Exodus without end

Today marks the 60 year anniversary of the removal of the Bikini people in the Marshall Islands from their own land they call “Home, Sweet Home.”

The exiled Marshallese are still hopeful that promises will be fulfilled concerning restoration and return to their home lands.

Children of Israel reached their promiseland after wandering in the desert for only 40 years. But the Marshallese, who call themselves “the children of America,” are still wandering after 60 years today.

These wanderers have yet to reach their promiseland. It looks like an exodus without an ending.

Bikini Atoll is located in the central Pacific Ocean and is one of the 29 atolls and five islands that form the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Bikini is perhaps best known for its role in a series of nuclear tests conducted by the United States in the 1940s and 1950s.

Sixty years ago, United States government officials asked the people of Bikini Atoll to leave their island temporarily so the U.S. military could begin testing atomic bombs. These government officials claimed that the testing was for the good of mankind and to end the world war. So King Juda, Bikini Atoll’s chief at that time, agreed and told his people, “We will leave believing that everything is in God’s hands, and we agreed because we have been told that the nuclear testing would produce kindness and benefit to all mankind, however, we will return to our home after the testing is completed.”

Since the series testing, the Marshallese people became wanderers, sickened and deprived due to the United States testing of the nuclear bombs.

I strongly believed that the people of Bikini Atoll were promised something larger than what they have received. I believed that the whole world has benefited from the nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands because the Cold War has disappeared. On the other hand, I also disagreed that the testing was for the good of mankind, because the Cold War nuclear legacy is still left in the Marshall Islands. The people of Bikini Atoll have never been back to their homeland since the testing in the 1940s due to the unsafe amount of poison or radiation from the nuclear testing. Our question is how much longer will it take for the Bikinians to move back to what they once knew as their “Home, Sweet Home.”

We, the people of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, ask ourselves questions every day like:

• What other nations have received destruction from the impact of 67 nuclear bombs?

• What other people have a high incidence of cancer, radiological-induced ailments, birth defects and jellyfish-like babies?

• What other nations have been such a true ally to the United States in spite of all those unkept promises?

The most powerful of these tests was the BRAVO shot, a 15-megaton device detonated on March 1, 1954 at Bikini Atoll. The BRAVO shot alone was the equivalent of 1,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs. Seventeen other tests in the Marshall Islands were in the megaton range, and the total yield of the 67 tests was 108 megatons, the equivalent yield of more than 7,000 Hiroshima bombs; 93 times the total of the Nevada tests; and the equivalent yield of 1.6 Hiroshima-sized bombs fired every day for 12 years in the Marshall Islands.

In July 1998, the United States Center for Disease Control estimated that 6.3 billion curies of radioactive iodine, of which 131 were released to the atmosphere as a result of the testing in the Marshall Islands. The people of Rongelap Atoll, the inhabited island closest to the ground zero locations, remain in exile.

The 177 agreement under the Compact of Free Association between the United States and the Marshall Islands was based on a study done by the Department of Energy titled the 1978 Radiological Survey of the Northern Marshalls, which was presented to the Marshallese as the definitive study on the full extent of damages in the Marshall Islands.

Since the negotiation of the Compact of Free Association and the 177 agreement, the Department of Energy has released additional information, previously classified, revealing that information was withheld during negotiations from Marshallese negotiators, American negotiators, and Congress that would have prevented the agreement had the full extent of the damage of nuclear weapons testing been known. So the Marshall Islands have filed a Changed Circumstance Petition with the United States, but it has not yet been negotiated. The importance of the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction must also include the essential nonproliferation of illness, forced relocation, and social and cultural ills in the indigenous communities that paid disproportionately for the adverse consequences of weapons processing, deployment, and storage.

As a Marshallese citizen, I am calling for the entire world and especially the United States of America to commend and remember the Marshallese for their ongoing contribution and sacrifices they have made to “End the Cold War Era.” The Marshall Islands people are still hoping for promises to be fulfilled concerning restoration and return of the people to their “Home, Sweet Home.”

So, my fellow friends, especially the Marshallese, let us get up, get in and get involved to stand together as one Nation, one Marshall Islands, with one strong voice and speak about the value of our role in the U.S. Nuclear Testing Legacy that benefited not just the United States but the entire world.

Thank you very much and God bless us all.

Ano Lautiej is a deacon at the Marshallese United Church of Christ in Koloa, and a resident of Hanama‘ulu.

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