BY BEVERLY ANN DEEPE KEEVER, PHD – The House Committee on Human Resources has boldly assembled an illustrious panel for an informational briefing today (Oct. 6) to discuss issues relating to Micronesians from the nuclear-bomb-impacted Pacific.
Those issues include the controversy about the adequacy of federal funding to cover the Micronesians’ medical, social services and other costs now incurred by the near-broke state government.
With the approaching Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, the Committee may be well advised to find a way emphatically to remind President Obama and Hawaii’s Congressional delegation to begin fulfilling long-delayed federal obligations to Micronesians, who bore the brunt of U.S. Pacific nuclear weapons testing decades ago.
In making its recommendations, the state House Committee might consider six findings revealed in my book, News Zero: The New York Times and the Bomb, in which I researched the U.S. Pacific nuclear weapons tests, based on the reporting of the then-renowned newspaper-of-record, the release of declassified government documents and the writings of scholars in many disciplines over decades.
Based on these findings, the Committee would be well advised to take a panoramic, 360-degree view about the plight of today’s Micronesians in Hawaii by considering six key facts.
1. Rather than Hawaii’s government, the federal government is largely responsible for the issues the Committee is addressing and therefore should be held responsible for providing solutions. It is the federal government that made policies, practices and agreements that adversely impacted Micronesians decades ago and continue to impact them in Hawaii and other states today.
2. The U.S. government failed to fulfill adequately its obligations “to protect the inhabitants against the loss of their lands and resources,” when it agreed with the United Nations in 1947 through 1986 to administer the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, which are the homelands of today’s Micronesians.
Instead of protection, the U.S. government for 12 years (1946-1958) conducted 67 atomic and hydrogen atmospheric bomb tests in these islands, with a total yield of 108 megatons, which is 98 times greater than the total yield of all the U.S. tests in Nevada. In short, the total yield of the tests in these islands was equivalent to 7,200 Hiroshima bombs. That works out to an average of more than 1.6 Hiroshima bombs per day for the 12 years of U.S. Pacific nuclear tests in these islands.
3. As sole administrator of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands until 1986, the U.S. government failed to fulfill adequately its obligations “to protect the health of the inhabitants.” Five years after the last hydrogen-bomb test in the islands in 1958, the first thyroid tumors begin appearing among the Rongelap people exposed to the Bravo test in 1954 and a higher than normal incidence of growth retardation among young Rongelap Islanders was noted. Then other diseases presumed by the U.S. government to result from its nuclear testing program began appearing, including multiple kinds of cancers, among other islanders.
4. The U.S. government failed to disclose to the Pacific Islanders whom it was administering material information about its testing program when the U.S. government in the 1980s entered into Compact of Free Association Agreements (COFA) with various island groups that replaced the Trust Territory arrangement. Not until 1994 did the U.S. government respond favorably to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the Republic of Marshall Islands for details about the total number of nuclear weapons tests conducted in its territories as well as the kind and yield of each test.
5. Because of the withholding of material facts and other reasons, the provisions entered into under the COFA are inadequately funded or supported in some cases. For example, the COFA with the Republic of Marshall Islands in 1986 includes an espousal provision prohibiting those inhabitants from seeking future legal redress in U.S. courts and dismissing all current court cases in exchange for a $150 million compensation trust fund.
However, that trust fund is now virtually depleted because of the larger-than-budgeted-for property and health claims. A Marshallese petition to Congress and President Obama, as provided for in the COFA, states that circumstances have changed since their initial agreement and it demands far more in compensation. But their Changed Circumstances Petition (CCP) has gone unheeded.
6. For decades many Micronesians have sacrificed their lifestyles, livelihoods, health, foods, lands and cultures because of the U.S. Pacific nuclear weapons program that made possible the nation’s superpower status today. The Micronesians’ home atolls served as the vital experimental grounds the U.S. needed to detonate nuclear weapons too deadly and unpredictable to be exploded on its mainland and for tests permitting the transition in nuclear delivery systems from conventional bombers to intercontinental missiles.
People throughout the United States are today’s beneficiaries of their government’s policies, practices and agreements that have propelled the nation to superpower status but have also adversely impacted Micronesians.
The House Committee meeting could well serve to make the federal government and Americans generally more aware of the sacrifices of Micronesians and to insist that those sacrifices be adequately funded.
(Beverly Ann Deepe Keever, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of the University of Hawai’i School of Communications; she is expressing her own opinions.)