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The dark origins of Bikini Bottom


Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever sat around wondering how Spongebob learned to tie a Windsor knot, how Squidward acquired his affinity for the arts, or how Plankton became perceptive enough to develop a Napoleon complex? Well, here's a theory that should simultaneously quell your curiosity while fulfilling the core function of the internet: robbing you of your childhood innocence.

Basically, this unique aquatic society was the result of U.S. nuclear testing in the South Pacific Ocean, and that all of your childhood pals, from Mr. Krabs to Mrs. Puff, are radioactively mutated fish.

Our thoughts exactly

History seems to support this claim. The nuclear testing site that the theory refers to is Bikini Atoll, a group of islands in Micronesia. After World War II, the U.S. military detonated 23 nuclear devices on the islands as it geared up for an arms race with the Soviet Union. Remember that island that appears at the beginning of every SpongeBob episode? Well, that's what remains of Bikini Atoll. The creators of the show left other clues to this radioactive origin story, such as Squidward's Easter Island head residence (a hint of the town's South Pacific locale), the popular Bikini Bottom magazine Toxic Waste Monthly, and the mushroom cloud that seems to rise from every explosion in the show.

So, it seems likely that the bombing of Bikini Atoll created Bikini Bottom, a nightmarish seascape where a sponge is economically extorted by a crab, who somehow fathered a sperm whale. But maybe it was all for the best. Bikini Bottom seems like a pleasant enough city, and the residents certainly have less mundane lives than your average fish or sponge. All's well that ends well, right?

Maybe not. Because before U.S. nukes created one of America's most beloved children's shows, there were real, non-animated people living on Bikini Atoll: 167 to be exact. Bikini Atoll is part of the Marshall Islands, which has its own distinctive language, culture, and society. Leading a subsistence based lifestyle, Bikinians were a subset of this society.

In 1946 the people of Bikini Atoll were compelled to "temporarily relocate" by the United States, who wanted to begin nuclear testing on the islands. They were told they had to leave "for the good of mankind" and were subsequently sent to Rongerik Atoll, an uninhabited group of islands one-sixth the size of Bikini that lacked adequate sources of food and water. The U.S. navy dropped them on the shore with several weeks of food supplies and left. Soon, the Bikinians had a serious malnutrition problem, with most living on the brink of starvation. Within two months of relocation, they were begging the U.S. to allow them to return to Bikini, not knowing about the nuclear devastation being brought down upon their home. Their calls were ignored, and they were left on the island for two years. "We were dying, but they didn't listen to us," commented one of the inhabitants of Rongerik.

Eventually, the government began the process of moving the Bikinians to Ujelang Atoll. A handful Bikinians were sent to Ujelang to begin construction of their new society. But two months later, the plans fell through. The U.S. had chosen a second location for nuclear testing, Enewetak Atoll, and decided that the Enewetak people, instead of the Bikinians, would be relocated to Ujelang.

In 1948, The Bikini natives were finally liberated from Rongerik and sent to Kwajalein Atoll, where they lived in tents next to a concrete military airstrip. Six months later they were relocated once again to Kili Island, a .36-square-mile island where most Bikinians still live today. The island greatly differed from the Atolls they were accustomed to, making their traditional methods of fishing and food cultivation far less effective. Starvation once again became a daily concern and the Bikinians had to rely on USDA rice and canned goods to survive. The island was also prone to flooding, making them vulnerable to hurricanes and typhoons. They soon began referring to Kili as "Prison Island."

Meanwhile, nuclear tests continued on Bikini Atoll, culminating in the 1954 "Castle Bravo" test, which detonated a nuclear weapon 1,000-times more powerful than the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The blast was larger than the U.S. government expected and the resulting radioactive fallout spread throughout the Marshall Islands, blanketing inhabited islands and contaminating their residents. The subsequent health effects still plague Marshall Islanders today.

Mushroom cloud at Castle Bravo

Decades passed, and in 1969, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that the now 540 Bikinians would be able to resettle their home islands. The Atomic Energy Commission issued a statement saying "There's virtually no radiation left and we can find no discernible effect on either plant or animal life." Feeling confident in these assurances, Bikinians began to resettle in 1972. But in 1978, tests by U.S. physicians revealed that the radiation levels in the 139 people on Bikini Atoll were well above the permissible level. They were evacuated.

Today, the native inhabitants of Bikini Atoll continue to seek compensation from the U.S. government for the devastation of their home. Many demand that the U.S. clean up the mess they made in Bikini so they might return home. Some have more modest claims, like Simon Jamore, who wants access to better healthcare for four of his family members who have developed cancer. The islands remain almost entirely uninhabited, excluding the marine citizens of Bikini Bottom. For now, the only thing fit to live in Bikini Atoll is a radioactive fry-cook sponge.

History

This pilot shot down an enemy fighter at Pearl Harbor in his pajamas

Comfort is important when doing a hard job. If it's hot on the work site, it's important to stay cool. If it's hazardous, proper protection needs to be worn. And comfort is apparently key when the Japanese sneak attack the Navy. Just ask Lt. Phil Rasmussen, who was one of four pilots who managed to get off the ground to fight the Japanese in the air.

Rasmussen, like many other American GIs in Hawaii that day, was still asleep when the Japanese launched the attack at 0755. The Army Air Forces 2nd Lieutenant was still groggy and in his pajamas when the attacking wave of enemy fighters swarmed Wheeler Field and destroyed many of the Army's aircraft on the ground.

Damaged aircraft on Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

There were still a number of outdated Curtiss P-36A Hawk fighters that were relatively untouched by the attack. Lieutenant Rasmussen strapped on a .45 pistol and ran out to the flightline, still in his pajamas, determined to meet the sucker-punching Japanese onslaught.

By the time the attack ended, Wheeler and Hickam Fields were both devastated. Bellows Field also took a lot of damage, its living quarters, mess halls, and chapels strafed by Japanese Zeros. American troops threw back everything they could muster – from anti-aircraft guns to their sidearms. But Rasmussen and a handful of other daring American pilots managed to get in the air, ready to take the fight right back to Japan in the Hawks if they had to. They took off under fire, but were still airborne.

Pearl Harbor pilots Harry Brown, Phil Rasmussen, Ken Taylor, George Welch, and Lewis Sanders.

They made it as far as Kaneohe Bay.

The four brave pilots were led by radio to Kaneohe, where they engaged 11 enemy fighters in a vicious dogfight. Even in his obsolete old fighter, Rasmussen proved that technology is no match for good ol' martial skills and courage under fire. He managed to shoot down one of the 11, but was double-teamed by two attacking Zeros.

Gunfire and 20mm shells shattered his canopy, destroyed his radio, and took out his hydraulic lines and rudder cables. He was forced out of the fighting, escaping into nearby clouds and making his way back to Wheeler Field. When he landed, he did it without brakes, a rudder, or a tailwheel.

There were 500 bullet holes in the P-36A's fuselage.

Skillz.

Lieutenant Rasmussen earned the Silver Star for his boldness and would survive the war, getting his second kill in 1943. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1965, but will live on in the Museum of the United States Air Force, forever immortalized as he hops into an outdated aircraft in his pajamas.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

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