Mass Distraction and Destruction

Bryce Anzelmo
March 14, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2015

A Plea

Fig. 1: Painting of a Roman Bikini from Antiquity. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In early 1946, a plea to abandon homes was summoned, for the forecast of obliteration was eminent. This all was broadcasted to less than 200 inhabitants in the middle of the Pacific Ocean via empty promises with help from the US government. The inhabitants were told it was for the good of mankind and believed that everything was in the hands of God. [1] Gracing the surroundings by air and sea mere months after these inhabitants left were Gilda and Helen. In the early morning hours of July 1, 1946 Gilda, with a yield of 23 kilotons, was dropped from the same plane formerly used to photograph the Nagasaki mission one year earlier. [2] Detonating160m above the targeted fleet of moored abandoned ships from various world powers, and 650m off aim made her the 4th atomic bomb explosion and the first post World War II test. Less than one month later, Helen came by sea, detonating 30m underwater with similar yield. These tests were part of Operation Crossroads, a nuclear weapons testing operation in the Marshall Islands' Bikini Atoll with the purpose to investigate the effects nuclear bombs inflicted on navel warships, vehicles and live animals. [3]

A Name

The female naming and references of the bombs as 'she' and 'her' is not accidental. This was purposeful in a time when it was thought by the general public that nuclear bomb testing would cause all sorts of natural disasters, or quite possibly abolish the entire planet. Nuclear bomb testing was so new and the government classified much of the information. It was no surprise that theories would surface. The US government believed that using a female nickname would lessen the anxiety of citizens.

A Design

While the testing was taking place, another idea was being re-imagined thousands of miles away in France. An engineer turned clothes designer, Louis Réard, was figuring out a way to revolutionize swimwear. He made the observation on a French beach one day that women were rolling up their sleeves to expose more skin. In those days, the 1930s and early 1940s, the beach wasn't summoned for swimming but regarded as more of a social gathering with women wearing dresses, hats, scarves and jewelry. [4] Réard wanted to design a garment to minimize the use of fabric, which he revealed to the public on July 5th 1946 in Paris. Despite the fact that two-piece swimwear had already existed for more than a decade, this was the first time it exposed the wearer's navel. Furthermore, the origins of the two-piece can be traced back to antiquity, when they were worn for athletic purposes. There wasn't much in common with Bikini Atoll and the pieces of fabric Réard designed except for timing. He wanted the small swimsuit to make as big of a bang and be just as devastating as the nuclear bombs in Bikini Atoll, thus the naming.


The success of the Bikini was two-fold; it first came from the ongoing nuclear testing within the Atoll for the decade following its design and release. The last nuclear bomb testing came to the Atoll in 1958, a dozen years after it started. The constant news surrounding the nuclear testing at Bikini coupled with the fear of the Cold War added greatly to its success. Secondly, was the controversial nature of such a small and world shattering thought of a swimsuit. Just imagine if the garment was named after a neighboring stretch of land like Mejit, Namu, Utirik or Wotje.

© Bryce Anzelmo. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] B. V. Lal and K. Fortune, The Pacific Islands: An Encyclopedia (U. of Hawaii Press, 2000).

[2] R. H. Campbell, The Silverplate Bombers: A History and Registry of the Enola Gay and Other B-29s Configured to Carry Atomic Bombs (McFarland, 2012).

[3] J. M. Weisgall, Operation Crossroads: The Atomic Tests at Bikini Atoll (Naval Institute Press, 1994).

[4] D. D. Hill, As Seen in Vogue: A Century of American Fashion in Advertising (Texas Tech U. Press, 2007).