A Failed Trust


AUGUST 6, 1945, JAPAN: the United States drops a 13 kiloton atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, killing approximately one hundred thousand people. In Nagasaki, three days later, another bomb is dropped, killing nearly seventy thousand people Shortly afterwards. American military and political leaders begin planning Operation Crossroads, designed to demonstrate the effects of atomic explosions on naval vessels.

Two atomic blasts known as Able and Baker, one an air drop and the other underwater, signalled the beginning of Crossroads. The experiment occurred in the Bikini Atoll, then under American control and identified by the U.S. Navy as a prime testing site because of its distance from the U.S. and small population.

A year later, a group of islands previously under a League of Nations mandate to the Japanese-the Marshall Islands along with the Caroline and Mariana Islands [previously under a League of Nations Mandate to the Japanese] became a United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific, administered by the U.S. Two obligations of the Charter required that the U.S.:

* promote the economic advancement and self-sufficiency of the inhabitants, and to this end shall regulate the use of the natural resources; encourage the development of fisheries, agriculture, and industries; protect the inhabitants against the loss of their lands and resources; and improve the means of transportation and communication.

* promote the social advancement of the inhabitants, and to this end shall protect the rights and fundamental freedoms of all elements of the population without discrimination; protect the health of the inhabitants."


Instead, the U.S. government and military have used the islands--which make up an area known as Micronesia that is nearly as large as the U.S. itself--as a test site for advanced nuclear weaponry, frequently relocating island inhabitants to do so. The Marshall Islanders have become guinea pigs for the detonation of at least 66 atomic and hydrogen bombs in the 1940s and '50s.

While much debate about U.S. military safety in nuclear testing has occurred since the publication of the Warren papers, top secret documents detailing government incompetence in insuring the safety of its officers, the inhabitants of Micronesia have been noticeably ignored.

This oversight is all the more inexcusable because the effects of nuclear weapons testing are still being felt by residents of Micronesia. Children carried to full term by Micronesians often go through life plagued with cancerous growths and serious thyroid problems. A common phenomenon on many of the islands is the birth of unhealthy children known as "jellyfish babies," which appear as blobs of flesh whose only indication of life is a spasmodic hopping motion that accompanies breathing.

Despite noted increases in body radiation content among the Micronese from nuclear testing, the United States government continues testing nuclear weaponry and delivery systems in the area. Virtually all of the U.S. inter-continental ballistic missiles, including the Polaris, Minutemen and Trident, have been tested at the Kwajalein Missiles Range in Micronesia.

Most disturbing, such experimentation seems to be an attempt to use the Micronese as subjects to find out the effects of nuclear exposure to humans. As one government report noted in 1957 following the Bravo test of the 15 megaton hydrogen bomb:

"In spite of slight lingering radio-activity" the Atoll Rongelap is safe for habitation. The exposed people from 1954 returned home with more than 200 Rongelap who were taken away from the atoll during the Bravo test. Brook haven National Laboratory doctors called this exposed group "an ideal comparison population for the studies."

Residents of the affected islands in Micronesia have called for compensation for the damages caused for testing and have asked President Reagan to declare a moratorium on testing missiles at Kwajalein Atoll. To date, nothing has come of the discussions.

THE IRONY is that the U.S. was given a trust to improve and care for the islands by the United Nations. But because this region also has strategic priority for the U.S., it is denied the protection usually granted a "protectorate." The U.S. government serves as a benevolent dictator, willing to give aid and food supplies to the Micronesians in exchange for the opportunity to test nuclear weapons on their homelands.

Most recently, the U.S. Pentagon had expressed an interest in using Micronesia for a jungle warfare training bases. Already a site for nuclear waste dumping by the U.S. and other world powers, the islanders have appealed to the United Nations for a voice in their own destiny.

Although the U.S. government ostensibly represents their views, the Micronesians have no representatives in Congress. In March of 1979, the Marshall use established a constitutional government which was approved by popular referendum. A year later the U.S. and Marshall Islands agreed to a pact of free association, giving the Marshall Islands control over their internal and foreign affairs, so long as it does not conflict with U.S. authority for security and defense. Such an agreement is the equivalent of telling an elephant it has the right to fly, knowing that it possess no such capability. As one Micronesia representative remarked:

We have only been promised and provided that we give America our lands for military purposes as listed in the so-called. Free Association Compact. We have been promised and only if we forbid other nations from doing what the United States wants to do with our islands--that is dominate us militarily..."

THE UNITED STATES government, in the instance of Micronesia has perverted the meaning of the word trust, leaving unfulfilled most of the tenets of the U. N. Charter. The quality of life, the excessive exposure to radiation, the threat to future generations of Micronese demands the attention of the international community. The horrors of nuclear fallout should not have to be suffered.

A Nuclear-Free Pacific movement has begun to challenge the escalating military presence in the region. The New England Pacific Coalition, a local network of peace and nuclear disarmament organizations, has kept close attention on the developments in Micronesia. Given the atrocities imposed upon Micronesia for the benefits of U.S. security, the need for greater American concern for the issue cannot be overstated.

(This is a first article in a two-part series. The second piece will appear in Monday's Crimson.)