
Himself - Radio Reporter (voice) (archive sound)
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Storyline

It starts with a live radio broadcast from the Bikini Atoll a few days before it is annihilated by a nuclear test. Shows great footage from these times and tells the story of the US Navy Sailors who were exposed to radioactive fallout. One interviewed sailor suffered grotesquely swollen limbs and he is shown being interviewed with enormous left arm and hand. Written by <anon@anon.anon>

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10 June 1988 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Connections

References Gilda (1946) See more »

Soundtracks

Kuu Ipo
by Andy Iona and his Islanders
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User Reviews

 
Hubris and naïveté make for a dangerous combination
22 January 2006 | by (Boulder, CO) – See all my reviews

In the wake of World War II the United States, with its monopoly on atomic weapons, was not above deciding to flex it nuclear muscles in two early tests of atomic bombs near the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in 1946. It was interesting to see that even in that time the President (Truman) was invoking God in support of our development and use of the bomb. God had granted us the favor of having the bomb and Truman beseeched him to guide us in its proper use. This short one-hour documentary about the two atomic tests provides material for debate as to whether Truman's requests of God have been met.

The United States had the hubris to evacuate the entire island of Bikini in order to conduct its tests, telling the islanders that it was in the interest of the welfare of mankind. This evacuation is personalized in this film by comments from Kilon Bauno, the chief of the Bikini islanders. Bauno and the islanders had no real idea of what was going on and why they were being forced off of their homeland. The shots of the islanders being loaded into ships are heart rending.

I used to think that the trust of the U.S. Government started on its downhill slid during and after Vietnam, but we can see here that its origins are earlier. When we see the P.R. footage of the medical doctor assuring us that every possible safety precaution had been taken and there was absolutely no danger to anyone involved in these tests, and then later see the sailors lighting up the Geiger counters, we experience what has in later years become that all too common reaction of less than total faith in what our government tells us. After all we did have the Japan bombings as a cautionary warning.

This documentary could be an indoctrination film for PETA. Some of the most agonizing clips for me were those that dealt with the use of goats as experimental animals in the tests. They were confined in small metal cages and set afloat on test ships. Seeing the animals struggle to get out of their restraints was difficult and then, after the tests, the horribly burned animals were displayed as if trophies of some major victory. Truly disturbing.

There is much footage of the blasts themselves. The sad truth is that the release of such power is awe-inspiring and fascinating. This is perhaps part of the motivation for developing these devices - to witness this elemental force. There is also the element of not being able to restrain men from playing with their toys. But realizing the potential of using such toys for evil tempers any attractions. However, understanding that potential has also prevented any major war in the last sixty years. But the idea of an atomic bomb in the hands of a terrorist is a truly frightening prospect. Certainly the advent of nuclear power has made our world a much more complicated place to understand and deal with.

We can see the beginnings of the cold war here. The U.S. proposed a plan for controlling nuclear weaponry to which the official response from the Soviet Union was to say that nuclear weapons should be outlawed entirely - this at a time when they were actively pursuing their own nuclear weapons program.

To be fair this is not a documentary without a point of view. A small bow is made to the voices of concern about these tests, in particular a clip of Albert Einstein endorsing such concern. But the emphasis is on the arrogance and naivety of the decision makers. The ukulele music played over the Bikini evacuation heightens the pathos of the situation. The interviews with John Smitherman, who was at the tests, were poignant. Smitherman later developed grotesque swellings in his legs to the point where he had to have them amputated, and his left hand, to which we are treated to a close-up, swelled to the size of a football. Also, I felt a bit manipulated by Smitherman's being shown from the waist up until the end when the camera pulls back for us to see his grievous injuries. Effective, but I felt taken advantage of. And just how common a case is Smitherman's? The film was made some forty years after the tests and much data would have been available as to what the ultimate fate was for many of those there at the time. I wanted more information about the aftermath - what happened to the islanders and the island itself, what happened to that area of the Marshall islands, what happened to the sailors, what was the future of atomic testing, and so forth.

Whatever its flaws this is an important and thought-provoking documentary that offers us a small time capsule of a crucial time in history.


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