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BOOK REVIEW: "Don't Ever Whisper" by Giff Johnson

Giff Johnson
"Don't Ever Whisper" by Giff Johnson
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BOOK REVIEW: Don’t Ever Whisper: Darlene Keju – Pacific Health Pioneer, Champion for Nuclear Survivors by Giff Johnson (Create Space) 2013

Full of energy, compassion and a tireless drive to help and seek justice for her fellow Marshall Islanders, Darlene Keju is an inspiring woman who, during her life, wanted to use her skills to help the people of her Pacific island nation – a country that has long been used and abused by the forces of imperialism for many, many years.

This biography of Darlene Keju-Johnson’s remarkable life was actually written by her widower, native Midwesterner Giff Johnson (Nuclear Past, Unclear Future), currently editor of The Marshall Islands Journal, one of our favorite newspapers here at Red Dirt Report.

Chapter one has Johnson writing: “By the time Darlene Keju was born on April 23, 1951, the United States had already detonated seven nuclear weapons at Bikini and Enewetak atolls. Shortly before her third birthday, the U.S. tested ‘Bravo,’ its largest hydrogen bomb … (n)uclear fallout from Bravo exposed many hundreds of islanders, including Darlene, to radioactivity.”

And while Johnson's bio of Darlene ends with her succumbing to cancer, this story is about a life lived to the fullest, despite numerous challenges and health issues.

Growing up primarily on the atoll of Wotje, Darlene would ultimately be educated in Hawaii struggling early on to learn English, having grown up speaking Marshallese.

But she would overcome this while having the characteristics of a person who was “kind of a rescuer,” as one childhood friend recalled. It was as if she knew early on she had a serious mission in life.

“She had that quality about her. She was always laughing. She had a wonderful sense of humor. She was very giving and she brought our family together …”

Being in an urban, Americanized environment in 1970’s Hawaii exposed Darlene - having been raised in a conservative, religious environment where the sight of bikini-clad women made her wonder if they would get into heaven -  to all sorts of ideas including information about America’s dark legacy of testing dozens of nuclear weapons on islands in the Marshall Islands.

By this time, about 1978, Darlene was already dating Giff Johnson and he assisted her in her efforts to interview sick Marshallese suffering from the devastating effects of atomic fallout – something the American government did not want to address. It was really a sickening cover-up by a nuclear power that refused to face up to its brutal inhumanity – particularly towards trusting people who were powerless in the face of America’s military might and overt racism. Essentially the Marshallese people were viewed by the U.S. military as “savages” and guinea pigs they could study.

But Darlene did not want to fall into a rut of self-pity and helplessness. If anything, Darlene was about empowerment and positivity and hard work. Her fearlessness, her constant travel, her new ideas in the face of forces in her country that felt the “traditional” way was the only way, helped blaze a path that would further help her people in an ever-changing world.

And over the course of her life, speaking out against nuclear testing and in support of survivors in international forums, putting together health programs and programs for youth (her pioneering “Youth in Youth in Health” program) in her native country, Darlene Keju-Johnson lived her life to the fullest, up until cancer – likely from her exposure to atomic fallout in the 1950’s – took her life at the age of 45 in 1996.

Broken up in numerous chapters, Giff Johnson, who lives on RMI’s Majuro Atoll, tells Darlene’s story in an easy-to-read and engaging way. In fact, even though he was married to her, you didn’t feel he inserted himself into the story that much, giving the credit to his amazing wife, a woman whose sole desire in her life was to help people, even as she suffered agonizing health problems in her later years.

Don’t Ever Whisper is a wonderful book about an amazing activist and humanitarian. The words adorning her gravestone are “Tuak Bwe Elimajnono” which translates as “Don’t be afraid to make your way through strong ocean currents to get to the next island.”

If only more of us would listen.

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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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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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