Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo
‘Eniwetok and Luna Park’ may seem a strange pairing, the H-bomb test site in the Marshall Islands with the Paris fun-fair loved by the surrealists. But the endless newsreel clips of nuclear explosions that we saw on TV in the 1960s … did have a carnival air
The Atrocity Exhibition [annotated PS edition], J. G. Ballard, 2006.
Most, myself included, will have failed to notice the anniversary that slipped by at the beginning of this month [most-more will not even recognise Eniwetok, even if since 1974 more correctly named / place-name re-spelled – though they will know Bikini even if not knowing why – as a location; let alone as a site of great political/military/scientific/cultural/environmental importance]; the 60th anniversary of the testing of the first Hydrogen Bomb [Ivy Mike] on November 1st. And the largest ever USA fission bomb [Ivy Dave] was tested 60 years ago tomorrow.
The thing that may surprise [or not] most about the USA (1946 to 1958) nuclear weapons testing sites [named the Pacific Proving Grounds as if part of some macho Land Diving rite of passage ritual performed by the men of the southern part of Pentecost Island] in the Marshall Islands and the 67 above ground explosions, including the largest nuclear test the US ever conducted, Castle Bravo 1954, was that the Islands were officially designated as a US Trust Territory after WWII. Some way to treat a ‘protectorate’; ship out the locals and then make their home “by far the most contaminated place in the world“.
Most islanders thought that they would be away from home temporarily [not over 60 years to date, and 24,000 years for Bikini Atoll] and that they were helping to make the world a safer place. But Nuclear claims between the US and the Marshall Islands are still ongoing, and health effects from these nuclear tests linger [though $ compensation ran out in 1986 when the US conveniently gave the Marshall Islands back their independence].
Perhaps this is the behaviour expected of Colonial / Imperial nations arguing a ‘need’ to act certain ways “for your own good”?
Hard to imagine now looking back, having lived through the height of the Cold War as a teenager in the mid 80’s, that we were genuinely frightened of Nuclear Annihilation [who can forget the video to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s track Two Tribes, with the presidents of the USA and USSR in a back street sandbagged no-rules ‘wrestling’ ring].
I always thought it strange that despite Europe arguably being much more likely a target [being more directly in the firing line] for any nuclear holocaust that we never had any government sanctioned ‘Duck and Cover‘ program as in the USA. No, we had to buy Protect and Survive [as the booklet would only be given out in the event of a likely attack!] I admit I still laugh at the insane idea of whitewashing windows, filling baths with water, and throwing oneself into a ditch at the sight of a large bright flash. And the poetic sounding phrase ‘Inner core or refuge’ has never left my head [though again the idea of making indoor play-dens with doors and sandbags is most surreal].
The most frightening thing though was that the closest we had to the ‘truth’ of the likely situation was not government feel-good ‘propaganda’ but the graphic novel [and later animation inspired by] by British children’s artist Raymond Briggs, When the Wind Blows.
I think perhaps we have largely ‘forgotten’ that there is still a Dr. Seuss world filled [though no longer held merely by Yooks and Zooks] with Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo? Perhaps we no longer worry as we no longer believe they would / could ever be used? Almost hard to believe then that for many decades these fears governed the course of world history.