The U.S. and the Marshall Islands
by Bernice Powell Jackson
(FinalCall.com) -- The Marshall Islands and Micronesia are
half a world away, just about midway between Hawaii and Australia.
Small, low-lying islands and atolls, they were put under U.S.
trusteeship by the United Nations at the end of World War II, having
formerly been under the control of Japan.
Under the terms of the trusteeship, the U.S. was obligated to assist
these two Pacific nations in becoming self-sufficient and independent.
But, in many ways, we have done more harm than good and now the
Marshallese are beginning to tell their stories.
They’re telling their stories because the compact agreement between
the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of
Micronesia, which was signed in 1986, is now up for renegotiation.
They’re telling their stories because since that compact was signed, at
least two studies and reports have been released that show that
Marshallese and Micronesians were not aware of significant factors that
greatly impact their lives and relate directly to their relationship
with the U.S.
First, they were not fully aware of the impact of the nuclear testing
done on their islands from 1946-58. During that time, 67 nuclear tests
were conducted by the United States. Recently declassified documents
show that the radiation from the testing was the equivalent of 10
Hiroshima-sized bombs per week throughout the testing period. As a
result, not only was the health of the people of the Marshall Islands
and Micronesia impacted, so too, were the plants and animals of their
islands and surrounding waters.
Consequently, women from these islands have suffered disproportionate
numbers of miscarriages and births of severely deformed children and
islanders continue to suffer high rates of cancer, tuberculosis and
immune deficiency diseases and even leprosy.
Secondly, another declassified government document, "The Solomon
Report," written by a U.S. government delegation, shows that U.S.
policy, while publicly voicing its role of working with these island
governments toward their independence, privately sought to keep both
nations tied permanently to the U.S. through "strategic economic
dependency." This is partially due to the realization that these nations
are located in a strategically important location for the U.S. military.
Under the compacts signed 15-years-ago, the U.S. agreed to pay the
Marshall Islands $1.1 billion, over the life of the agreement, including
the rent for the U.S.’s use of its largest atoll for missile testing and
compensation for the earlier nuclear testing. But many of the people of
these small islands remain removed from their islands, unable to return,
due to damage done by the testing.
Others, like the 15,000 people from Kwajalein atoll, were moved to
make room for the U.S. army base. Still others find little work, with
the only industry being farming of dried coconut meat, the source of
coconut oil. But the separation of the people from their land has led to
high incidences of alcoholism, depression, teenage pregnancy and
Moreover, the U.S. dollars are not nearly enough to repair their
environment. In addition, they face the rising waters of the ocean due
to global warming, which may mean that many of these islanders will
never be able to return home.
One of the provisions of the compact was that Marshallese and
Micronesian people could move in and out of the U.S. without passports.
That has allowed many of them to seek health care and jobs in the U.S.,
many in Hawaii but as far away as North Carolina, where they work in the
poultry industry. But since Sept. 11, as the Bush administration has
sought to tighten our borders, they are pressing for an end to this part
of the agreement. For people still suffering greatly and for whom health
care is especially critical and often unavailable at home, this would be
For all of these reasons, the people of the Marshall Islands and
Micronesia have applied for full and just compensation for their peoples
and for overturning of unfair provisions in the agreement as these
compacts are currently being renegotiated. This fall, members of
churches from the Marshall Islands are in Washington, meeting with
U.S.-elected leaders and government officials. They need our support.
They need our prayers. They need justice.
(Bernice Powell Jackson is executive director of the Commission for