This month we read accounts by three Pacific Island women
detailing the atrocities caused by U.S. military nuclear
testing in Micronesia. From 1946 to 1958, at least 66 nuclear
bombs were exploded in the Marshall Islands alone.
Islanders were forced to relocate after the military dropped
a hydrogen bomb on their ancient homeland, rendering it
uninhabitable for the next 30,000 years. The residents of
Rongelap Atoll, located downwind from the tests, were never
warned to evacuate and were hit with direct radioactive
Many believe the U.S. government intentionally
exposed the Rongelap people to the atomic blasts in order to
study the effects of radiation. Today Micronesia, a group of
approximately 2,000 islands in the South Pacific covering
over three million square miles, suffers one of the highest
rates of radiation sickness in the world. Cancers and
deformities such as the infamous "jellyfish babies"
(born with no arms, legs, or head) are common, and yet, to
date, no epidemiological survey has ever been conducted.
These once idyllic islands are now the site of missile
bombardments and simulated Star Wars games, as well as the
dumping ground for much of the United States' hazardous
Our reaction to the harrowing stories ranged from shock to
sadness to anger at the wanton brutality of the U.S.
government for deliberately creating an ecological holocaust.
We were clear that U.S. policy wasand continues to
beone of sustained genocide against these indigenous
One of us offered an interesting roster of
comparisons between the Marshall Islands and Puerto Rico.
Both are island societies bound up in a neo-colonial,
so-called "commonwealth" relationship with the
United States. Both were acquired by the U.S. as war booty.
Both local economies have been systematically undermined by
the U.S., reducing the populace to welfare status.
Island women deliver an inordinate number of babies with
birth defects, while Puerto Rican woman have faced systematic
sterilization. An intimidating U.S. military presence
occupies sizable portions of both lands. And most germane to
our discussion, both have had their environments
severelyand in some areas fatallycontaminated by
U.S. military, corporate, and/or governmental interests.
Another woman noted that the number of Superfund toxic waste
sites in Puerto Rico is one of the highest within U.S.
jurisdiction. She also shared an anecdote about
Lolita Lebron, the celebrated independista, who with
three comrades staged an armed attack on Congress March 1,
1954 to call attention to self-determination for Puerto Rico.
March 1, 1954 was the same day the U.S. exploded its first
hydrogen bomb on Bikini Island (a bomb 1,000 times larger
than that detonated at Hiroshima). Lebron allegedly was
intuitively aware of the Bikini bombing and spiritually
shared an affinity with the Pacific Island people.
On a note closer to home, we were disheartened to hear the
personal account of one woman at this session who is an
environmental engineer. Contrary to common perception, the woman
said toxic waste sites are often breathtakingly beautiful
with acres of trees, scampering animals, and magnificent
vistas. She and her co-workers look forward to being in the
field, enjoying the outdoors, away from the office.
It's not until she returns home that her deep feelings surface. She
often cries or has nightmares knowing the land she has
visited is in fact dying. Yet, she acknowledged that back at
her office immersed in paperwork, the toxic waste site once
again becomes an abstraction.
Her firm provides hazardous waste investigations and
remediation services to corporate polluters forced to comply
with governmental regulations. Her company's evaluations help
determine allocation of federal clean-up funds. Toxic waste
sites located near populated areas are accorded preferential
status. The dangers a polluted habitat presents to plant and
animal life, however, are completely excluded from the
She likewise is appalled by
the racist manner in which communities of color are
disproportionately assigned low priority for Superfund
clean-up money. The tragic absurdity is that all waste
sites need remediation since the poisons in the lakes and
rivers seep into the ground water and inevitably pollute
other eco-systems. According to the woman, this basic fact is
ignored because the entire environmental regulatory process
The compliance laws are littered with
loopholes and have little to do with ecological integrity.
The enormous legal fees corporations spend to avoid
responsibility for their toxic messes could just as well be
channeled into actually cleaning up the sites. We were
further indignant to learn that major polluters such as
Dupont make obscene profits through the manufacture of
plastic protective wear and remediation chemicals used in the
The woman's "inside" report was distressing. If the
environmental politics of our own bioregion are in jeopardy,
how can we realistically address the devastation in
Micronesia and other parts of the world? One woman felt that
a fundamentalist faith in Science exacerbates the dilemma.
Assuming technological gods will solve everything, people
shield themselves from the horrible truth that our planet is
in imminent peril.
If people deny what is happening, they can
relinquish responsibility. Another woman mentioned A
Chorus of Stones, Susan Griffin's extraordinary work
which interweaves personal stories of denial with the global
implications for war and other acts of violence. One woman
said that an important front for activist struggle involves
helping individuals experientially overcome denial in part by
"changing their conversations."
When people begin
to language in terms of an interrelated web of life, the
ecological connections between Micronesia, Puerto Rico and
our own back yard become starkly apparent, opening up the
possibility for new cosmologies.
# # #
5/18/98 - Via email, a reader sent EVE
ONLINE the following thoughtful and
I want to express my appreciation of your [EVE ONLINE's]
interest in the situation of the people of the Marshall
Islands and the results of using the islands as a test-bed
for bombs and missles. I am an anthropologist who works with
Marshallese people and issues. I would like to comment on a
couple of points you have made on your Web page, hoping that
by suggesting a more nuanced reading your can find more
effective political actions.
The "genocide" practiced upon the Marshallese is
not the direct genocide of the Nazis or the ethnic cleansing
of the Serbs; it is both a dehumanization, produced by
military rivalry, the cold war, and a psuedo-scientific
"objectivity", and also a sort of cultural genocide
produced by bureaucratic disorganization wherein various
powerful US agencies and officials see the Marshallese
through the lens of their own self-interests. Indeed, there
are more Marshallese people now than ever before, dispersed
among more communities spread throughout the Pacific and the
The political status of the Republic of the Marshall
Islands is a Freely Associated State, rather than a
commonwealth such as Puerto Rico. The significance of this is
that where as a commonwealth is included in the political
body and nation, as a FAS the Marshalls can be represented as
a backward economy, a country that should be standing on its
own, autonomous and self-sufficient, which facilitates the US
withdrawal of the funds that would sustain the warped economy
created by the US administration while the people attempt to
develop a sounder alternative.
You can help make a difference. The Compact of Free
Association is up for renegotiations, which will begin next
year (if the schedule is followed). The situation of the
Marshallese is not well known or much remarked upon, and I
believe a few committed individuals who let their
congressional representatives know they wish to see fair
treatment of the Marshallese (and other Micronesians also
tied to the US by a Compact) could have a significant impact.
They don't need a lot of money; they do need some system that
will hold local politicians accountable for their use of
government-to-government funding, enhanced access to food and
education for the poor, and the long term security that will
allow the next two generations to learn from the experience
of their predecessors while developing solutions that do not
do violence to their culture while adapting their society to
the new world order.
You can also begin to lobby for
renegotion of US reparations to the Marshallese for nuclear
contamination of people and lands under the "changed
circumstances" provisions of the Compact. You can learn
more about these issues at the online Web sites of the RMI
government and the people of Bikini atoll.
There is another way the US is attacking the ecology, the
lands, the people, and the culture of the Marshalls that is
at least as serious a the nuclear testing: global warming may
cause the islands to disappear entirely beneath the waves.
Support for a transition from fossil fuels is another way of
redressing the imbalance between islanders and the mainland.
Darlene Keju-Johnson died last year of cancer, a big loss
for the people of the Marshalls. The NGO she founded,
Youth-to-Youth in Health, continues to work for the health,
safety, and empowerment of islanders.
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