A traditional—and sustainable—way of eating is just one of many things the US government has stolen from the Bikini community and other Marshallese by conducting 67 atmospheric nuclear tests. Marshallese have lost their culture, their land, and their health.
What does justice, therefore, mean to a community that has lost so much?
Editor’s note: This commentary is part of a roundtable on nuclear injustice.
I commend Franziska Stärk and Ulrich Kühn on calling attention to the important but underappreciated topic of nuclear injustice in their recent piece in the Bulletin. As their article makes clear, many individuals, communities, and countries have faced nuclear-induced injustices over the course of the nuclear age.
Some readers of Stärk and Kühn’s article may disagree over aspects of their assessment of nuclear deterrence or the effects of nuclear weapons in the ongoing war in Ukraine. But there should be little debate over the injustices faced by communities victimized by past nuclear testing and uranium mining. A prime example of nuclear injustice can be found on Kili Island in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a place where I have firsthand experience.
On the day I arrived on Kili Island with two other recent college graduates, our hosts walked us down to the beach. A power boat came ashore, making its way through a channel where the coral that makes up and surrounds the island had been blasted away. One of the fishermen held up a large tuna. He pulled out a knife and cut some of the flesh and gave it to us. I enjoyed the freshest sashimi I had ever tasted to this day.
It turned out, however, that fish, a traditional staple of the Marshallese diet, was not going to be part of mine as I lived and taught elementary school on the island in the early 2000s. The community on Kili, a speck of an island at 200 acres, is inhabited by the Bikini people. In February 1946, the US military governor for the Marshall Islands arrived on Bikini Atoll and asked its residents to temporarily move off their atoll, with its 23 islands and a lagoon full of fish, so the United States could test weapons for “the good of mankind and to end all world wars.” They agreed to leave with the promise they would return.