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component of U.S. military strategy during the war was the nuclear bomb- ings of Japan at Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945. Within the subsequent context of a cold war with the Soviet Union, the United States proceeded to further test and develop its nuclear and naval powers on and around the Pacifi c islands entrusted to it by the United Nations.6 Th e United States decided to test at Bikini for several strategic reasons: Th e area was under its control; the islands were in a climatic zone free of storms and cold temperatures; the lagoon was large enough for a fl eet of target vessels; the population of Bikini in 1946 was between 166 and 170 people—small enough to be relocated with relative ease; and, ultimately, Bikini—and the Marshall Islands in general—were at least fi ve hundred miles from all sea and air routes, distant enough that ensuing radioactive contamination would not endanger “heavily populated areas.”7

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Th e U.S. military secured the cooperation of the Bikinians in vacating their island by appealing to their sense of Christian duty.8 On February 10, 1946, the Islanders were told by the military governor that Bikini would be used for “the good of mankind and to end all world wars.”9 By March 7, 1946, aft er repeatedly reenacting for camera crews their “consultation” with the military governor, the Islanders departed for the temporary home of their choice on another atoll, Rongerik, just over a hundred miles east of Bikini. Th e nuclear project, code-named Operation Crossroads, could then be implemented. Some forty-two thousand U.S. military personnel— twenty of whom were women—were on hand for the two tests conducted on July 1 and July 25.10 Th e U.S. military went on to conduct other nuclear tests on Enewetak Atoll and to establish a support base on Kwajalein. During this period, the people of these atolls, and others like Rongelap and Utirik, were subject to radiation, displacement, or both.11

Since 1946, the Bikini Islanders have experienced the many troubles at- tendant on relocation—or dislocation. Within a year Rongerik proved inap- propriate because its lagoon and plant life could not support the Bikinian population. Th e move to Rongerik had also placed the Bikinians under the jurisdiction of a paramount chief, a fact that did not please them. Sub- sequently the Islanders were sheltered at the military base on Kwajalein Island. In 1948 they were moved to Kili Island, and in the 1950s the U.S. government awarded them $25,000 in cash plus a $300,000 trust fund for full use in their homeland. Th is monetary compensation provided some relief, but eventually the Bikinians faced more population pressures on Kili as their numbers grew to three hundred by 1970.12 Furthermore, their

Shigematsu, S., & Camacho, K. L. (Eds.). (2010). Militarized currents : Toward a decolonized future in asia and the pacific. University of Minnesota Press. Created from sfsu on 2022-10-21 03:56:35.

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desire to return to Bikini was still strong, for they had a specifi c physical and spiritual relationship to their homeland that the colonial government could not fully appreciate.13

In 1968, aft er the Atomic Energy Commission declared the island safe, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson guaranteed the Bikinians return, but the island was still dangerously radioactive because of the twenty-three nuclear tests conducted there between 1946 and 1958; it would take a min- imum of thirty to sixty years for some areas to be safe again.14 When the United States fi nally admitted that the island was still unsafe, the Islanders were forcibly evacuated again in 1978.

At this time, Bikini Islanders are scattered throughout the Marshall Is- lands, with most living on Kili, Kwajalein, or Majuro.15 Numerous claims had been fi led against the United States as the Islanders became affl icted with radioactivity-related cancers and birth defects. A radically altered version of the Compact of Free Association between the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the United States, approved by the U.S. Congress in 1986, allocated a $150 million trust fund for nuclear victims from four atolls—Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap, and Utirik—exposed to radiation dur- ing the testing period.16 Bikinians subsequently fi led a $450 million lawsuit against the United States, to which the U.S. Congress responded in 1988 by approving a $90 million trust fund for cleaning up and resettling Bikini.17 Although the Bikinians may attempt to take the U.S. government to court again, it is not likely they will achieve much more than this. Th e Bikini Islanders’ resettlements have been troubled by environmental, social, eco- nomic, political, physical, and emotional considerations.


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