Given the abundance of human folly in the world, the gods are probably laughing at us most of the time, but today there is a particularly compelling reason for their amused contempt – a reason that, as usual, is the product of human beings making incredibly foolish choices.
July 25, 1946 – The United States conducts its first underwater nuclear bomb test near Bikini Atoll. Called the “Baker Shot,” this detonation was part of Operation Crossroads, a series of such tests that were designed to investigate the effects of nuclear weapons on naval ships.
And what were the unforeseen consequences of these proceedings? The nuclear arms race, Mutual Assured Destruction, radioactive fallout, Chernobyl, and Fukushima were all in the unimagined future, but for hundreds of American servicemen situated dangerously close to the blast, the effects of exposure to high levels of radiation were relatively swift and ultimately deadly. The agony of these men is elaborated in Robert Stone’s brilliant and profoundly disturbing 1988 documentary “Bikini Radio.” A warning, however: Much of the material in this film is sufficiently terrible that it would likely make even the most cynical of the gods stop laughing and begin weeping. This is especially true in the case of government officials who denied that there was a causal relationship between exposure to the radiation released by the bombs and the subsequent physical ailments endured by so many military personnel, even when these bureaucrats were confronted with proof. Trusting souls (“fools”) should know that, in a once-secret document, similar officials working for the Atomic Energy Commission referred to American citizens living downwind of the Nevada Test Site as “a low-use segment of the population.”
And now the laughter of the gods takes on a decidedly sardonic tone.
July 25, 1946 – the very day of the “Baker Shot” – French fashion designer Louis Reard introduces the first bikini – named in honor of Bikini Atoll.
There was a rival designer – also a Frenchman – who had planned to release a similar garment. The proposed name of the competitor’s swimwear? “The Atom.” Never underestimate Gallic wit.
And now the laughter of the gods reaches a crescendo. What could possibly be more darkly amusing than this conjunction of boundless horror and cultural flummery? Perhaps not even the gods could have foreseen the profoundly ironic denouement, but any serious student of human nature would likely have predicted it: Atomic Tourism.
“Now I believe I can hear the philosophers protesting that it can only be misery to live in folly, illusion, deception, and ignorance, but it isn’t – it’s human.” Desiderius Erasmus