As the most beautiful plants and animals conceal their poison with their beauty, so the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific hides a dangerous past. I’m going to tell you about the dark history that lurks behind the dreamy South Sea islands here.
As dreamy as this island may seem, there is a tragic story behind the islands. Although the name makes us think of summer and sunshine, this is deceptive. Learn about the past, which envelops this island, and the invisible danger, which lurks here.
Bikini Atoll is made up of 23 islands, which were named “Pikinni” by the inhabitants. Today, it is part of the Marshall Islands. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010. The atoll has a land area of just 6 km². Despite this, even these few square miles have been caught up in both World Wars. Germany made the islands part of its Empire in 1886. It was then captured by the Japanese during the First World War. This atoll was again hit with tragedy in the Second World War when the remaining five Japanese soldiers on the atoll blew themselves up with a grenade in a foxhole out of fear of being taken prisoner by the Americans. The Pacific War gradually demanded more and more victims. It left behind an awful past, even before the nuclear weapons tests began.
Nuclear weapons testing on Bikini Atoll
When the Americans noticed the favourable location of the islands, Bikini Atoll’s fate was sealed. In the years after the Second World War – after all the residents were evacuated – approximately 42,000 people were stationed in the atoll, all of whom participated in 67 scientific nuclear explosives tests. As the atoll was quite narrow, they built bridges and buildings including casinos and sports pitches on the surrounding ships. Today, only the odd ruin or slab acts as a reminder of the people who lived here in the past and the things that had happened. Obviously, you can also still “admire” the ships, which were sunk during the tests, under the water today.
Fateful change of location
In the 1940s and 1950s, 200 Bikini islanders and their leader, King Juda, lived on two of the islands. The king agreed to move his people for the “good of humanity” with the hope, or rather because he trusted in the Americans, that they would be able to return home one day. The islanders first emigrated to the neighbouring Rongerik Atoll. The food here was so scarce that most of them suffered from malnutrition. And so, the fateful change of location took its course. The Bikini islanders were taken to the Kwajalein Islands where they patiently waited for the atom bomb tests to end. In the 1970s, it was finally time to return to their island. But still, their tragic journey didn’t end. They had to leave their homeland again because the radioactivity levels were still too high to live there. Even today, they are still unable to return home.
Bikini Atoll today
Today, the atoll is no longer an exclusion zone. You shouldn’t eat the food which comes from the island, but otherwise, you are safe there. But, can you really believe that? An American does and has set up a diving base there so that you can go on dives of the surrounding shipwrecks. The island is a small paradise. Only the eerie atmosphere that enshrouds the island and some of the remains from a previous era remind us of what happened here.
Another thing which reminds us unknowingly of that time is the two-piece which is a staple of any woman’s holiday wardrobe. A former fashion designer was inspired by the widespread news reports of the atom bomb tests and called his newly created swimwear the bikini on the spot. So, we all wear a piece of history when we take a swim on a hot day.
A flag with a history
Since 1987, the Bikini Atoll flag has been considered as an apology from the USA to the islanders and shows that the USA is completely indebted to them. The atoll’s flag matches the colours and layout of the American flag. However, the 23 stars on the left represent the 23 islands of Bikini Atoll. The three stars at the top right remember the three islands, which the USA completely destroyed during their tests. Below them, also on the right, two stars have been added. These represent the two islands where today’s Bikini islanders live. There is a symbolic distance between the old and new homelands. But especially touching is the quotation which decorates the flag. “Men Otemjej Rej Ilo Bein Anij” means “everything is in the hands of God”. King Juda said these words to the Americans in the faith that he would be able to return to his home.
So, somehow there’s still an uncomfortable feeling when you think about what the Americans once did to our beautiful planet and the people who used to live there. Although the atoll has recovered and is now home to a great variety of animals, as the islands are almost undisturbed by humans, they still had to pay a high price.
If you’re courageous enough and an enthusiastic diver, I recommend a stay on the Marshall Islands. From there, you can reach the abandoned Bikini Atoll. It’s a trip for the real explorers among you!
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