The Atomic Café, Kevin Rafferty, 1982

The Atomic Café, Kevin Rafferty

The Atomic Café, 1982, 86 minutes: After testing an atomic bomb in New Mexico, the U.S. dropped the nuclear weapon on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. In television news footage, President Harry S. Truman declares atomic weapons necessary for America’s safety and for its image as a prospering nation. In military training films, U.S. pilots are instructed to select untouched “virgin” targets throughout the Pacific that can be used to study nuclear destruction. Images of hospitalized, dismembered Japanese civilians are juxtaposed with Americans basking in their postwar victory as they dance, eat, and play on the beach. On the remote Pacific Island of Bikini, an American Navy officer tries to convince the locals that the U.S. needs to test the atomic bomb on their land for the good of the world. The U.S. military declares that the islanders are “more than happy” to evacuate. A Paramount News report summarizes America’s postwar struggles against Communism. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon justify America’s use of nuclear weapons by claiming that the atom bomb is the ultimate guardian of democratic values. Television and radio broadcasts replay the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, warning Americans against the danger of Communist spies. News of Russia’s own hydrogen bomb in August 1953 elevates the nation’s Cold War paranoia. Politicians make televised appearances, encouraging the use of the bomb to end the Korean War. Returning to the Bikini Island test bombing, newsreel footage reports that atomic ash from the detonation wrought injuries on outlying island populations and caused severe radiation poisoning in crewmembers of a nearby Japanese fishing boat. The radioactive fish later sold in Japan caused catastrophic damage to Japanese trade, essentially shutting down the country’s fish market. The American government, however, issues public service announcements that minimize the threat of health risks, lightheartedly equating radiation exposure to a woman burning her hand on the stove and a man slipping in the shower. As young girls enjoy milkshakes at a roadside diner and a housewife browses a wide selection of frozen meals at the grocery store, President Eisenhower declares that America’s atomic bomb symbolizes the nation’s growing strength. A chipper cartoon character instructs schoolchildren how to “duck and cover” under their desks or seek refuge outside during an atomic bombing. Televised programs instruct suburban families how to collect food and build underground shelters to protect themselves in the event of an attack. Footage of a simulated air raid assures Americans that the country is well prepared, and the possibility of illness or death is minimal. There is nothing to do but sit back and relax.