Preliminary Paper Title
The Atomic Archipelago: American Empire and Nuclear Testing in the Pacific
I am a graduate student studying American history. I was drawn to this topic because of my own interest of the region. I grew up in a town and the same house where four generations of my family grew up in. When my great-grandfather moved into that house in 1950, it was a town that was predominately white. The racial demographics changed shortly before I was born. Most of the people that live there now are Southeast Asians, predominately from India and Pakistan. My long family history living in the same town would make me an “insider”, but I was and still am an “outsider”. I became aware of my “outsider” status from a young age and I still feel that way as an adult. I sought an escape from those feelings by reading books. The histories of other civilizations and great explorers has consumed my imagination since I was small. One book that captured my attention was James A. Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific” which I read in high school. There is a chance that I will never be able to visit the Pacific islands, but I hope that this research project can bring these faraway islands to life just like I felt when reading Michener’s fictional book. I want people who come to this page to learn something about what happened on those faraway islands and why it matters today.
My research is focus on three different atolls in the Pacific. The first is Johnston Atoll, which is locate hundreds of miles off southwest of Hawaii. The other two are Enewetak and Bikini Atolls, which are currently part of the Marshall Islands. These islands were used as test sites by the United States after the Second World War because of their geographical distances from large human populations. These nuclear weapons that were tested left their mark on those who live and work in the region. The primary focus is on post-1945, but I will also briefly look at developments that took place before 1945. It is because Johnston Atoll has a greater history that goes back to antebellum America. It will provide further context to America’s role in the region.
- How did the ideas of empire influenced American decision-making to allow nuclear tests to occur on the atolls in the Pacific?
- What are the responsibilities of a nation who commits environmental injustice to the individuals who were harmed inside or outside the perpetrator’s borders?
- How did the nuclear tests in the Pacific changed individual perspectives about their identity as either an insider or outsider within the region?
I will argue that the nuclear tests that were conducted by the United States did not only created environmental injustices such as mandatory migrations and serious illnesses. These tests were not only a symbol of America’s scientific achievements, but they were also a symbol of power of the American Empire in the aftermath of the Second World War. The legacy of these tests remains visible in the 21st century. It is also relevant because of rising sea levels in the Pacific could cause a repeat of the environmental injustices that occurred by nuclear testing decades ago.
I am studying nuclear tests that were done in the Pacific after the Second World War. I want to understand how the dynamics of who was considered and became “insiders” and “outsiders” when the United States established their presence on these atolls. The historical significance is clear. The question about American empire and its legacy in a remote part of the world and its responsibilities to the people who they inflicted environmental injustice upon can provide a transnational approach to study American history. It is also important to consider the effects of these nuclear tests had in the past and today. These effects will also impact what could happen in the future with new concerns brought upon by climate change.