International Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day

 
 CROSSROADS (1976),  Courtesy of the Estate of Bruce Conner. 

CROSSROADS (1976), Courtesy of the Estate of Bruce Conner. 

CROSSROADS (1976) is thirty-seven minutes of replays of the July 25, 1946 Operation Crossroads Baker underwater nuclear test at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific created from archival footage.

Once the material was declassified, Conner spliced and manipulated the footage into a terrifying yet beautiful atomic levels of destruction of a monumental scale.

On March 1, Remembrance Day (Marshall Islands), formally known as Nuclear Victims' Day and Nuclear Survivors' Day, will occur. The day is a tribute to the victims and survivors of the nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands, to remember the hardship and struggle they endured during 1946 and onwards. The Marshallese have faced 72 years of inconsolable grief. nations gather around on this occasion to honor the living and the dead. 

Unfortunately, few Americans understand the severity of the Bikini nuclear bomb tests that occurred between 1946 and 1958. The Marshallese suffered a total of 67 nuclear bombs in the area - an equivalent to more than 1 Hiroshima bomb every day for approximately 12 years. 

The Marshallese agreed to the nuclear tests, by taking on the responsibility to make sacrifices for the "benefit of mankind." As a result, the Marshallese were temporarily placed on islands or atolls without the consent of the landowners. The four populations significantly impacted consist of the Enewetok, Rongelap, Utrik, and Bikini.  

Courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy. 

Following the tests, the United States government reassured the residents that they would be able to return and victims would heal overtime. However, to their dismay, people began to experience the consequences of the nuclear tests. Children exposed at an early age to the fallout had thyroids that were malfunctioning, depressing the pituitary gland, which regulates growth. Soon after, radiation-related illnesses were recurrent. Atoll populations, who were neither informed of the test, nor relocated prior to the detonation, continued to experience health issues, cultural upheaval, and physical dislocation. Nuclear bombing persisted through 1958, despite the Marshallese requests that they cease.  

Things happened so fast in the next five seconds that few eyewitnesses could afterwards recall the full scope and sequence of the phenomena”
— Physicist WA Shurcliff, in the official report of Operation Crossroads
 The multi-camera filming of Commodore Wyatt “consulting” the Bikinians about their evacuation on March 6, 1946. (NARA, Still Pictures Unit, Record Group 374-G, box 7, folder 60 “Tests: Operation Crossroads”)

The multi-camera filming of Commodore Wyatt “consulting” the Bikinians about their evacuation on March 6, 1946. (NARA, Still Pictures Unit, Record Group 374-G, box 7, folder 60 “Tests: Operation Crossroads”)

Thus, the Marshallese began to seek redress commensurate with the damage inflicted on the nation in courts. Thereafter, the nation sued for independence in 1986. As part of the Compact that guaranteed the nation’s sovereignty, the U.S. agreed to award the Marshallese $150 million in compensation for damages associated with nuclear testing. Unfortunately, the funds dwindled by the 1987 stock market crash among other factors.

 The multi-camera filming of Commodore Wyatt “consulting” the Bikinians about their evacuation on March 6, 1946. (NARA, Still Pictures Unit, Record Group 374-G, box 7, folder 60 “Tests: Operation Crossroads”)

The multi-camera filming of Commodore Wyatt “consulting” the Bikinians about their evacuation on March 6, 1946. (NARA, Still Pictures Unit, Record Group 374-G, box 7, folder 60 “Tests: Operation Crossroads”)

Studies demonstrate that the damage outweighed the initial estimates and included loss of land use, the cost of rehabilitating contaminated land, and consequential damage. The Bikinians accepted a settlement of $360 million to reclaim Bikini atoll. 

Reportedly, 40% of the original Marshallese population that suffered the effects of radiation have died without receiving any compensation. They continue to sue through an organization called the Nuclear Claims Tribunal.

 Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Evaluation Board looking over the damaged fleet on July 3, 1946, accompanied by Captain Horacio Rivero of the Navy’ s Special Weapons Staff, who had played a key role in selecting Bikini. Shown in the photo from left to right are: Rivero, Vice Admiral John H. Hoover, Bradley Dewey, General Joseph W. Stilwell (after his death replaced by General Albert C. Wedemeyer), Lt. General Lewis H. Brereton. (NARA, Still Pictures Unit, Record Group 80-G, box 1724, folder 627483-627519)

Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Evaluation Board looking over the damaged fleet on July 3, 1946, accompanied by Captain Horacio Rivero of the Navy’ s Special Weapons Staff, who had played a key role in selecting Bikini. Shown in the photo from left to right are: Rivero, Vice Admiral John H. Hoover, Bradley Dewey, General Joseph W. Stilwell (after his death replaced by General Albert C. Wedemeyer), Lt. General Lewis H. Brereton. (NARA, Still Pictures Unit, Record Group 80-G, box 1724, folder 627483-627519)

As terrifying as it is beautiful, CROSSROADS (1976) represents the detonation of a nuclear weapon with a yield equivalent to approximately 23,000 tons of TNT.  Conner’s film presents the test in its original film speed and from various angles, so that the viewer can best experience the traumatizing explosion fifteen times over the course of thirty-six minutes. Cameras were mounted behind lead and concrete shielding on a specially constructed tower on the Bikini atoll, ships, drone planes, and from high-altitude cameras that extend one second of real time to more than three minutes of screen time. 

  Courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration/Nevada Field Office. 

Courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration/Nevada Field Office. 

Conner used Shurcliff’s report as a reference to his film. Presented in two unequal halves, the film enables spectators to witness the explosion as an unleashing of power and a lethargic unveiling of an apocalypse. Conner succeeded in the slow pace by looping the opening sequence. Live recordings are heard in the background out of sync with the footage and were produced on a Moog synthesizer by Patrick Gleeson. Composer Terry Riley collaborated with Gleeson to create repetitive tape-looped rhythms in the second part of the film. 

CROSSROADS (1976) provides insight to the gravity of the 1946 nuclear test at Bikini Atolls, giving recognition to the suffering of the Marshallese. As stated in their preamble to their constitution, “this society has survived, and has withstood the test of time, the impact of other cultures, the devastation of war, and the high price paid for the purposes of international peace and security", the Marshallese are not strangers to hardship and continue to demonstrate perseverance. 

Bruce Conner: Out of Body, curated by Artistic Director Diana Campbell Betancourt, is the first major exhibition of this important American artist in Southeast Asia, which opened on February 24th at BAP Outpost in Makati. The exhibition continues at BAP’s headquarters at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan and the Art Weekend kicks off with a screening of CROSSROADS (1976) on Saturday evening at 7pm. For inquiries and more information, please email us at info@bellasartesprojects.org.

 
Bellas Artes Projects