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Militarising the Pacific – “island people are better radiation test subjects than mice are”

In a 1956 Atomic Energy Commission meeting, Merril Eisenbud, director of the AEC Health and Safety Laboratory, described the Marshallese thus: “While it is true that these people do not live, I would say, the way Westerners do, civilized people, it is nevertheless also true that these people are more like us than the mice.”.

weapons1The Militarized Pacific: An Anniversary Without End  14 May 2014  By Jon LetmanTruthout
 | Op-Ed  March 1, the 60th anniversary of the Castle Bravo test – a nuclear detonation over a thousand times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima – has come and gone. Predictably, major decadal events, like a 15-megaton explosion over a Micronesian atoll, garner fleeting attention, but it’s all the days between the anniversaries that tell the real story of those who live with the impacts.

For the people of the Marshall Islands, where Enewetak, Bikini and neighboring atolls were irradiated and rendered uninhabitable by 67 nuclear tests between 1946 and 1958, the brief anniversary recognition only underscores what little attention the Marshallese and, in a broader sense, millions of peoples of the Asia-Pacific are given by the US government and public……..

places like the US-backed naval base being built on South Korea’s Jeju island and the enormous military testing and training ranges in the Northern Mariana Islands (larger than much of the western United States) receive almost no attention. Names like Pagan, Rongelap and Kwajalein are scarcely known in the country that uses these islands for its own military testing……..

increased levels and types of cancers in the Marshall Islands, based on National Cancer Institute (NCI) research and firsthand accounts by Marshallese, are the result of nuclear testing.

In a series of eight papers published in the journal Health Physics, the NCI found average thyroid radiation doses in the southern Marshall Islands ranged from 12 to 34 megarays (mGy), in the mid-latitudes from 67 to 160 mGy and in the northern inhabited atolls (closest to the nuclear tests) from 760 to 7,600 mGy. In the mainland United States, the report notes, exposure to natural radiation in the environment is 1 mGy.

The militarization that continued after World War II led to sweeping societal changes for the Marshallese as the combination of forced evacuations and relocations due to nuclear testing and the lure of jobs at the military base on Kwajalein Atoll led to rapid urbanization…….

The ongoing fear of radiation, Aguon says, is part of the reason why so many people have left the RMI, taking advantage of a special agreement that allows visa-free US residence for nationals of the RMI, FSM and Palau. These compacts of free association (COFA) are full of major shortcomings, not the least of which is the requirement to be taxed like a US citizen but with the burden of heavily restricted health care access. COFA has led to sizeable Marshallese communities in Hawaii and places like Salem, Oregon, and Springdale, Arkansas.

“To put it in historical context, these people aren’t able to trust anything that the US says only because in 1957 they were moved back with a very clear plan that they were going to be purposefully exposed to long-term low-level radiation. Not the acute exposure right after the bomb but the inhalation and the consumption of the food,” Aguon says.

Aguon describes the Marshallese as having been “corralled together and made the unwitting subjects of non-consensual medical experimentation after the Bravo nuclear test.”

In a 1956 Atomic Energy Commission meeting, Merril Eisenbud, director of the AEC Health and Safety Laboratory, described the Marshallese thus: “While it is true that these people do not live, I would say, the way Westerners do, civilized people, it is nevertheless also true that these people are more like us than the mice.”…….

The plight of the Marshall Islands is the back-story of today’s increasingly militarized Asia-Pacific, but David Vine, associate professor of anthropology at American University, sees nothing particularly new about Obama’s Asia-Pacific pivot.

“Very early on islands were identified as playing a very important role in expanding the reach of the United States, and US commerce in particular,” Vine says, citing early US military forays into Okinawa and the tiny Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands southeast of Japan. In the 1960s US nuclear weapons were kept in Okinawan ports and have been documented as passing through Japanese islands despite Japan’s stated opposition to introducing and storing nuclear weapons.

Similarly, in 1987, the nation of Palau, under pressure from the US, dropped its opposition to the entry of US nuclear armed and powered vessels into its territory.

Vine talks about the post-World War II “forward posture” of creating a wall of Pacific islands as close as possible to Asia for its own strategic interests. He describes Pacific island nations like the RMI, Palau and FSM as being technically sovereign but, like American Samoa, Guam, Saipan and the Northern Mariana Islands, effectively run as colonies. Vine says these islands exist under conditions that overwhelmingly benefit US military interests, perhaps best illustrated by the US insisting on the “right of strategic denial.” This “right,” claimed under COFA, grants the US exclusive military control over half a million square miles of the Pacific and includes provisions allowing for the use of RTS on Kwajalein through 2066 with the option to extend to 2086.

Pointing to small Pacific outposts that lack “Burger King bases” (sprawling military bases loaded with recreational and other amenities), Vine says, “while sometimes military facilities might be quite limited, they often can form the nucleus for what could be a much larger base.” He says austere bases with small numbers of personnel or “temporarily embedding” US forces within another nation’s military base (Australia, Singapore, the Philippines), are part of the “lily pad strategy.” Vine says what constitutes a US military base in name is often subject to semantic games, using words like “military place” instead of “military base.”

According to the Department of Defense 2013 Base Structure Report, the US has just one military base in the Marshall Islands: RTS at Kwajalein. However, it also controls 10 other sites in the RMI which are not counted as bases because they don’t meet the criteria of at least ten acres and $10 million PRV (“plant replacement value”). Regardless of the true number, in a country made up of just 70 square miles, every foot of dry land counts.

Vine has thoroughly documented the displacement of Chagos Islanders to make way for the US military base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in his book Island of Shame: The Secret History of the US Military Base on Diego Garcia. He says the patterns of displacement in the Pacific, specifically the Marshall Islands, are similar to what happened at Diego Garcia.

Anniversaries Without End

According to Vine, this is a very dangerous time in the Asia-Pacific and the US is playing a largely unproductive role that is increasing danger and heightening tension between China and other nations. “The presence and build-up of US bases,” he says, “is not the way to ensure peace and security in the region.”

In the coming months, the world will mark the 70th anniversary of Pacific battles in Saipan, Guam, the Mariana Islands, New Guinea, Palau, the Philippines and Burma. More anniversaries will be recognized next year to commemorate battles in Bataan, Manila and Iwo Jima, followed by anniversaries of the firebombing of Tokyo, the battle of Okinawa and then, in August 2015, the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Each event represents death and destruction of the past in a region scarred by militarism and an ongoing legacy of war without end.


May 15, 2014 - Posted by | OCEANIA, radiation, USA, weapons and war

1 Comment »

  1. Reblogged this on jkmhoffman.

    Comment by jkmhoffman2014 | May 15, 2014 | Reply

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