World War II Names In Vocabulary

By: Bob Carper

Winter is almost over. The warm weather is here. The beaches are calling. And heeding the call is that fabled teeny tiny piece of female attire known as the bikini. From the time of its inception in the 1950s to the present day, the bikini is the most singular word spoken in every language on the globe.

The history of the bikini began long before the official introduction of the swimsuit in the summer of 1946. It would have to wait until that momentous year of 1946 before it would bear the name "bikini". Some historians believe that the two piece swimsuit may have been one of the first public swimming costumes in existence. Drawing evidence from 300 A.D. Roman mosaics, historians point to this as the swimsuit of choice for ancient Roman women.

Where did the name "bikini" come from? It all started with (you guessed it) the aftermath of World War II.

Bikini Atoll is located in the central Pacific. It is one of the 29 atolls and 5 single islands that form the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Bikini is perhaps best known for its role in a series of nuclear tests conducted by the United States in the 1940s and 1950s.

Just prior to World War II, Bikini suddenly became strategic. The Bikini islanders' peaceful life of harmony drew to an abrupt close when the Japanese decided to fortify Bikini Atoll to guard against an American invasion of the Marshalls. Throughout the conflict the Bikini station served as an outpost for the Japanese military headquarters in the Marshall Islands,

However, Bikini became a quiet Japanese stronghold whose garrison spent the war gathering flowers. American naval strategy used submarines and aircraft carriers to leapfrog over such islands and carry the war to Japan.

World War II came to a formal end in September 1945 with the detonation of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It would now be Bikini's turn to face the aftermath of World War II. The developers of the two piece bathing suit had still not given it a name. Soon they would have an outstanding name for their creation.

Because of its location away from regular air and sea routes, Bikini Atoll was chosen to be the new nuclear proving ground for the United States Government.
While the 167 Bikinians were getting ready for their exodus, preparations for the U.S. nuclear testing program advanced rapidly. Few people would think the Bikinians were terribly interested in the development of the nuclear bomb or the two piece bathing suit in 1946. Their interests were simply that of survival. They were faced with finding food, raising families and maintaining their culture. They could barely understand the progression of events set in motion by the Cold War. Events that happened in Washington and Moscow were for the most part out of their control. The residents of Bikini Atoll were not about to model swimwear, either.

The nuclear legacy of the Bikinians thus began in March of 1946 when they were first removed from their islands in preparation for Operation Crossroads. The history of the Bikinian people from that day forward has been a story of their struggle to exist in the midst of Cold War issues.

Operation Crossroads was an atmospheric nuclear weapon test series conducted in July 1946. The series consisted of two detonations, each with a yield of 23 kilotons. The two atomic bomb blasts of Operation Crossroads were both about the size of the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. These were the first nuclear tests held in the Marshall Islands.

In preparation for Operation Crossroads, the Bikinians were sent 125 miles eastward to Rongerik Atoll. Within two months after their arrival on Rongerik, they began to beg U.S. officials to move them back to Bikini.

Meanwhile, the official history of the bikini swimwear also began in the summer of 1946. Almost immediately after Operation Crossroads, Jacques Heim, a fashion designer and beach shop owner in the French resort town of Cannes, introduced his swimsuit creation, the "Atome," The swimsuit was named after the two atomic bombs that were set off in Bikini lagoon.

Heim intended to sell his swimsuit in his beach shop. To drum up business and increase awareness of the new swimsuit, Heim sent skywriters high above the Cannes sky, proclaiming the new Atome to be "the world's smallest bathing suit." It soon got its better name, which was the bikini.

Just three weeks after Heim began marketing his swimsuit, Louis Reard, a mechanical engineer who had decided to dabble in swimsuit design, He also sent out skywriters over the French Riviera. The message these skywriters carried was simple but powerful marketing: "Bikini-smaller than the smallest bathing suit in the world."

Perhaps due to Reard's obvious marketing skills or a simple turn of fate, the name "bikini" became the official tag for the two-piece swimsuit. The thunderous impact of the two nuclear explosions certainly had more to say about the new bathing suit. Life on Bikini Atoll would never be the same again. Life on every beach and resort around the world would never be the same, either.

While sales of the bikini swim suit soared to astronomical heights around the world, the native Bikinians were living a miserable existence. They were sickened by irradiation from Operation Crossroads, no matter where they were resettled in the Marshalls. It was now time for yet another chapter in the Bikini Atoll tragedy. This was Operation Castle.

Operation Castle was a series of tests that would include the first air-deliverable, and the most powerful hydrogen bomb ever detonated by the United States.

Early in the morning on March 1, 1954, the hydrogen bomb, code named Bravo, was detonated on the surface of the reef in the northwestern corner of Bikini Atoll. The area was illuminated by a huge and expanding flash of blinding light. A raging fireball of intense heat that measured into the millions of degrees shot skyward at a rate of 300 miles an hour. Within minutes the monstrous cloud, filled with nuclear debris, shot up more than 20 miles and generated winds hundreds of miles per hour. These fiery gusts blasted the surrounding islands and stripped the branches and coconuts from the trees.

Millions of tons of sand, coral, plant and sea life from Bikini's reef, from three islands [Bokonijien, Aerokojlol, Nam] and the surrounding lagoon waters were sent high into the air by the blast. Three to four hours after the blast, white, snow-like ash began to fall from the sky virtually everywhere.

Bravo was a thousand times more powerful than the Fat Man and Little Boy atomic bombs that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima during the end of World War II. Its "success" was beyond the wildest dreams of the American scientists who were involved in the detonation--they thought that the blast would only carry a payload of approximately 3 megatons.

Not understanding what was happening, the Rongelapese watched as two suns rose that morning. They observed with amazement as the radioactive dust soon formed a layer on their island two inches deep. The fallout turned everything into a state of terrified panic.

The people had received no explanations or warnings whatsoever from the United States Government. Two days after the test the people of Rongelap were finally taken to Kwajalein for medical treatment.

On Bikini Atoll the radiation levels increased dramatically. In late March following the Bravo test, the off-limit zones were expanded to include the inhabited atolls of Rongerik, Utirik, Ujelang and Likiep. It is startling to note that none of these islanders were evacuated prior to this blast or even before the subsequent nuclear weapons tests. In the spring of 1954, Bikar, Ailinginae, Rongelap, Rongerik, were all contaminated by the Yankee and Union weapons tests which were detonated on Bikini Atoll.

Between 1957 and 2007, the problems subsided but the memories and the long range effects of radiation did not go away. There was no further nuclear testing except for a test conducted in New Caledonia by the French in the late 1980s. The Soviet Union faded into history and the Russian Federation did not resume nuclear testing of any type. With countries such as India, Pakistan, and North Korea still on the loose, nuclear weaponry continues to be a threat.

The name "bikini" will never pass from our vocabulary. It is now 50 years since Bravo was tested. It is very doubtful that those living today will remember the horrifying message left in Bikini Lagoon with the Bravo test. It is well that only the name of the bathing suit "bikini" remains.

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