History of Bikini Atoll
Where is Bikini?
Bikini Atoll is one of the 29 atolls and five islands that compose the Marshall Islands. These atolls of the Marshalls are scattered over 357,000 square miles of a lonely part of the world located north of the equator in the Pacific Ocean. They help define a geographic area referred to as Micronesia.
Marshall Island History
Once the Marshalls were discovered by the outside world, first by the Spanish in the 1600's and then later by the Germans, they were used primarily as a source for producing copra oil from coconuts. The Bikini islanders maintained no substantial contacts with these early visitors because of Bikini Atoll's remote location in the very dry, northern Marshalls. The fertile atolls in the southern Marshalls were attractive to the traders because they could produce a much larger quantity of copra. This isolation created for the Bikinians a tightly integrated society bound together by close extended family association and tradition, where the amount of land you owned was a measure of your wealth.
In the early 1900's the Japanese began to administer the Marshall Islands. This domination later resulted in a military build up throughout the islands in anticipation of World War II. Bikini and the rest of these peaceful, low lying coral atolls in the Marshalls suddenly became strategic. The Bikini islanders' life of harmony drew to an abrupt close when the Japanese decided to build and maintain a watchtower on their island 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, Kwajalein Atoll. In February of 1944, toward the end of the war, in a gruesome and terrifying bloody battle, the American forces captured Kwajalein Atoll and thereby effectively crushed the Japanese hold on the Marshall Islands. The five Japanese men left on Bikini, while hiding in a covered foxhole, killed themselves with a grenade before the American military forces could capture them.