Radio Bikini (DVD)
In 1946, the U.S. government sent a huge amount of photographic and film equipment to document nuclear testing on the Bikini Atoll. The intention was to create the Gone With The Wind of government propaganda films: a rousing illustration of the United States' mastery of atomic power, plus a powerful deterrent to any country tempted to challenge its nuclear superiority. The film was never completed, as it eventually became apparent that the Bikini nuclear tests were a disaster whose full scope and impact could only be grasped years later, as radiation-exposed test veterans began paying the price for the military's naïveté and callousness. But the government's jingoistic footage found an unlikely second life as the cornerstone of Robert Stone's Oscar-nominated documentary Radio Bikini, a disturbing indictment of a dark chapter in American history. In just one of the film's layers of historic and blackly comic irony, the attempt at Cold War propaganda instead serves as damning evidence of fatal short-sightedness: American scientists and doctors' seeming certainty that goggles and thin uniforms could adequately protect soldiers from the effects of nuclear radiation would be funny in the bleakest way imaginable, if not for the horrifying consequences. Of course, before Bikini Atoll could serve as ground zero for nuclear blasts, the U.S. had to deal with the island's indigenous people, who couldn't understand the cameras being used to document their evacuation, let alone why a condescending superpower decided to destroy their home with a weapon that would render the area uninhabitable for decades. Then again, the islanders got off easier than the soldiers suffering what one calls a "long death," as horrifying in its own way as the quick demise of Hiroshima and Nagasaki's most immediate victims. It's to such awful, delayed costs of war that Radio Bikini pays tribute.