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Nuclear Victims' Remembrance Day in the Marshall Islands

New Internationalist
This 1984 image from New Internationalist magazine shows the path of a missile test from California to Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – It was a bit of sad irony this week that we learned the U.S. Air Force had launched a Minuteman 3 nuclear missile from an underground bunker on California’s Pacific coast, landing in the waters of the Kwajalein Atoll missile test range in the Marshall Islands, some 2,500 miles southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii. The U.S. has been testing missiles here for years, as this New Internationalist piece from 1984 notes.

This test, which did not contain a nuclear warhead, but test instruments instead, was the second such test firing of an unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in the space of just one week, reports the World Socialist Web Site. It was noted that the message being sent by these missile tests was meant for Russia and China, as U.S. Deputy Sec. of Defense Robert Work told the media that the firings were “a signal … that we are prepared to use nuclear weapons in defense of our country if necessary.”

That is a frightening statement in a world that is teetering on the absolute edge of full-fledged global war – war that could easily lead to a thermonuclear exchange.

These nuclear missiles, when armed, carry “three independently targeted warheads, each with 20 times the destructive power of the bombs that killed as many as 350,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945.

And these tests come within a week of the 62nd anniversary of the Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb test on Bikini Atoll. The explosion was three times the magnitude expected by American scientists and 1,000 times as powerful as the atomic bombs dropped on the aforementioned Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The story goes that these same scientists underestimated the explosion and “the change in winds at high altitudes … sent radioactive debris over the populated atolls of Rongelap and Utrok."

And while the United States has provided nearly $600 million in compensation and assistance to the Republic of the Marshall Islands to help Marshallese communities overcome the effects of nuclear testing on the atolls in the 1940’s and 1950’s, there is still much work to be done. 

March 1st is traditionally Nuclear Victims' Remembrance Day in the Marshall Islands and is also observed in places like Northwest Arkansas where there is a sizable Marshallese population, as we noted in this previous story in 2015.

President Obama, while early in his first term called for an end to nuclear arms, a number of years later his administration has developed a $1 trillion nuclear weapons modernization program. This includes propose long-range bombers, nuclear submarines, ICBM’s (like those mentioned in this story) and cruise missiles between now and 2045.

So it appears the United States is quite comfortable leading the globe on the road to thermonuclear hell. But smaller voices are standing up against the American nuclear Goliath, like the Marshall Islands. This island nation tried bringing all nine nuclear powers to an international court to force them to fulfill their responsibilities regarding the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. They have been thwarted in court so far, but will fight on, as they should.

And because the Marshall Islands take the proliferation of nuclear weapons very seriously, they have been working to rid the world of nuclear weapons and to get all the nuclear powers to take the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as seriously as they do. They have been deeply affected by America's repeated nuclear testing and have yet to really recover.

After all, nuclear disarmament is critical for the future of the planet.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Quite coincidentally, as I was finishing this piece, the 1979 Jimmy Buffett song "Volcano" was playing and the following line caught my attention: "I don't want to land on no Three Mile Island / I don't want to see my skin a-glow."

Concerns about nuclear war and nuclear accidents like those at Fukushima, Chernobyl and recently at Indian Point in New York and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico in 2014.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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