Texas-based Manhattan Project Beer Company is facing backlash following the release of a new beer named after Bikini Atoll, the site of numerous nuclear tests in the wake of World War II. Pacific Islanders who found the name offensive or insensitive called out the company on Twitter, and the Marshall Islands government weighed in disapprovingly.
In 1946, the 167 residents of Bikini Atoll, located in the Marshall Islands, were forced to relocate to nearby Rongerik so that the United States could test bombs during the Cold War. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States detonated 23 atomic and hydrogen bombs on the islands — many of which were more powerful than those dropped on Japan at the end of the war. The atoll became uninhabitable.
The residents of Bikini Atoll were exiled from their home until 1969 when the United States government finally allowed them to resettle (they had already moved several times because many atolls, like Rongerik, didn’t have the resources to support their community). Yet radiation levels were still so high on Bikini Atoll that the remaining residents had to be evacuated again in 1978. The ancestors of the original Bikini Atoll evacuees are still without a permanent home, reduced to a nomadic community. Bikini Atoll itself is still too contaminated by radiation to be safe for human life.
Given that many generations of Marshall Islanders have been subjected to ongoing health issues, including cancer and birth defects, it is perhaps unsurprising that Manhattan Beer Project’s use of the Bikini Atoll name to sell beer was not warmly received. Twitter users called the beer’s name “entirely inappropriate,” “tone-deaf and offensive,” and accused the company of “practicing willful disregard for Indigenous lives.” A petition even surfaced demanding that stores like Whole Foods stop the sale of the Bikini Atoll beer.
The Manhattan Project Beer responded to the backlash with a statement posted on its social media channels insisting that it did not intend to “mock or trivialize” nuclear testing or the suffering of the people of Bikini Atoll. The company even tried to claim that the beer would “raise awareness” (no donations from the proceeds of the beer are currently being offered to the people of Bikini Atoll) and added that Manhattan Project Beer employees have received harassment and death threats.
Eventually, the government of the Marshall Islands waded into the controversy with a stern warning of its own: Jack Niedenthal, the Marshall Islands’ secretary of health and human services, released a statement which reads in part: “On… behalf of the people of the Marshall Islands, I highly encourage you to discard this ill-conceived product forever, and moreover, I believe you need to issue a public apology to our people.”
The Bikini Atoll gose is part of an arguably very misguided collection of beers named for weapons of mass destruction (yes, you read that right). The other beers in the line include the Hoppenheimer (so named for the inventor of the atomic bomb), Necessary Evil, Half-Life, and Plutonium-239.