December 24, 1777: James Cook discovers an uninhabited atoll in the Pacific Ocean. An atoll is an island made of coral which has a lagoon. A lagoon is a shallow pool of brackish or salt water, separated from deeper waters by said coral reefs or sandbars, making the two geographical entities symbiotic. Cook named the small island Christmas Island. It is part of the Line Islands or Equatorial Islands – a group of 11 coral reefs located south of the Hawaiian Islands, 4,200 miles from Sydney and 3,330 miles from San Francisco.
Christmas Island is about 0.125 square miles with the lagoon area approximately the same size. This means there are about 80 acres of land making it the largest land area of any atoll in the world. It is an irregularly shaped island with 93 miles of coastline with another 30 miles of shoreline associated with the lagoon. The island came under US jurisdiction in 1856 with the Guano Islands Act. The Treaty of Tarawa, ratified in 1982, formally ceded the islands to Kiribati.
During the late 1950s, the atolls of the Pacific Ocean were used for nuclear tests. Now called Kiritimati – the name may sound Polynesian, but is an actual translation of Christmas Island to Gilbertese and of Australian lineage. The British used the island as a base. Their first attempt to detonate a hydrogen bomb at Malden Island was a failure. On November 8, 1957 they successfully completed a test on the southeast tip of Kiritimati. There were also 22 nuclear detonations by the US either on or above the island.
The military left the area by 1969, leaving behind military bases – partly dismantled and partly renovated for civilian use. In 1989 there were about 2,000 people living on the island. By 2005 the census had increased to 5,115 with the population divided between four villages. Tabawakea is the largest with 1,881 people there. London, Banana, and Poland complete the list with Paris lying in ruins. Kiritimati lies close to the International Date Line and shares the time with the Hawaiian Islands. The date, however, is different. New Year’s comes first to this tiny island each year.
“The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war that we know about peace, more about killing that we know about living.” – Omar Bradley
“And it’s hard to get more real world than military testing. When you’re life is on the line, every move counts.” – Brad Fain
“We are opposed to any further military testing on our lands.” – Raymond Yowell
“The Cold War is gone. Colonialism is gone. Apartheid is gone. Yet remnants of past troubles remain.” – Bill Clinton
This article first appeared at examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: James Cook was born in November 1728 and was a British explorer, navigator, mapmaker, and Captain in the Royal Navy. He began with exploration of Newfoundland and then made three separate voyages to the Pacific Ocean. During his travels there, he contacted the eastern coastline of Australia and visited the Hawaiian Islands. He was also the discoverer of this small bit of land as well as being the first to record the circumnavigation of New Zealand. At the time of his travels, the area was mostly uncharted so his information and ability to create maps was as important as his actual discoveries. During his third trip, he was killed in Hawaii during a confrontation with the natives. He was 50 years old at the time. His legacy was to influence succeeding naval discovery for over a hundred years.
Also on this day: The South Shall Rise Again – In 1865 six men began the KKK, then a simple social club.
Shhhhhh! – In 1818, Silent Night was written.
Eggnog Riot – In 1826, a riot broke out at West Point.