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Atomic legacy: Remembering Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Marshall Islands

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Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan were destroyed in atomic fireballs in 1945.
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By Andrew W.
Griffin

Red
Dirt Report
, editor

Posted: August 6, 2012

reddirtreporter@gmail.com

OKLAHOMA CITY – It was 67-years ago today that the
American military dropped an atom bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima,
killing 140,000 civilians in a fireball that vaporized many victims.

Three days later, determined to send a second “message”
to the Empire of Japan, another atom bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki.

The argument has long been made that if those two
devastating bombs had not been dropped on those cities, Japan would have
continued their battle against the Allies and US casualties could have reached
as high as 300,000. It was determined that this new weapon – the atom bomb,
releasing “a light brighter than a thousand suns and a firestorm and 600
mph-winds” – was a devastatingly convenient way of ending the war.

But was it really necessary?

Writing for the UK Independent, columnist Phil Strongman wrote a piece titled “Hiroshima
is a war crime that haunts my family, 67 years on
.” In this powerful article,
Strongman reminds readers that everyone from General Eisenhower to Admiral
Nimitz opposed dropping a bomb on Japan. In fact a member of President Truman’s
Chief of Staff publicly stated that the “atomic attacks were of ‘no material assistance
in our war against Japan.’” And that “(t)he Japanese were already ready to
surrender.”

But to the boys in America’s defense industry, a
world-changing toy like an atom bomb would prove too tempting not to use.

Strongman wrote that Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been
largely “left virtualluy free of heavy bombing” during the war so they could
drop atom bombs on them so as to see how “virgin targets” looked after
destroyed by an atom bomb.

Writes Strongman: “US demands for Japanese unconditional
surrender were always unrealistic – and deliberately so. This intentionally
prolonged the war for the sole purpose of testing the atomic bomb on real
cities. These attacks killed thousands, as did delaying the peace.”

He notes that additionally, Stalin would go on to
take Manchuria which led to Chairman Mao seizing China – a “move that later
killed millions.” From there the Korean War was ignited and we know how that
turned out.

And remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki then forces us to transition to the nuclear testing the
American military conducted on atolls in the Marshall Islands.

The radiological legacy of above-ground U.S. nuclear
weapons testing in the Marshall Islands in the 1940’s and 50’s has been rather
devastating. Reading the poetry of noted Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner,
on her Iep Jeltok blog, you see a
thread noting that “legacy,” as in the poem “Bursts of Bianca,” where she
writes about a 10-year-old relative, dying of leukemia, saying “Most
Marshallese / can say they’ve mastered the language of cancer …” For those people, it is a common issue to deal with. Far, far too common.

It all started in 1946 he US Navy first evacuated
167 Bikini Islanders to Rongerik Atoll to make way for Bikini to be used “in
the first post-World War II nuclear weapons tests.”

From then until 1958, with Operation Hardtack,
Marshallese are bounced from atoll-to-atoll, many times just left on islands to
fend for themselves  and offered minimal
compensation. During that time the U.S. detonated nearly 70 nuclear devices on their territory. 

It was during this time that Operation Castle Bravo
took place. This is the notorious hydrogen bomb detonation on Bikini Atoll
that, at 15 megatons, was “1,000 times the strength of the Hiroshima bomb.” It
was bigger, as we noted here, due to the unexpected fissionability of
Lithium-7. Scientists said Lithium-7 was inert and would not cause a problem.
Well, it did and within hours of the test, Marshallese on Rogelap and
Ailinginae atolls are enveloped in a “gritty, white ash” of radioactive
fallout.

The weather forecast had deteriorated in the early
hours of March 1, 1954, but the test – releasing a thermonuclear explosion far bigger
than ever anticipated – went forward. This resulted in numerous atolls being
contaminated, many Marshallese getting sick, along with American servicemen
caught in the fallout. A Japanese fishing boat was also exposed and caused an international
incident. Ironically, Japanese were concerned about contaminated tuna from the test
and would not consume as opposed to now when radioactive seafood is being sold
in Japan and elsewhere in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power plant
disaster of 2011.

In a 2010 article at The Huffington Post headlined “The legacy of U.S. nuclear testing
in the Marshall Islands
” by Robert Alvarez, notes how the U.S. Atomic Energy
Commission (AEC) may have delayed evacuating the Marshallese on Rongelap and
other atolls as a way to study the effects of nuclear fallout on live people.
Of course this was in the days of horrific human radiation experiments and
more. And to think we look back at the 1950's as a happy time. 

Writes Alvarez, noting the racist attitude of
Western scientists towards the Marshallese: “A scientist in a previously secret
transcript of a meeting where they decided to return the Rongelap people to
their atoll stated an island contaminated by the 1954 H-Bomb tests was ‘by far
the most contaminated place in the world.’ He further concluded that, ‘It would
be very interesting to go back and get good environmental data … so as to get a
measure of the human uptake, when people live in a contaminated environment …
Now, data of this type has never been available … White it is true that these
people do not live, I would say, the way Westerners do, civilized people, it is
nevertheless also true that they are more like us than the mice.”

These cold-hearted scientists, linked to the Manhattan Project, saw the innocent
Marshallese as more than mice but not much more. The radiation levels on the exposed
islands and atolls would be underreported for years, allowing for Marshallese
to return to their native lands, only to be further exposed, developing thyroid
cancer, leukemia and other radiation-exposure-linked diseases. The people of Bikini and what they
experienced is featured in a book called For the Good of Mankind: A History of
the People of Bikini and their Islands
. The American military sold the Bikini
people and other Marshallese on the idea that sacrificing their homeland was
for “the good of mankind” and because God wanted it.

There were protests over the years conducted by the Marshallese, against their colonizers and their destructive weaponry. Most notably was 30 years ago this past week - when protesters "forced the cancellation of a missile test" at the Kwajalein Missile Range on Kwajalein Atoll. Read more about that here

Meanwhile, Alvarez concludes in his aforementioned article:  “The people of the Marshall
Islands had their homeland and health sacrificed for the national security
interests of the United States. The Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress should
promptly correct this injustice.”

We agree.

Copyright
2012 Red Dirt Report

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Andrew W. Griffin

Editor & Owner.

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

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