After the war, in December of 1945, President Harry S. Truman issued a directive to Army and Navy officials that joint testing of nuclear weapons would be necessary "to determine the effect of atomic bombs on American warships." Bikini, because of its location away from regular air and sea routes, was chosen to be the new nuclear proving ground for the United States government.
In February of 1946 Commodore Ben H. Wyatt, the military governor of the Marshalls, traveled to Bikini. On a Sunday after church, he assembled the Bikinians to ask if they would be willing to leave their atoll temporarily so that the United States could begin testing atomic bombs for "the good of mankind and to end all world wars." King Juda, then the leader of the Bikinian people, stood up after much confused and sorrowful deliberation among his people, and announced, "We will go believing that everything is in the hands of God."
While the 167 Bikinians were getting ready for their exodus, preparations for the U.S. nuclear testing program advanced rapidly. Some 242 naval ships, 156 aircraft, 25,000 radiation recording devices and the Navy's 5,400 experimental rats, goats and pigs soon began to arrive for the tests. Over 42,000 U.S. military and civilian personnel were involved in the testing program at Bikini.
The nuclear legacy of the Bikinians began in March of 1946 when they were first removed from their islands in preparation for Operation Crossroads. The history of the Bikinian people from that day has been a story of their struggle to understand scientific concepts as they relate to their islands, as well as the day-to-day problems of finding food, raising families and maintaining their culture amidst the progression of events set in motion by the Cold War that have been for the most part out of their control.
In preparation for Operation Crossroads, the Bikinians were sent 125 miles eastward across the ocean on a U.S. Navy LST landing craft to Rongerik Atoll. The islands of Rongerik Atoll were uninhabited because, traditionally, the Marshallese people considered them to be unlivable due to their size (Rongerik is 1/6 the size of Bikini Atoll) and because they had an inadequate water and food supply. There was also a deep-rooted traditional belief that the atoll was inhabited by evil spirits. The Administration left the Bikinians food stores sufficient only for several weeks. The islanders soon discovered that the coconut trees and other local food crops produced very few fruits when compared to the yield of the trees on Bikini. As the food supply on Rongerik quickly ran out, the Bikinians began to suffer from starvation and fish poisoning due to the lack of edible fish in the lagoon. Within two months after their arrival they began to beg U.S. officials to move them back to Bikini.