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Video clip synopsis – Bikinians are asked to leave their island to make way for US atomic testing.
Year of production - 1983
Duration - 2min 48sec
Tags - Bikini Atoll, DIY Doco, energy, environment, human environment, Marshall Islands, nuclear energy, nuclear weapons, Pacific region, see all tags


Bitter Memories

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About the Video Clip


Bitter Memories is an excerpt from the documentary The Marshall Islands – Living with the Bomb, an episode of the six-part series The Human Face of the Pacific, made in 1983.

The Marshall Islands – Living with the Bomb
“he people of the Bikini Atoll were removed from their homelands as a result of American testing of nuclear bombs in the Pacific. They now live on another island, dependent on American food and support. They can never go back to Bikini Atoll because it is poisoned beyond the possibility of habitation. This film is a poignant, impressive study of a people whose culture has been vanquished.

The Human Face of the Pacific
This series is composed of six documentaries covering six Pacific nations and territories, giving a wide-ranging view of contemporary Pacific society. It shows the variety of ways of life from subsistence to urbanization and the challenges from outside to what has been called ‘the Pacific way’.

A Film Australia production in association with Cinema Enterprises.

Curriculum Focus


Geographical knowledge and understanding

For Geography students this Digital Resource provides a case study in the human impact on the natural environment. The natural environment is the island communities of the Marshall Islands. The human impact of atomic testing in the 1940s has impacted on the physical and human environment of Bikini Atoll. Through further exploring the nature of island and coastal communities, students understand the fragility of such natural systems and the impact of human activities. Strategies to address the issue are discussed.

Other Links to VELS
Physical, Personal and Social Learning – Civics and Citizenship – students take a global perspective when analysing an issue.
Interdisciplinary Learning – Thinking – students explore different perspectives in depth and identify a range of creative possibilities.

This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority website for more information.

Background Information


This video clip shows US army members ‘informing’ the Bikinians about the atomic tests about to take place around their atoll and the tests’ apparent benefits for world peace. Kilon, an elderly member of the Bikini community, believes his people may have been tricked into leaving the atoll in the 1940s so the United States could conduct these tests.
Following a series of unhappy relocation efforts beginning in 1946, the Bikinians were told in the early 70s that it was safe to return to their atoll. Subsequent medical tests found they had dangerous levels of radiation in their bodies, and they were evacuated once again in 1978.
Kilon’s poignant testimonies describe the turmoil of many evacuations and the hardships the Bikinians have endured.
By the 1980s, the long-term effects of exposure to radiation had become a very contentious issue. US official findings often diverged from the evidence of the Marshall Islanders but it is clear that the many relocations and the dependence on the United States and its imported foods has produced long term ill-health and anxieties in the population. Confined to a new semi-urban environment, Bikinians fear for the future of their children, who are influenced by American cultural values through television and who no longer know their traditional way of life and culture.
The Bikinians have petitioned for compensation from the US Government because of the damage done to their island homes and the negative impact it has had on their health, life-style and the future of their children.

In 2001, the Nuclear Claims Tribunal determined damages to be paid to Bikinians. There is not enough cash to honour the award and it is left to the Bikinians to petition the US for more money. A decision is expected to take some years. In December 2003, President Bush signed the new Compact of Free Association with Marshall Islands and Micronesia, worth $3.5bn over 20 years.

Despite attempts to clean up the contamination, permanent resettlement on Bikini has not been possible.

Classroom Activities

  1. Describe the characteristics of the Bikini Atoll before the atomic testing. In your description include landform, vegetation, climate and lifestyle of the Bikinians. What alternatives did the US have at the time to atomic testing?
  2. Since the atomic testing life for the Bikinians has changed. Describe this change and present this change as an annotated sketch before and after. Develop a series of questions to ask the Bikini people now as to their way of life.
  3. From the video clip, comment on role of US governments towards the community of Bikinians. What do you think the responsibility of governments should be towards people living on the Marshall Islands? Develop a series of questions to ask the US government about the Marshall Islands.
  4. Describe the role of the United Nations self-sufficiency agreement. Why has that been set up? How sustainable and economically viable is the situation with the Marshall Islanders being dependent upon a foreign government? Use scenes from this video clip to support your viewpoint.

Further Resources


Go to Pacific Stories Learning for Interactive Compass Map with facts about the Pacific region.

For interview transcripts, books and references for this Digital Resource go to Pacific Stories, choose Living with the Bomb, select INDEX, and go to MORE INFORMATION.