15 December 2007
Marshall Islands: The Bikini Atoll
The Marshall Islands are composed of twenty nine atolls and five islands. An atoll is a circular or oval shaped coal reef islands that encircle a shallow lagoon. It is located in the Pacific Ocean and is part of Micronesia (McGinley).
First discovered by Spanish in the 1600’s, the islands were mostly used for its natural resources, particularly copra oil found in coconuts. Despite these trade connections, the native Bikinians remained very isolated and did not maintain contact with the Spanish. Their lives were extremely interwoven and their social structure was tight knit. They had integrated extended families and complex traditions passed down from generation to generation. In the early 1900’s the Japanese began to govern Bikini. During World War II the Japanese were afraid of American invasion of the Marshall Islands. Therefore a watchtower was constructed on Bikini to guard against the Americans and it also served as an outpost for Japanese military headquarters who were stationed in the Kwajalein Atoll. In early 1944, the Americans captured Kwajelein, and overtook Japanese control of the Marshall Islands (Radiological Conditions at Bikini Atoll and the Prospects of Resettlement).
After WWII, American president Harry Truman issued a statement declaring that American warships, equipment, and material were in need of testing to determine the effects of nuclear substances. Because of Bikini Island’s isolation, it was chosen as the nuclear testing ground. In February 1946 Commodore Ben Wyatt, the military governor of the Marshall, traveled to Bikini to discuss temporary relocation with the 167 Bikinians. King Juda, leader of the Bikinians, reluctantly agreed. The Bikinians were relocated 125 miles east to Ronjerik Atoll. Ronjerik was uninhibited at the time because it is one sixth the size of Bikini, and believed to be unlivable. Upon arrival the United States...
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