Imagine yourself in your own home surrounded by family and friends, say in celebration of your daughter’s birthday. A stranger walks in, someone who doesn’t know you, let alone care how long you’ve lived in that house. The stranger tells you the world will be a better place if you leave your home.
What he wants to do, the details of which are irrelevant, he says, will be completed in little time. Meanwhile he hands you and your family a bag of provisions and says you will be able to return when what they have to do is completed. You look outside and you see there is a line of vehicles ready to take you away. As you leave, thinking you are doing a noble thing for all peoples of the world – you have been told it was so – an army enters your house.
In the days, weeks, months, and eventually years that follow you eventually find out the truth. You will never see your home again, the home where your ancestors had lived for centuries.
It is a familiar story of displacement. Tweak a few details, add some blood and gore, and you might get an idea of forced exile all over the world. Exile or extermination, those are the only choices.
This one story is slightly different though. It involves a small community of 167 people who had lived in relative peace and with little knowledge of the world beyond their shores. The other side, the strangers, is represented by the military personnel from the US Government, then given the interesting “responsibility” to see to the good of that part of the Pacific soon after the Second World War .
Bikini Atoll, part of the small Marshall Islands Republic, was evacuated of its inhabitants so the United States government could freely conduct numerous nuclear testings from 1946 to 1958. The original inhabitants were relocated to one of the uninhabited atolls and were given provisions to last for a few weeks.
Historical records show that there was available information indicating the high probability that the people in surrounding atolls, including the one on which the exiled people had been placed, could be directly affected by fallout from the tests. The US government went ahead with them anyway.
There are tons of websites and a few books about what was done to the atolls and how the inhabitants were treated afterwards.
Goats on deck of test ship, waiting to be irradiated by the Able test of Operation Crossroads. Source: Delgado, James P., Ghost Fleet: the Sunken Ships of Bikini Atoll, University of Hawaii Press, 1989, p 25.
And yet I had hardly any knowledge of these testings until I came across a news report on 12 December 2008. The US government had just rejected further claims by the people of Bikini Atoll.
It reads: “The US has refused a request by the Marshall Islands to use grant money to compensate victims of the American nuclear weapons testing programme in the western Pacific atoll nation, officials said.
“The US tested 67 nuclear weapons at Bikini and Enewetak atolls from 1946 to 1958 and a Nuclear Claims Tribunal was set up by the two governments to compensate those displaced or suffering health problems due to the tests.”
I was struck by a photo that accompanied the article: a boy on crutches being checked by a presumably American military doctor. The boy had blotches of white all over his limbs, likely radiation burns, and his hair was obviously falling off his young head.
I am fascinated by images. So I decided to find archival footage of the nuclear testings that the US had conducted at Bikini Atoll. There are countless, it turns out, and easily accessible at YouTube.com by typing “Bikini Atoll” or “Atomic Bomb.”
My eyes were filled with horror.
Again and again I saw different angles, different bombs, different names of each bomb or “operation.” A new trend had been started, that of giving names to certified tools of destruction. Operation Crossroads was the first one. Through the years there would be more. A series of insane spectacles of destructive powers.
Film making has been put to great use since it was first invented, first as a tool to document the real world and later as a tool of fabrication. From merely recording what is in front of the camera, film has become a tool to tell a story. And stories can sometimes cover up what is real. A series of semi-related shots here, a voice over slapped on, some music, and presto – you have a nifty piece of propaganda.
Here is a link to one such film, a romanticized view of a people tricked into giving up their homeland.
The voice over declares “The islanders are a nomadic group and are pleased that the Yanks are going to add a little variety to their lives… And here you hear them sing a Marshallese version of ‘You are My Sunshine’…”
Even with such blatant lies, one can have a glimpse of the reality that is being twisted.
The islanders’ supposed show of agreement is evidently choreographed. Totally unbelievable is their response if you listen to how the “translator” is told to explain to them while the American military representative speaks as if to a four year-old.
The US government has a long history of violating the lives of innocent people. This one continues to haunt them, as it should. It should.
An early version of this article appears here.