Staggering quantities of radioactive materials fell on the Bikini
lagoon. The animals received large doses of radioactivity.
General Leslie Groves of the Manhattan Project had in the past testified to Congress
that radiation poisoning was "a very pleasant way to die." Now Admiral
Blandy declared that "radiation sickness is painless in its effects on
animals and humans alike" and that "suffering among the animals as a
whole was negligible." 33 Norman Cousins captured the general mood after
the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and the "Able" and "Baker" shots:
"After four bombs, the mystery dissolves into a pattern. By this time
there is almost standardization of catastrophe." 34
On the day of the "Baker" test, protesters were marching in New York
with a stuffed goat bearing the sign, "Today Me, Tomorrow You,"
Diplomacy by intimidation had its toll; the Russians rejected the Baruch
Plan. The headline in The New York Times of July 25 summed up the
extraordinary juxtaposition of a plan for international control of
atomic energy with the display of nuclear thunder: "Atomic Bomb Sinks
Battleships and Carriers; Four Submarines are Lost in Mounting Toll;
Soviet Flatly Rejects Baruch Control Plan." 35 As the official history of
the Atomic Energy Commission itself admitted, "Testing the bomb with one
hand and seeking its control with the other was bound to lay the United
States open to the charges of conducting atom diplomacy. The scientists'
lobby had seen this as soon as the tests were announced." 36
The third test, code named "Charlie" was to be a deep underwater shot.
General Groves opposed it. Operation Crossroads, he pointed out, had
delayed research and development for Operation Crossroads, he pointed
out, had delayed research and development work at the Los Alamos
Laboratory. Even a single atomic bomb" can be an extremely important
factor in any military emergency," he added. "It is imperative that
nothing interferes with our concentration of effort on the atomic
weapons stockpile which constitutes such an important element in our
present national defence." 37 The Joint Chiefs of Staff also recommended
cancellation of the "Charlie" shot. Groves had access to the vital
information about the size of the American stockpile, which even
President Truman did not have until 1947. The American nuclear stockpile
in July 1946 contained only 7.
After the cancellation of the third shot, a reception was held in honor
of Admiral Blandy. The next day, a photograph appeared in newspaper
showing the Admiral and his wife cutting a huge cake topped by a
mushroom cloud. Infuriated by the photographs, the Reverend A. Powell Davis of a Washington church thundered to an audience that included a
judge of the Supreme Court." If I had the authority of a priest of the
Middle Ages, I would call down the wrath of God upon such an obscenity.
I would damn to hell these people of callous conscience, these traitors
to humanity." 39
French couturier, Louis Reard, inspired by the "Able" test, dropped his
own bombshell the "bikini", "smaller than the smallest bathing suit in
the world." 40 The complex psychological link between atomic destruction
and Eros was established immediately after the Hiroshima bombing. 41 It
is interesting to note that the gender of the atomic bomb has progressed
from neuter (the "gadget") to masculine ("Fat Man" and "Little Boy") to
feminine ("Gilda" and "Helen") and back to neuter ("the Bomb").42
On, June 18, 1946, just four days after Baruch presented his plan, the
Joint Chiefs of Staff issued their secret war plan against the Soviet
Union. Code named "Pincher", it called for the atomic bombing of 30
Soviet cities, including Moscow, Leningrad, and Gorki. 43 The American
Navy won a reprieve from Operation Crossroads. Summing up the main
lesson from the tests, General Groves declared," At present the best
defense against the atomic bomb is not to be there when it goes off." 44
The two explosions General Curtis LeMay had seen for the first time made
a deep impression on him, which is reflected in his report:
(1) Atomic bombs in numbers conceded to be available in the foreseeable
future can nullify any nation's military effort and demolish its social
and economic structures.
(2) In conjunction with other mass destruction weapons, it is possible
to depopulate vast areas of the earth's surface, leaving only vestigial
remnants of man's material works.
(3) The atomic bomb emphasizes the requirement for the most effective
means of delivery in being; there must be the most effective atomic bomb
striking force possible. 45
Nuclear fear reached its peak in 1948 with the publication of David
Bradley's "No Place to Hide". Bradley was a member of the Radiological
Safety Unit of Operation Crossroads. By the end of 1949, 250,000 copies
had been sold. It has rightly been described as "a last classic of
nuclear weapons literature." 46 Bradley wrote: "The Bikinians...are not
the first, nor will they be the last, to be left homeless and
impoverished by the inexorable Bomb. They have no choice in the matter,
and very little understanding of it. But in this perhaps they are not so
different from us". The tests had merely sketched was a member of the
Radiological Safety Unit of Operation Crossroads. By the end of 1949,
250,000 copies had been sold. It has rightly been described as "a last
classic of nuclear weapons literature." 46 Bradley wrote: "The
Bikinians...are not the first, nor will they be the last, to be left
homeless and impoverished by the inexorable Bomb. They have no choice in
the matter, and very little understanding of it. But
The real story of Operation Crossroads was not the blast, heat and
sunken ships but that of deadly, lingering, uncontrollable and invisible
radiation. It can neither be seen, felt, tasted nor smelled. Only four
days after the "Baker" shot, full-scale clean up operations were
conducted aboard some of the target ships which were scrubbed down with
soap and water in an attempt to decontaminate them. When this proved
ineffective, the paint was sandblasted off the ships. Precious
scientific equipment and laboratory animals also had to be retrieved
from the surviving as well as sunk ships. Safety precautions were
dismissed as cumbersome and time-consuming. 49 Jack Leavitt confesses
that "at no time did I or anyone working with me "that is, naval
personnel" have a Geiger counter, nor any other testing device to measure
the danger of radiation". Frank Karasti, who boarded the destroyer Hughes a day after the "Baker" shot, adds. "Out of the four hours we spent on her, two were spent vomiting and retching as we all became violently ill." George McNish says, "We had scientists dressed like for
outer space, with instruments like I had never seen. But when it came to
diving or bringing up samples, all we had were skin and tanks." 50
Almost two years passed before the next series of nuclear tests in the
Marshall Islands which had been designated as the Trust Territory of the
Pacific Islands on July 18, 1947. The United States as the administering
authority promised to protect the health of its inhabitants. The Atomic
Energy Commission had by then concluded that "the dawn of a new day in
which atomic energy would serve the cause of peace rather than the
demands of national defense" had to be postponed. 51 By September 1947,
Task Force Seven, consisting of 10,000 men of the Atomic Energy
Commission and the Pentagon, had been created under the command of
General John E. Hull. The Eniwetok Atoll was chosen for "Operation
Sandstone". Located 300 miles from the naval base at Kwajalein, the
atoll was described as a" a sort of coral necklace of forty island
beads....halfway between Hawaii and the Philippines." 52 The 142
inhabitants of the islands were removed to a smaller and less desirable
atoll. While Operation Crossroads was designed to measure the impact of
atomic weapons on naval vessels, the primary purpose of Operation
Sandstone was to study the weapons themselves and the improvements made
in their design. Moreover, unlike the earlier test series, which
attracted global media coverage, the new tests were shrouded in total
While the Soviet Union challenged the Western powers over access to
Berlin, three new composite levitated implosion devices were tested
under Operation Sandstone. "X-Ray", a 37 kiloton bomb was fired on April
15; "Yoki" with a yield of 49 kilotons and "Zebra", an 18 kiloton bomb,
were tested on May 1 and May 15, 1948, respectively. 53 An uninvited
Soviet warship was standing 20 miles away from the atoll.
Radiation-safety measures were again casual at best. 54 The tests were a
stunning success resulting in "substantial improvements in the
efficiency of use of fissile material." 55 The most immediate effect of
Sandstone was to make possible within the near future" a 63 percent
increase in the total number of bombs in the stockpile and a 75 percent
increase in the yield of these bombs." The tests established that
implosion of U-235 was more efficient than assembling it in a gun type
weapon. Carson Mark, a weapon designer, noted that Sandstone" marked the
end of the day of the atomic device as a piece of complicated laboratory
apparatus rather than a weapon." By this time, nuclear war plans
"Broiler", "Frolic" "Half-moon" and "Harrow" were being prepared. 56
Significantly, the objection to the "Charlie" shot of Operation
Crossroads—that it would cause a dent in the American nuclear
arsenal was not considered relevant in the case of the Sandstone series.
By May 1948, a greater number of fission devices were being produced.
Moreover, unlike Operation Crossroads, when the international
consequences of nuclear testing were openly discussed, Sandstone
prompted no misgivings within the Truman Administration regarding the
possible impact on US-Soviet relations. 57
The Bikini tests of 1946 have some unique features in the history of the
nuclear age. They were the first tests in peace time, shortly after the
Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and that too when the United States
faced no nuclear threats. This is the only reported occasion in American
nuclear history when misgivings regarding the needs as well as
international repercussions of nuclear testing were expressed by senior
members of the Cabinet. Moreover, respected scientists publicly doubted
the military and scientific usefulness of the tests. Another important
feature was the curious juxtaposition of the tests with the Baruch Plan
for the international control of atomic energy. The presence of
representatives of members of the United Nations Atomic Energy
Commission, including those of the Soviet Union, at the test site
symbolized the link between these two apparently contradictory strands
in American nuclear policy. The global media coverage of Operation
Crossroads, the presence of photographers from all over the world, and
the fact that the explosions were broadcast live on radio around the
world distinguished them from all other tests subsequently conducted.
Public cynicism, articulated through posters and protest marches, was
partly generated by the acuteness of inter-service rivalry permeating
the test series. The Americans had not yet begun to love the Bomb.
Animal lovers were enraged by the use of animals as guinea pigs. And the
fate of the innocent inhabitants of Bikini is a painful chapter of this
1. Richard Rhodes, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb (New York:
Simon & Schuster, 1995), pp. 228-29; Lewis L. Strauss, Men and
Decisions, (London: Macmillan, 1963), p.209.
2. Richard G. Hewlett and Oscar E. Anderson, Jr., The New World 1939-45:
A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, Vol. I
(University Park: Penn State University, 1962) pp. 581-588
3. Gregg Herken, The Winning Weapon: The Atomic Bomb in the Cold War
1945-1950 (New York: Vintage Books, 1981) p. 224.
4. Lloyd J. Graybar, "The 1946 Atomic Bomb Tests: Atomic Diplomacy or
Bureaucratic Infighting?" The Journal of American History, vol.72, no.4,
March 1986, pp. 888-907, at p. 89; Joseph I. Lieberman, The Scorpion and
the Tarantula: The Struggle to Control Atomic Weapons, (Boston: Houghton
Mifflin, 1970) pp.317-318.
5. A. Constandina Titus, Bombs in the Backyard, (Reno & Las Vegas:
University of Nevada Press, 1986) pp.36-37.
6. Ibid., pp. 113-114.
7. Hewlett and Anderson, n.2, p. 380.
8. David Bradley, No Place to Hide, 1946/1984 (Hanover and London:
University Press of New England, 1983 ed.) pp. xxii - xxiii.
9. Harvey Wasserman and Norman Solomon, Killing Our Own: The Disaster of
America's Experience with Atomic Radiation, (New York, Delhi, 1982)
10. Jonathan M. Weisgall, Operation: Crossroads: The Atomic Tests at
Bikini Atoll (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1994) p.116.
Weisgall has been legal counsel for the Bikinis since 1975.
11. Ibid., pp. 87-145.
12. Bertrand Goldsmith, Atomic Rivals, Translated by George M. Tammer
(New Brunswick N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1990) p. 303.
13. Weisgall, n.10, p.144; William L. Ryan and Sam Summerlin, The China
Cloud, (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1969) p. 69.
14. Weisgall, n.10, pp. 153-158.
15. Ibid., p.178.
16. Paul Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture
at the Dawn of the Nuclear Age, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985) p.83.
All kinds of dire consequences from the tests were publicly discussed.
It was feared that "a chain reaction might propagate in sea water which
would wipe out all life on earth; that a crack might be opened up in the
ocean floor allowing sea water to rush into the white-hot interior and
produce subterranean explosions and earthquakes.." Strauss, n.1, pp.
17. Weisgall, n.10, pp. 180-352.
18. Time, July 8, 1946, p.20.
19. John Crosby, Out of the Blue: A Book About Radio and Television,
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1952), p.7.
20. Bradley, n.8 , p.55.
21. Weisgall, n.10, p.187.
22. Major General N.D. Nichols, USA (Retd.), The Road to Trinity (New
York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1987) p.26.
23. Quoted in Graybar, n.4, pp. 901-902.
24. Hewlett and Anderson, n.2, p.581.
25. Bradley, n.8, p.58.
26. Time, July 15, 1946, p. 29.
27. Weisgall, n.10. pp. 196-197.
28. Ibid., pp. 190-91, 199.
29. Hewlett and Anderson, n.9, p.581.
30. Titus, n.5, p.41.
31. Weisgall, n.10, pp.220-224.
32. Nichols,n.22, p.242, Also Bradley, n..8, pp.92-93.
33. Weisgall, n.10, p.229.
34. Norman Cousins, "The Standardisation of Catastrophe", The Saturday
Review of Literature, August 10, 1946, p.18.
35. Weisgall, n.10, p.255.
36. Hewlett and Anderson, n.2, p.581.
37. Rhodes, n.1, p.263.
38. David Alan Rosenberg, "US Nuclear Stockpile, 1945 to 1950", Bulletin
of the Atomic Scientists, May 1978, pp. 26-28.
39. Weisgall, n.10, pp.261-262.
40. William Attwood, "The Birth of the Bikini", Look, May 19, 1970, pp.
41. See Boyer, n.16, pp. 11-12.
42. Weisgall, n.10, p.265.
43. Steven T. Ross, American War Plans, 1945-1950, (New York: Garland
Publishing, 1988) pp.2-32.
44. Weisgall, n.10, p.282.
45. Rhodes, n.11, pp.262-263, italics in original.
46. Boyer, n.16, p.92.
47. Ibid., pp. 163 and 166.
48. Bradley, n.8, p.189.
49. Ibid., pp. 87-87, 100, 145.
50. Wasserman and Solomon, n.9, pp. 42-46; Studs Teekel, "The Good War",
The Atlantic, July 1984, pp. 72-75. Also see Michael Uhl and Tod Ensign,
GI Guinea Pigs: How the Pentagon Exposed Our Troops to Dangers More
Deadly Than War (New York: Wideview, 1980).
51. Richard G. Hewlett and Francis Duncan, Atomic Shield, 1947-52: A
History of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, Vol.2(University
Park, Penn State University, 1969), p.129.
52. Titus, n.5, p.44.
53. Ibid., p.45.
54. Thomas H. Saffer and Orville E. Kelly, Countdown Zero (New York: G.
P. Putnam's Sons, 1982) pp.95-111; Uhl and Ensign, n.50,pp.46-53;
Wasserman and Solomon, n.9 pp. 49-51, 82-85.
55. Herbert York, The Advisors: Oppenheimer, Teller, and the
Superbomb(San Francisco: Vintage, 1976) pp. 12-20
56. Rhodes, n.1, pp.320-321.
57. Herken, n.3, p.252.
58. Colin Woodward, "You Can't go Home Again", Bulletin of the Atomic
Scientists, September/October, 1998, pp. 10-12.
Operation Crossroads Index