Tell Me About Your Nuclear Experiences: Blaming American Imperialism and Military For Nuclear Injustice in the Pacific

by Zach Jellison

Site Description:

My research is focused 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.

Author Biography:

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.

Final Report:

I want to recall a childhood memory. My favorite cartoon when I was a kid was SpongeBob SquarePants. SpongeBob SquarePants is a cartoon whose main character lives underwater in a pineapple. The premise is simple enough, but the show might have a darker genesis. Holly M. Barker recently wrote that there is a long-held theory by fans that SpongeBob and his friends were the result of sea creatures being exposed to radiation caused by nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll.[i] Baker writes that film footage from the nuclear tests at Bikini has appeared in SpongeBob and the footage is used by fans as evidence.[ii] At the same time, she points out the word Bikini also appears in the name Bikini Bottom, which is where SpongeBob and his friends call home.[iii] However, Barker wrote that despite the same word being use on screen and in real life, it is unknown if Stephen Hillenburg had any intentions for his cartoon to be made out from a violent genesis.[iv] Regardless of the merits of this fan theory, this cartoon exposed me to the Pacific at a young age. It was when I was older that I had the chance to learn more about the history of the Pacific, which has been a bleak and violent one.

 A children’s cartoon like SpongeBob is something that many people will think as harmless entrainment, but Barker disagrees with that. Barker wrote that SpongeBob has overshadowed the history of Bikini Atoll whose land was used by the American military as a testing site, and now their island is use as a setting for an American cartoon is insulting because it prevents people from seeing the perspective of the indigenous community who were impacted by America’s occupation of Bikini.[v] It is true that the indigenous community on Bikini Atoll and other islands in the Pacific were deeply impacted by America’s nuclear actions, but she fails to speak about another group of people who were impacted by the nuclear tests. Those individuals were the servicemen who went to an atoll that is not as well-known as Bikini call Enewetak in the late 1970s to clean up that radiated island to allow the indigenous community to return home. These two groups were victims to America’s nuclear program that even though the tests have stopped for decades, its impact on these men and women continues to this day.

The Pacific was scarred by outsiders who came and established their presence on her islands and her people during the twentieth century and has left an impact that remains visible in the twenty-first century. This region became an important military front during the Second World War, which were the United States of America and the Japanese Empire fought for supremacy over the region that costed the lives of hundreds of thousands. These experiences would be remembered by the indigenous communities of this region, which one anthropologist later wrote about the history of the people of Enewetak that the war between the United States and Japan that even years later, the battle of Enewetak invoked sadness and negative memories of the conflict.[vi] However, the Second World War was only the beginning of the violence and upheaval that would occurred in this region. It was the beginning of what would follow as decades of entrenched American involvement within the region, to the point where Pacific Ocean was noted as part of America’s sphere of influence.[vii]

The Second World War brought the end to tens of millions of lives, but it also led to the creation of a new powerful weapon called the atomic bomb. Its creation was kept as a secret by the United States government that many Americans only became aware of the existence of the atomic bomb when two were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, and from then on it was subjected to massive curiosity and public interest.[viii] This novel weapon was unlike anything that mankind ever invented up until that point in history, which leads to many questions about its ability. Even though these weapons were used on two populated cities, the United States military and government decided to carry out weapons tests in order to understand more about these powerful and destructive weapons.[ix] The United States conducted over one hundred nuclear tests in the Pacific, which came to an end with the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963, which put an end to nuclear tests on land and sea.[x] It is noble for anyone who wants to learn something that they do not know about, but even there are some educational lessons that should be proceed with caution because of the risks involved with dangerous inventions.

The massive interest and influence that America’s nuclear program has had on her post-1945 history has resulted in a massive histography that has examined many perspectives about this program and its impact on the United States and around the world. The stateside histography has focused on the wartime creation of the atomic bombs. The atomic bomb became subjected to intense media coverage, which in the early years focused on the novelty of this weapon.[xi] The Nevada desert became a testing ground for nuclear weapons in the 1950s in order to cut down on costs and to provide simpler logistics, which were two of the main problems with testing nuclear weapons thousands of miles away in the middle of the ocean.[xii] At the same time, scholars have focused their attention on other aspects that made the nuclear bombs themselves. The town of Richland in Washington state was home to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation that produced plutonium for America’s nuclear program during and after the Second World War, but it came at a heavy price to the men and women who worked and lived near this facility.[xiii] This paper’s main concern and topic is not about America’s stateside atomic program, but it is important to mentioned it because the actions that took place on American soil influenced and impacted what occurred on some remote Pacific islands thousands of miles away.

The atomic bomb was invited in the United States, but it is important to state that Micronesia became the most-famous location for nuclear tests after the end of the Second World War. The atomic bomb entangled politics in the region, which lead to debates about political self-determination between the United States government and the people of Micronesia who wanted to determine their own future and not allow the United States to unilateral dictate what that future would be. However, even with negotiations between the two during the late 1960s and early 1970s, which later resulted in Micronesia’s political independence in the 1980s, it is difficult to say if the political dynamics between an empire and its former possessions has changed all that much.[xiv] Politics always ends up have an impact on not a person, but also a community. There is a lot of work done by historians and other scholars who have focused on the indigenous communities who lived in the region. These scholars have produced works that allows individuals such me who have not experienced these communities and their culture up-close, which provides details about their history and cultural practices. At the same time, it is from these sources that we can see how the nuclear tests impacted these communities.[xv] It is worth mentioning that anthropological studies on the Marshallese were conducted by American men, which have led to criticism by Barker about gender and racial bias.[xvi] However, recent scholarship has attempted to provide these gaps, such as Michelle Keown’s analysis on the works by Marshallese poet and activist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner.[xvii] No scholar is perfect, and but every scholar strives to their absolute best to tell history and the people impacted by historical events with candor and objective.

Finally, I must address one final topic that historians and other scholars have examined that needs to be mentioned here. It is the “atomic veterans”, who served in the military during the 1940s and 1950s and witnessed the atomic bombs been tested not only in the Pacific, but also in mainland United States.[xviii] Years later, these men would fight a public battle to be recognized by the federal government for their service and receive medical benefits, which was done in violation of a code of silence that was only lifted in after the Cole War.[xix] These men were exposed to radiation have had health issues and died prematurely which they claimed were the result of their exposure to nuclear fallout.[xx] I am not focused on this particular group in this essay, but I am obligated to mention them here as a way to detail the extensive histography that exist about this historical topic and region.

At the same time, scholars should be direct with their audiences about their own limitations. I will state here that I have never gone to the Pacific. I have also never met with someone from the indigenous community from the Pacific. However, I have contact with two individuals who were part of the Enewetak cleanup project, which one of them granted me permission to use his photos as part of this research assignment.[xxi] I might receive criticism for not meeting with someone who comes from the indigenous population, but I hope to bring what these men and women experienced to a larger audience whose stories are worth listening and reading to all people who are concerned about environmental injustices. The approach that I am taking is to examine news interviews and other reports about both groups  At the same time, there is always someone who gets blame for creating these injustices that can have an impact of not just a single person, but also a community of people.  

This paper will be a comparative history that examines two groups who were impacted by the United States’ nuclear program, who each group blames for their suffering and injustice, and how each group told their stories. They are the indigenous communities of Bikini and Enewetak whose islands were used as a testing site for the United States military for decades. The second group will be the servicemen who cleaned up Enewetak. These men and women shared a common place and time in history as being witnesses to weapons that had the potential to bring an end to human civilization. The indigenous communities blame American imperialism for being responsible for their suffering and injustice to their land and way of life. The servicemen who cleaned up Enewetak blame the United States military and feel betrayed by the military who withhold information about the effects that came from these nuclear tests.

Before examining what the indigenous communities in the Marshall Islands have say about their suffering, it is worth to take a step back to examine what was American imperialism at the conclusion of the Second World War. Daniel Immerwahr recently wrote that America has undertaking steps to become an empire throughout her history. However, technological developments in the twentieth century that forced empires to adapt to the world around them. Immerwahr wrote that empires no longer had to relied on imperial tactics to acquire resources because of the ability to move from one place to another became standardized by the international community.[xxii] At the same time, large colonies were beginning to push for self-government and any attempts to crushed theses nationalistic sentiments would have been difficult for an empire to put down.[xxiii] Immerwahr used the Philippines as an example of a large colony that the United States had controlled prior to the Second World War and fought her people in order to established American control at the cost of thousands of lives.[xxiv] In short, the United States could no longer rely on old tactics to maintain her empire. Instead, she had to adapt to the world around her with new tactics and apply them to her current and new territorial possessions.

The period of decolonization that came in the aftermath of the Second World War was a development that allowed millions of people to have the opportunity to determine their future. However, decolonization did not occur in every part of the world and in some places the dominant influence of empire grew stronger.[xxv] At the same time, the appearance of the American empire was changing. Immerwahr referenced other recent scholars who have wrote that the American empire began with a pointillist approach that expanded rapidly after the end of the Second World War, where the United States would control military bases and small islands across the world.[xxvi] For the inhabitants of these small islands, any attempts to resist American’s empire would have been pointless and counterproductive to their own economic and political developments.[xxvii] It would have been best to accept and deal with America’s presence and her imperial activities, rather than put up a fight against an imperial superpower.

American imperialism activity in the Pacific was framed by the United States as not as of malicious intent, but as activities of benevolence that would improve the lives of the people within Micronesia. The region was placed under a trusteeship controlled by the United States and was given the authority to rule over the region. The United States had to “promote the economic advancement and self-sufficiency of the inhabitants, and to this end […] protect the inhabitants against the loss of land and their resources.”[xxviii] In this section, the United States had to abide to being a protector of people of Micronesia whose political and economic developments were much weaker compared to the United States, who was given at the time a region that was seen as economically and politically behind.[xxix] In short, it was clear that the United States was not allowed to be an exploiter and take advantage of their power on powerless subjects. At the same time, the United States had to “promote the social advancement of the inhabitants, and to this end shall protect the rights and fundamental freedoms of all population without discrimination; protect the health of the inhabitants.”[xxx] A modern scholar would read this and concluded that the United States still had the imperial attitude that the local population needed outsiders to help them manage their own affairs. It is a paternalistic attitude that would be consider as unacceptable and insulting by our current perspectives. At the same time, the history of the Pacific after 1945 did not always reflect what the expectations that were in the trusteeship in comparison to what the United States has done in the region.

The Marshall Islands, an archipelago of small islands that were thousands of miles away from the United States became subject to this policy by the United States after the Second World War because these islands fit the description that Immerwahr, and also the United States government have pointed out in their works. Bikini and Enewetak were used as test sites were small, and lightly populated, which would had lessened the chances for impact on communities and individuals from nuclear tests.[xxxi] At the same time, the Marshall Islands at the time was under the control of the United States, which modern scholars see as convenient location for the United States to pick as a nuclear test site.[xxxii] Regardless if the Marshall Islands were selected for America’s own convenience or it was selected because of its remoteness does not matter. The decision to select the Marshall Islands benefitted the interests of the United States, but that would not be the case for the indigenous communities in the region.

The indigenous community blames American imperialism and her military for their suffering. American imperialism and her military activities uprooted their own cultural practices and beliefs that existed in their communities. The United States used Bikini and Enewetak as test sites that were going to benefit the American empire and her military, however it was at the determent of the small communities who lived on those islands who faced the destruction of their way of life.

From the beginning, it was clear that the relationship between the United States and indigenous communities was going to be unequal, with the indigenous communities being dominated by the United States. Kilon Bauno lived on Bikini at the time the United States selected Bikini to be used as a test site and was interviewed in the early 1980s, which he recalled his memories about the day the Americans came to there island in the documentary Radio Bikini.[xxxiii] Bauno spoke to the camera in a language that is not English, so the audience is relied on the subtitles at the bottom of the screen. Bauno recalled that an American said that “He [the American] was the most powerful man in the world.”[xxxiv] This statement by that unnamed American demonstrates how the United States and her military saw themselves as all-powerful in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. It is possible that the American told Bauno this statement as a rhetorical tactic in order to inform that the people of Bikini were better to just do what the United States and her military wanted them to do. If that was the case, it was blunt and direct.

The people of Bikini did not have the power say no to the United States and tell them to go somewhere else to conduct their atomic tests.[xxxv] The inability of the people of Bikini to have the opportunity to dissent the United States is another example of how unequal the relationship was. What the United States wanted to do was simple, they wanted to drop an atomic bomb and island of Bikini had to be clear of permeant inhabitants in order to make it work.[xxxvi] At the same time, this statement was demonstrated with force. Bauno recalled that on the day he and the other residents of Bikini left their island “We looked back and saw them burning our houses. They burned everything-even the outriggers we had to leave behind.”[xxxvii] This action of the American empire burning homes on the Bikini is a symbolic act. The first way that it is symbolic was that it was a foreshadow to the Bikinian’s forced expulsion from their island that continues into the twenty-first century, and their descendants believe that they will never go back to Bikini.[xxxviii] At the same time, Bauno wants to focused on his loss of his home and his island, which were caused by America’s imperial desires to understand the atomic bomb.

While the United States used words and force to make it clear to the people of Bikini who was in charge, the United States also used other means of technology to establish and maintain the unequal power relationship. However, the United States did not need to use physical violence on the people of Bikini, but they instead used cinematography to enforce their dominance, and present an image of American power. Bauno recalled being filmed by the United States, “We [the indigenous community from Bikini] really didn’t know what was going on. We were very confused. They were taking pictures of us […] I could not understand why they had to-do everything so many times.”[xxxix] This moment also demonstrates that the indigenous community could not consent to what they were partaking in. It did not help that they had no idea about what a camera was, which also demonstrates the unequal relationship between the people of Bikini and the United States.[xl]

At the same time, the camera also demonstrates that the United States could determine what the United States wanted to present themselves. Even though Bauno did speak about his own memories of being filmed is worth taking seriously, there is also video footage that exists to back up Bauno’s words. There were multiple takes for one scene where a military official tried to explain that the United States wanted to turn the atomic bomb, a weapon capable of unimaginable destruction as something that will benefit everyone.[xli] Again, the United States had the ability to redo takes in order to project a certain image of themselves to a larger audience that did not live on the atolls of the Marshall Islands. In short, the filmed discussion between American officials and the community of Bikini was not honest, but instead it was a staged production directed by the United States with most of their actors unsure what was going on.[xlii] Even though Buano does not come out directly to say that the United States was acting like an empire, America’s actions lead to the expulsion of the powerless people of Bikini off their island to allow the United States test their newly-developed atomic weapons.

American imperialism can be blamed for the cultural uprooting that occurred for the communities who left Bikini and Enewetak, and the result was that these communities became dependent on American imperialism in order to survive during their banishment. The Marshall Islands and most of the other islands that exist in the Pacific are tiny. Tobin wrote in a field report to the United States about the idea of land held by the indigenous communities, “The Marshallese jealously guard their land rights and will not willing part with them.”[xliii] This belief of land ownership that is held tightly that “It is unheard of for one person to sell family land. If an individual loses land rights there is no place to turn because no land is available. This begins to explain the enormity of the misfortunes that befell the Bikini people […] and the Eniwetok people in 1947.”[xliv] Williams is not a member of the ingenious community, but he was likely told by the Enewetak community about what happened to tjem from their native atoll. This community lived on another atoll call Ujelang that was previously unhabitable because of the lack of resources to sustain basic needs and the inability to construct canoes in order to gather fish from the lagoon.[xlv] They were removed from their island, which is unusual for communities in the Marshall Islands to leave and go somewhere else. The Enewetak community, just like the ones who were on Biniki did not want to leave their island but had no choice in the matter.[xlvi] They had to make room for the American empire, but they would lose more than just their land.

Although land is an important concept to the Marshallese people, there are other concepts that are important to this community that were impacted by America’s nuclear program. One important cultural practice that appears in Marshallese communities is music. Ali Raj recently wrote about how important singing is for these communities “For centuries, the people of the Marshall Islands have told their history through song. They sang of unrequited love, sea voyages, marine life, faith, family legends.”[xlvii] However, that tradition is under threat because of the legacy of America’s imperial project. Raj wrote that thyroid disorders have been documented in the Marshall Islands since the 1960s, which resulted from fallout by America’s nuclear tests.[xlviii] There have been several musicians form the Marshall Islands who have thyroid disorders. Justina Langidirk had her thyroid removed because of cancer, but despite she regained some of her signing ability, her health has made it difficult for her to teach young people the tradition of singing that have existed for generations.[xlix] Even more current-day signers have had to face the impact that thyroid disorders have on their ability to sing. Carlton Abon also had surgery to remove a cancerous nodule from his throat, and was forced to stop his music career, which he was noted for his combination of traditional and modern musical elements in his songs.[l] These individuals had an important skill that has keep the traditions of past generations alive, but were limited because of the effects of the atomic bomb.

The indigenous community’s inability to teach the tradition of passing history through song from one generation to the next has led to questions about if this tradition can survive into the future. Abon’s musical oeuvre can only be heard from a handful of radio stations and taxis in the capital city of Majaro.[li] The limited audience that can listen to the radio does explains who is not listening to this Marshallese traditional. At the same time, Raj wrote that “As is true elsewhere, a younger generation of Marshall Islanders has shunned the songs of their parents and embraced more modern sounds.”[lii] However, Raj does not explain what music are popular with young Marshallese. It begs to knows what the young people are listening to in the Marshall Islands. It is possible that the young people have turned to other sounds of music is related to the fact that Abon’s songs are only heard by a small audience in a single geographical space. Are they turning to American music? It is tough to say. However, these musicians are left with scars brought by American imperialism. “Sometimes I [Langidrik] wonder why all the people in the U.S. are not aware,” she said, “of what their government has done to these tiny islands.”[liii] Langidrik’s remarks put the blame on the United States for causing their suffering. Not only did their imperial project of nuclear testing, not only got them sick, but more importantly, it resulted in the destruction of a valued tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation.  It is possible that future generations of Marshallese will not learn their history from song, but from history books and newspapers. It is because the voices of their ancestors were taken away by the atomic bomb.  

The United States has not dropped a bomb on the Marshall Islands in decades, however, younger generations who have not experienced the atomic bomb firsthand continue to blame their current moment. Children took turns for a presentation that contained images of victims who were affected by the atomic fallout, with one slide saying “’Castle Bravo is an example of arrogance.’”[liv] These children might know individuals who were impacted by the atomic tests, but even at a young age these students are taught to know what the United States did to their homeland, and that is connected to their future. These attitudes were put into words on the presentation. These children are influenced by the attitudes of those who are around them such as family members and teachers.

Marshallese are still diagnosed with cancers that are related to radiation in the twenty-first century.[lv] Cancer is not the number one cause of death in the Marshall Islands. The United States has for decades sent millions in aid to the Marshall Islands, including food. However, the food aid consists of processed food, and has resulted in more Marshallese dying from obesity and diabetes than cancer.[lvi] This is a continuation of observations by Tobin decades before when writing about how the community on Ujilang and other communities have always depended on imported food for generations.[lvii] There is agreement that the Marshallese’s dependence on outside  despite the goodwill nature of the United States to provide aid, it has been counterproductive because of the bad health effects that become rampant in Marshallese society. The food aid has made the Marshallese fat and sick, but it is just one example of decades of political decision-making has resulted in the Marshallese and other become depended on food aid on the United States.[lviii] Dependency does not teach people to empower themselves, but instead makes them trapped in a repeating cycle of victimhood, something that has gone for decades in the Marshall Islands.

Even children must deal with this conflict of who is at fault for has gone on in the Marshall Islands within their own history. One of them is Marshallese-American Limbuk Ackley, who said “It’s hard to take in what my mom’s ancestors had gone through and my dad’s ancestors had done to inflict problems.”[lix] She does not blame her dad, but she blames generations before him whose actions have caused pain and destruction on the Marshall Islands that has gone on for decades. Despite all the horrors that have occurred within this region, it led to Ackley’s existence in history. However, Ackley was the product of the encounters between the American empire and the Marshallese communities in the Pacific. Not only does she had to deal with the legacy of America’s past, but even at a more personal level, her own of existence.

The Marshallese communities blamed American imperialism for the problems that they experienced for over seven decades. They had to give up their land, health, and other cultural practices for the United States to test their military prowess and scientific products that came together as the atomic bomb. For decades, the people of Bikini have yearned to return home to as Bauno referred as “paradise”.[lx] That has continued today, and the emotions still hold strong in the hearts and minds of the Bikini people. Alson’s nonagrian aunt stills ask her nephew when they will go back to Bikini, but he knows because of the nuclear tests that occurred at Bikini, no one will be allowed to live on Bikini again.[lxi] Their island was radiated by America’s goal to understand the atomic bomb in order to make the world a safer place. However, the indigenous communities in the Marshall Islands did not find any peace and instead, lost their identity and cultural practices because of the effects of the atomic bomb. However, that cannot be said to the community that was forced off Enewetak.

It is realistic to say that all United States has caused enormous suffering and cultural upheaval to the Marshallese since the 1940s. The United States in the past has attempted to resolve some of the problems that they have caused, but at the end only to create new problems. It was during the 1970s that the United States allowed the people of Bikini to return to their island, but they were forced to leave again once more because of high radiation levels.[lxii] At the same time, the people of Enewetak successfully pressured the United States to return the island back to local, indigenous control and later, the United States began a cleanup project of the atoll to allow the indigenous community to return home.[lxiii] The United States sent thousands of American servicemen to Enewetak on a mission that was described by the Defense Nuclear Agency in a report completed after the clean up as a “great humanitarian effort”.[lxiv] A person reading this report might think that the United States was being a good steward of environmental justice and being a compassionate empire for taking action to correct an environmental injustice. However, the servicemen who served time at Enewetak to do this goodwill act for the indigenous community had their own opinions about their experiences. Unlike the indigenous community who blame American imperialism for their suffering, these servicemen instead talk about their own anger and betrayal by their military who sent them into harm’s way, despite the military knew about the effects of radiation exposure.

The servicemen who cleaned up Enewetak when they speak about their experiences focused on what they were not told by the military. Gary Pulis has been interviewed at least twice, and he had to worry about his experiences at Enewetak for nearly four decades. One journalist wrote that “Gary’s disillusioned, even pissed off, with the Army. It had to know the hazards he’d be facing at Enewetak. Yet he was never told about the Japanese near Hiroshima and Nagasaki […] Nor was he told about the residents of several Nevada and Utah towns who were downwind from some A-bomb tests conducted above ground […] Gary was even told about the GI’s who had duty on Enewetak […] and who are now coming down with cancer themselves.”[lxv] Even the journalist does not directly quote Pulis in this section, it is clear that Pulis told Rees was angry that the military should had informed him with a history lesson. Instead, Pulis had to worry that his exposure could one day resulted with him dying prematurely with cancer, which is a lot to consider at twenty years old.[lxvi] At the same time, Rees does not mentioned once in this article about what happened to the indigenous community and their battle with thyroid disorders that were being recorded since the 1960s, which leads to believe that Pulis was not even told about that either. Instead, Pulis was kept in the dark by his own military about the dangers these men were facing. However, Pulis would say in another interview decades later when discussing about his time at Enewetak, that “the men [servicemen] knew the nuclear tests had occurred, but were told that “the radiation there was the same as the background radiation in Denver,” he says. “Which, we found out later, was a crock.”[lxvii] Pluis’ anger has not changed, he is angry that the military was not honest about telling him about what he was working in. He did not receive the dreaded fate of getting cancer that he feared as a young man, but Pulis has had to deal with a chronic cough and skin problems around his body, which he believes was caused by his time at Enewetak.[lxviii]

While the absence of historical knowledge does play a part about a current situation such as the cleanup project, these servicemen also focused their blame on the military for not taking precautions to protect them from radiation exposure. Many servicemen who cleaned up at Enewetak only have few memories of seeing someone wearing yellow hazmat suits. Pluis recalled that military personnel followed a camera crew closely when they came to film a segment for 60 Minutes about the cleanup, and the camera crew filmed workers in hazmat suits.[lxix] Tim Snider recalled that during his time at Enewetak that he only wore a pair of shorts and a hat, except for one time he had to wear a yellow hazmat suit when he was filmed by the military and “I never saw one of those suits again,” […] “It was just propaganda.”[lxx] Snider’s word choice to describe that experience demonstrates his own feeling of betrayal that he was denied protection from radiation exposure. The military wanted to present themselves in a certain image, just as it did when speaking to the people of Bikini decades before. The rare usage of radiation suits in both Pluis and Snider’s recollections reveals an environmental injustice of these men faced while attempting to resolve the original environmental injustice. Their injustice was not being protected by the radiation, which should had been the military’s responsibility to establish safety measures to protect these men.

The servicemen speak about how the lack of enforcements of safety precautions during their time. it is worth to consider an image taken from the cleanup. The photograph that is provided was owned by Alan Leeman, who worked at Enewetak and this photo was taken in January 1978.[lxxi] Leeman could not recall the names of these two gentlemen, or if they have had gotten sick and died.[lxxii] This is not the only photo that Leeman had in his private collection, but hundreds of photographs that were in his possession including this one that are uploaded online.[lxxiii] However, the juxtaposition between the two men are striking. There is one man who is wearing a radiation suit, and there is another man who is shirtless and only wearing short pants. It is difficult to make out the facial expressions given by the shirtless man because the vehicle that is behind him covers his face.[lxxiv] The shirtless man is clearly looking at the man wearing the radiation suit. What are the reasons for this? Servicemen such as Plius and Snider have quoted that radiation suits were rarely seen, and that it was on rare occasions that they appeared in their recollections. It is possible that this photo was taken to document a rare moment during the clean-up because most of Leeman’s other photos that were uploaded online show shirtless men working without radiation suits.[lxxv] Maybe the shirtless man could not look away from the radiation suit. The vehicle that is behind these two men appears in the background can tell us something about this clean-up. The vehicle’s presence symbolized the United States’ capability to undertake the endeavor to clean up Enewetak and return it back to the indigenous community. The United States spent tens of millions of dollars to undertake this endeavor, including over three million dollars just to ship the equipment that was used during the cleanup project at Enewetak. The United States military also spent four and half million dollars to maintain the equipment that they shipped to Enewetak.[lxxvi] That vehicle was just one piece of equipment, and it is here that the United States was going to adjust the environment of Enewetak to accomplish its mission to the people of Enewetak. It was these men who would have to complete the task, but they were not provided the safety equipment to protect themselves.  

The servicemen who cleaned up Enewetak feel betrayed by their own military who failed to provide them protection from nuclear waste. However, the military’s own story about the cleanup contrasted the servicemen’s stories when discussing about what the military was doing in order to clean up Enewetak. The final report that was completed after the cleanup of Enewetak went into extensive details about the safety precuations that were taken by the United States.[lxxvii]The article mentions a military officer who according to the authors boasted that “no one has received radiation in excess of allowable limits. And those limits are 10 times more rigid than for individuals working with radioactive materials back in the States.”[lxxviii] At the same time, there was another officer who was quoted saying “so far [at the time the article was published] the troops have been exposed to basically zero radiation” because of the stringent protective measures.”[lxxix] These two direct quotes both came from military officials who were interviewed for Airman, which is the official magazine for the United States Air Force.[lxxx] The aim for this magazine article is to provide its readers, which are Air Force servicemen, a good image of what their fellow servicemen are doing. They would not mention that the servicemen who were cleaning up Enewetak were denied protection from radioactive materials.

 The feeling of betrayal that is felt by the servicemen who cleaned up Enewetak is the contrast to the what the military has downplayed what occurred to these men. Again, the military states that they did took all precautions to protect the servicemen who were cleaning up Enewetak.[lxxxi] It would be terrible for the morale of entire American military, who would had known that some of their fellow comrades were dealing with an invisible monster that was going to get these men sick. In short, the military does not blame itself for what occurred during the cleanup at Enewetak. Instead, they presented this idea of upholding safety in high regard to Congress, but reality, it contradicted documents that stated that measurements from radiation badges were not correct and no urine tests were conducted on the servicemen.[lxxxii] The result of the military’s inability to take responsibility they decided leave these servicemen with the feelings that they were betrayed by the military they served. Mike Horton, another servicemen who cleanup at Enewetak was interviewed, and he said, “If Congress had known the truth, they would had shut the operation down.”[lxxxiii] Horton blames the military who conducted this project in an unethical manner and fails to provide protection to these men. He also believed that Congressional intervention might had put an end to the injustice that the military put him and other servicemen in at Enewetak. However, it is difficult to discuss what-ifs when dealing with history because it is impossible to know what could happen differently at Enewetak if the environmental injustices were known to the American people.

The United States military has dodges their own shortcomings at the Enewetak cleanup project, despite the personal testimonies from the servicemen who cleaned up Enewetak felt betrayed by their own military who failed to protect them from radiation exposure. However, there has been some people who have reacted strongly to this injustice, even if national media has only become interested what happened at Enewetak in the 1970s in the past few years. The Enlisted Times, an underground military newspaper that was published in the late 1970s ran stories about what was going on at Enewetak. However, at the same time, this newspaper allowed Enewetak participants and other servicemen to write their own opinions about what they were reading. One serviceman wrote “I [Phillip Cloutier] received more information in 20 minutes reading your [Shelley Buck and Steve Ross] article than I did in five months of working in the radioactive shit that is there. My thanks […] and I hope to read more about the radiation hazards and what we […] can expect in five, 10, or 25 years.”[lxxxiv] This servicemen also felt that the military did not do enough on their part to provide information about what he was cleaning up at Enewetak. Cloutier’s words are quite calm for a man who underwent that experience and knowing that his own comrades in the military did more than the upper echelons of the military who ordered Cloutier and thousands of men to clean up a radioactive island. Who would not feel betrayed by someone who put you in harms’ way, and at the same time denied it. That is what happened to these servicemen who cleaned up Enewetak.

It is evident that even though the indigenous communities in the Marshall Islands blame American imperialism for their suffering and the destruction of their way of life. At the same time, the servicemen who cleaned up Enewetak feel betrayed and blame the United States military for exposing them to radiation and failed to protect them from nuclear exposure. These two groups were victims to a nation that was focused on projected itself as an empire following the end of the Second World War during a historical moment where the United States was in competition with the Soviet Union over who would reign supreme in terms of military domination. For the United States to win, it needed her servicemen to carry out the mission. However, these men were put into harm’s way and they feel that they were betrayed by their military, and some are left to face their injuries and suffering alone without the government’s recognition that these men were exposed to radiation.


Figure 1- Alan Leeman, untitled, January 1978, photograph, Atomic Cleanup Vets Enewetak Atoll Atomic Debris Cleanup Mission Survivors,

The United States conducted atomic tests during a historical moment that has time moves forward and away from our present moment. It has been almost three decades since the United States last tested a nuclear weapon, and it appears that these powerful weapons that helped define an era of American history appears to be a relic from a bygone era.[lxxxv] Every American Presidents from George H.W. Bush to Barack Obama agreed to keep a nuclear test ban in place during their time in office.[lxxxvi] This decision was an important step to recognize that the United States is aware that nuclear weapons are dangerous, and the risks outweigh the benefits. It has been argued that if the United States would resume nuclear testing, other nuclear states would feel that they must also improve their nuclear arsenal.[lxxxvii] The end result could lead to a nuclear arms race between nuclear nations, and the outcome could be disastrous for all of humanity.

The United States in recent years has taken steps to not repeat testing her nuclear programs and as time goes on, the nuclear bomb and radiation has become only a historical moment that has passed. However, recent events that have occurred outside the United States has remined the United States and the world about the dangers that are associated with nuclear weapons. The first was the nuclear power plant failure that occurred at Fukushima, Japan in 2011 which was reported that exposure to radiation particles was at minimal, only to be contrasted with other official reports that stated that radiation levels at Fukushima were much higher than what the Japanese government reported.[lxxxviii] It is still too early to tell what will happen to the people who were exposed at Fukushima, but previous historical examples have provided grim outcomes for those who were exposed to radiation. Fukushima is a more recent example to reminds us of what happened in the Pacific during the Cold War. However, the Cold War has been over for decades, but Fukushima reminds us today about the incredible power that nuclear weapons and energy and that the consequences of not using these resources and weapons responsibly.

Although the days of testing nuclear weapons on atolls are now part of a bygone era, it is important to not forget history. Humanity knows how these weapons can impact a single person, a community, and even an entire nation. It is vital for not only historians but for all people to remember the past. There is something that can be done to remind future generations of what happened in the Pacific. It has been mentioned before that students in the Marshall Islands do learn about their nuclear past, but what about here in America. It turns out that students in California are not taught about America’s nuclear tests that she conducted in the Pacific.[lxxxix] This is a problem because it reflects two things. The first is that history is being forgotten in the classroom, and second, its absence reflects ideas of privilege that Americans have about their empire and military who have committed grave injustices towards the environment and the people who exist in them. It might had been talked about in the classroom had these injustices happened here in America, rather than on atolls in the Pacific.

Finally, government action needs to be taken to provide relief for the servicemen who Enewetak. The actions that the government and military have taken in relations to their nuclear program and the damages would seems hypocrite. However, there is currently a bill in the House of Representatives that would grant servicemen who cleaned up Enewetak healthcare benefits.[xc] The sponsor of this bill, Congresswoman Grace Meng remarked that “my hope is that Congress can will finally right this wrong, and help the men and women who sacrificed their youth and health in service of this great nation.”[xci] This small action might not remove all the feelings of hurt and betrayal that these men have felt, as servicemen Paul Laird who said “I love my country, I’d fight for it,” […] “But why do they [the military] just use us and forget about it.”[xcii] This bill, if passed by Congress, would be a clear statement to these men that their service will not be forgotten, and they will be taken care for by the United States.

Although the servicemen who cleaned up Enewetak are currently facing the anguish of their experiences and fighting for their own suffering to be recognized by the United States government, there is a new threat that the Marshallese are facing with now. The threat is climate change. It is a continuation of the plights of the Marshallese people that has lasted for decades. Recent articles and documentaries about the Marshall Islands have documented what rising sea levels are doing to the Marshall Islands. The Runit Dome was not designed by the military to withstand climate change, as climate change was not considered to be a threat to mankind in the 1970s.[xciii] It is an example of how governments and other systems of bureaucracies are not the best to address issues as complex as radiation, or to give a modern example such as climate change. However, past decisions can impact what will occur in the future. There are great concerns that the Dome could leak radioactive materials into the Pacific, and that would lead to an environmental disaster in the Pacific and it is something that Kelen fears could happen if the Dome fails completely.[xciv] Kelen and other people who lived on the Marshall Islands will without question be affected by the damages if the Runit Dome does fail. Kelen believed that climate change is similar to nuclear weapons because there are nations such as the United States who benefits and that there are other countries such as the Marshall Islands who do not benefit.[xcv] Even decades after the Marshall Islands were used as nuclear test site, the indigenous communities still blames American imperialism for their own suffering.  

Climate change does not only change the environment such as rising sea levels, but climate change can impact people on the ground to the point where migration is the best option for survival. Land ownership is an important cultural idea to the indigenous communities in the Marshall Islands and it has been difficult for this communities to leave their land again and again for decades. Kelen knows that climate change will eventually force him to have to leave the Marshall Islands.[xcvi] He explains that rising sea levels will kill the entire underwater ecosystem which him and other Marshallese depended on to survive, and they cannot become farmers because land is limited in the Pacific.[xcvii] Kelen could one day join the Marshallese diaspora who have left to have gone to the empire that did them wrong decades ago, the United States. There are around thirty-thousand Marshallese who currently live in the United States as of 2018 who have come to seek better economic opportunities and to escape the effects of climate change.[xcviii] It is possible that more people from the Marshall Islands will migrate to the United States for the same reasons in the future. However, these migrations were caused by America’s actions in the Pacific decades ago. It is quite ironic that the Marshallese would turn to the United States, but even despite all the benefits that are legally binding by the Compact of Free Association, such as allowing Marshallese to immigrate to the United States without a visa and allow students to receive federal money to attend college, and to serve in the military because it enforces the United States remains a powerful influence not only on the Marshall Islands as a nation, but also on the Marshallese themselves.[xcix] For some young people of Marshallese descent who lived in the United States, they yearn to return to their ancestor’s islands, even though some of them have never been there.[c] However, it is possible that they will never have the chance to see their ancestral land as it gets swallowed up by the rising Pacific.

I want to conclude this research paper by saying that the effects of the atomic bombs are with us. However, we have a choice to either decide to allow nuclear weapons to be a relic from a bygone era of not only America’s military history. Pope Francis recently asked his audience a few weeks ago about the legacy of the nuclear weapons, “How can we speak of peace even as we build terrifying weapons of war? How can we speak about peace even as we justify illegitimate actions by speeches filled with discrimination and hate?”[ci] These questions are related to what has been discussed throughout this essay, and America and the rest of the world must consider these questions going forward in the future. If we to consider these questions and the impact that nuclear weapons have on communities and individuals, we can avoid more victims and finger-pointing going around. Instead, we can build a better future towards peace for all people by not using nuclear weapons as weapons of war.[cii] I can only hope that future generations will only have to learn about nuclear weapons from a history textbook, or in my case, a children’s cartoon and with their own eyes.

[i] Holly M. Barker, “Unsettling SpongeBob and the Legacies of Violence on Bikini Bottom,” The Contemporary Pacific 31, no. 2 (2019): 345-379; 350. doi:10.1353/cp.2019.0026. Project Muse.

[ii] Barker, “Unsettling SpongeBob,” 350.

[iii] Barker, “Unsettling SpongeBob,” 350.

[iv] Barker, “Unsettling SpongeBob,” 350.

[v] Barker, “Unsettling SpongeBob,” 350, 359.

[vi] Jack Adair Tobin, “The Resettlement of the Enewetak People: A Study of A Displaced Community in the Marshall Islands” (PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1967), 27.  ProQuest Dissertation & Theses Global.

[vii] Peter Hayes, Lyuba Zarsky, and Walden Bello, American Lake: Nuclear Peril in the Pacific. Viking Penguin Inc., 1986, 16.

[viii] A. Constandina Titus, Bombs in the Backyard: Atomic Testing and American Politics (Reno & Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press, 1986), 20-22.  “Atomic Bomb Seen World News Guide: Science Writer and Military Analysist Say Mighty Weapon Demands New Perspective.” New York Times (1923-Current File), March 26, 1947, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times.

[ix] Titus, Bombs in the Backyard, 36.

[x] Titus, Bombs in the Backyard, 36.

[xi] “Books and Authors.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Feb 11, 1947. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. Nathan S. Atkinson “This is Crossroads: How Newsreels made the 1946 Atomic Tests at Bikini Atoll Public.” Carnegie Mellon University, 2009. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global. William L. Laurence, “Fiery ‘Super Volcano’ Awes Observer of 3 Atom Tests: SUPERFORTRESS TAKES OFF FOR ATOM BOMB TEST ‘SUPER VOLCANO’ AWES OBSERVER Cloud Soars 30,000 Feet at Calling in 57 Minutes Comparison Difficult,” New York Times (1923-Current File), July 01, 1946, pages 1, 5. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. William L. Laurence, Dawn Over Zero: The Story of the Atomic Bomb (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1972).

[xii] Titus, Bombs in the Backyard, 55-69.

[xiii] Michele A. Stenehjem, “Pathways of Radioactive Contamination: Beginning the History, Public Enquiry, and Policy Study of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation,” Environmental Review: ER 13, no. 3/4 (1989): 95-112, doi:10.2307/3984392. JSTOR. Kate Brown, Plutopia (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015). David Harvey, “Defense of the Hanford Site during the Early Years of the Cold War,” The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 95, no. 2 (2004): 82-90. JSTOR.

[xiv] David Hanlon, Discourses over Development in a Pacific Territory (Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press, 1998); Donald F. McHenry, Micronesia: Trust Betrayed (Washington D.C., Carnegie Endowment For International Peace, 1975).

[xv] Jack Adair Tobin, “The Resettlement of the Enewetak People: A Study of A Displaced Community in the Marshall Islands” (PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1967); Jack A. Tobin, “Background Information Paper-The Bikini Situation,” (Majuro, Marshall Islands, April 5, 1974), Jack A. Tobin, “The Ujelan Situation,” (Majuro, Marshall Islands, October 25, 1954), Jack Adair Tobin, “Ebeye Village: An Atypical Marshallese Community,” (Majuro, Marshall Islands, February 18, 1954),

[xvi] Barker, “Unsettling SpongeBob,” 365.

[xvii] Michelle Keown, “Children of Israel: US Military Imperialism and Marshallese Migration in the Poetry of Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner,” Interventions 19, no.7 (2017), 930-947.  Taylor & Francis Online.

[xviii] Barton C. Hacker, Elements of Controversy: The Atomic Energy Commission and Radiation Safety in Nuclear Weapons Testing, 1947–1974 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994); William L Laurence, “Fiery ‘Super Volcano’ Awes Observer of 3 Atom Tests: SUPERFORTRESS TAKES OFF FOR ATOM BOMB TEST ‘SUPER VOLCANO’ AWES OBSERVER Cloud Soars 30,000 Feet at Calling in 57 Minutes Comparison Difficult.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Jul 01, 1946, pages 1, 5. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. Francis Lincoln Grahlfs, “Voices from Ground Zero: Recollections and Feelings of Nuclear Test Veterans After Four Decades.” PhD. diss., University of Michigan, 1995. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. Claudia Grisales, “Conspiracy of silence: Veterans exposed to atomic tests wage final fight.” Stars and Stripes, June 16, 2019. Michael Harris, The Atomic Tests: My H-Bomb Year at the Pacific Proving Ground (New York: Ballantine Books, 2005).

[xix] “Admits H-Bomb Leakage.” Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1956-1960), August 1, 1956, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Defender. Grisales, “Conspiracy of silence: Veterans exposed to atomic tests wage final fight,” Stars and Stripes, June 16, 2019. The Atlantic, “Atomic Veterans Were Silenced for 50 Years. Now, They’re Talking.” YouTube, posted on May 27, 2019. “Report Tells of ’46 Warning on Atomic Tests,” New York Times, May 25. 1983. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times.

[xx] Julie Miller, “Veterans Under an Atomic Cloud: Veterans Under an Atomic Cloud.” New York Times (1923-Current File), May 01, 1994; 578, 581, 583. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times; Tom Wicker, “Serving His Country.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Aug 29, 1983. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. Gail Appleson, “A-Test Vets, Families Fight Cancer and U.S. Government.” American Bar Association Journal 68, no. 1 (January 1982): 26-28. Academic Search Premier. Bill Minutaglio, “Boley Caldwell Wants an Apology.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 50, no. 3 (May 1994): 35–38. doi:10.1080/00963402.1994.11456520. ProQuest Natural Science Collection. Costandina Titus; “Governmental Responsibility for Victims of Atomic Testing: A Chronicle of the Politics of Compensation,” Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law 1 April 1983; 8 (2): 277–292. Jim Lerager, Dr. Karl Z. Morgan, and Dr. Susan D. Lambert, In The Shadow of the Cloud: Photographs & Histories of America’s Atomic Veterans. Golden, CO, Fulcrum Inc., 1988. “Help for ‘Atomic Veterans’ Praised by Legion.” New Voice of New York, Inc., Dec 27, 2000. Ethnic NewsWatch.

[xxi] Mark Sargent, Facebook message, October 24, 2019; Alan Leeman, email to photograph owner, November 1, 2019; Alan Leeman, phone call to photograph owner, November 2, 2019.

[xxii] Daniel Immerwahr, How To Hide An Empire: A History of the Greater United States (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019), 343.

[xxiii] Immerwahr, How To Hide An Empire, 343.

[xxiv] Immerwahr, How To Hide An Empire, 98-107.

[xxv] Immerwahr, How To Hide An Empire, 344.

[xxvi] William Rankin, After the Map: Cartography, Navigation, and the Transformation of Territory in the Twentieth Century (Chicago, 2016); Ruth Oldenziel, “Islands: The United States as a Networked Empire,” in ed. Gabrielle Hecht, Entangled Geographies: Empire and Technopolitics in the Global Cold War (Cambridge, MA, 2011), 13-42; citied inImmerwahr, How To Hide An Empire, 343-344, 472.

[xxvii] Immerwahr, How To Hide An Empire, 343.

[xxviii] US Congress, House of Representatives, “Trusteeship Agreement For The Territory Of The Pacific Islands: Message From The President Of The United States”, 80th Congress, 1st sess., 1947, Document 378, 14. US Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1980. 

[xxix] US Congress, House of Representatives, “Trusteeship Agreement For The Territory Of The Pacific Islands: Message From The President Of The United States”, 14.

[xxx] US Congress, House of Representatives, “Trusteeship Agreement For The Territory Of The Pacific Islands: Message From The President Of The United States”, 14.

[xxxi] Immerwahr, How To Hide An Empire, 349; Defense Threat Reduction Agency, The Radiological Report of Enewetak Atoll (Fort Belvoir, VA, March 2018), 1;; Defense Nuclear Agency, The Radiological Cleanup of Enewetak Atoll (Washington D.C., 1981), 35;

[xxxii] Immerwahr, How To Hide An Empire, 349; Defense Threat Reduction Agency, The Radiological Report of Enewetak Atoll (Fort Belvoir, VA, March 2018), 1;; Defense Nuclear Agency, The Radiological Cleanup of Enewetak Atoll (Washington D.C., 1981), 35;

[xxxiii] Nuclear Weapons Channel HD, “Radio Bikini FULL MOVIE Nuclear Weapons Channel HD,” YouTube, posted on March 31, 2017.

[xxxiv] Nuclear Weapons Channel HD, “Radio Bikini FULL MOVIE Nuclear Weapons Channel HD,” 5:10.

[xxxv] Titus, Bombs In The Backyard, 32.

[xxxvi] Nuclear Weapons Channel HD, “Radio Bikini FULL MOVIE Nuclear Weapons Channel HD,” 5:23-5:27.

[xxxvii] Nuclear Weapons Channel HD, “Radio Bikini FULL MOVIE Nuclear Weapons Channel HD,” 8:36-8:47.

[xxxviii] ABC News In-depth, “This Concrete Dome Holds A Leaking Toxic | Foreign Correspondent,” 8:55-9:01.

[xxxix] Nuclear Weapons Channel HD, “Radio Bikini FULL MOVIE Nuclear Weapons Channel HD,” 6:00-6:30.

[xl] Nuclear Weapons Channel HD, “Radio Bikini FULL MOVIE Nuclear Weapons Channel HD,” 6:13-6:18.

[xli] Nuclear Weapons Channel HD, “Radio Bikini FULL MOVIE Nuclear Weapons Channel HD,” 6:28-6:45.

[xlii] Immerwhar, How To Hide An Empire, 349.

[xliii] Jack A. Tobin, “Background Information Paper-The Bikini Situation,” 3.

[xliv] Hill Williams, “The Atomic Exiles,” The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973); May 28, 1972. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post.

[xlv] Williams, “The Atomic Exiles,”

[xlvi] Williams, “The Atomic Exiles,”

[xlvii] Ali Raj, “In Marshall Islands, Radiation Threatens Tradition Of Handing Down Stories By Song,” Los Angeles Times, November 10, 2019.

[xlviii] Ali Raj, “In Marshall Islands, Radiation Threatens Tradition Of Handing Down Stories By Song,”

[xlix] Ali Raj, “In Marshall Islands, Radiation Threatens Tradition Of Handing Down Stories By Song,”

[l] Ali Raj, “In Marshall Islands, Radiation Threatens Tradition Of Handing Down Stories By Song,”

[li] Ali Raj, “In Marshall Islands, Radiation Threatens Tradition Of Handing Down Stories By Song,”

[lii] Ali Raj, “In Marshall Islands, Radiation Threatens Tradition Of Handing Down Stories By Song,”

[liii] Ali Raj, “In Marshall Islands, Radiation Threatens Tradition Of Handing Down Stories By Song,”

[liv] Dan Zak, Kevin Schaul, and Laris Karklis, “A Ground Zero Forgotten: The Marshall Islands, Once A U.S. Nuclear Test Site, Face Oblivion Again,” The Washington Post, November 27, 2015.

[lv] Dan Zak, Kevin Schaul, and Laris Karklis, “A Ground Zero Forgotten: The Marshall Islands, Once A U.S. Nuclear Test Site, Face Oblivion Again,”.

[lvi] Dan Zak, Kevin Schaul, and Laris Karklis, “A Ground Zero Forgotten: The Marshall Islands, Once A U.S. Nuclear Test Site, Face Oblivion Again,”.

[lvii] Jack Adair Tobin, “The Resettlement of the Enewetak People: A Study of A Displaced Community in the Marshall Islands” (PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1967), 200-206.

[lviii] Fox Butterflied, “The Imporbable Welfare State: The Massive Welfare State of United States funds Into Micronesia Has Brought Problems More Reminiscent of Inner-City Ghettos Than Of Lush Tropical Islands,” The New York Times (1923-Current File), November 27, 1977. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. Dan Zak, Kevin Schaul, and Laris Karklis, “A Ground Zero Forgotten: The Marshall Islands, Once A U.S. Nuclear Test Site, Face Oblivion Again,”.

[lix] Dan Zak, Kevin Schaul, and Laris Karklis, “A Ground Zero Forgotten: The Marshall Islands, Once A U.S. Nuclear Test Site, Face Oblivion Again,”.

[lx] Nuclear Weapons Channel HD, “Radio Bikini FULL MOVIE Nuclear Weapons Channel HD,” 50:12.

[lxi] ABC News In-depth, “This Concrete Dome Holds A Leaking Toxic | Foreign Correspondent,”

[lxii] Jonathan M. Weisgall, “The Nuclear Nomads of Bikini.” Foreign Policy, no. 39 (Summer 1980): 74-98. doi:10.2307/1148413. JSTOR.

[lxiii] M.X. Mitchell, “Offshoring American Environmental Law: Land, Culture, and Marshall Islanders’ Struggles for Self-Determination During the 1970s,” Environmental History 22, no.2 (April 2017), 216-226.

[lxiv] Defense Nuclear Agency, The Radiological Report of Enewetak Atoll, v.

[lxv] Steve Rees, “Living Under The Atomic Cloud,” Enlisted Times, November 1979, 6-7; 6.——-en-20–1–txt-txIN-enewetak+————–1.  Independent Voices.

[lxvi] Rees, “Living Under The Atomic Cloud,” 6.

[lxvii] Rosa Salter Rodriguez, “Veteran Links Health Issues To Marshall Islands Radiation,” The Washington Times, May 30, 2015.

[lxviii] Rosa Salter Rodriguez, “Veteran Links Health Issues To Marshall Islands Radiation,”.

[lxix] Rosa Salter Rodriguez, “Veteran Links Health Issues To Marshall Islands Radiation,”.

[lxx] Dave Philips, “Troops Who Cleaned Up Radioactive Islands Can’t Get Medical Care,” The New York Times, January 28, 2017.

[lxxi] Alan Leeman, email, December 12, 2019.

[lxxii] Alan Leeman, email, December 12, 2019.

[lxxiii] Girard Frank Bolton III, “Pictures From A Runit Glow By Nighter-Alan Leeman”, December 13, 2015.

[lxxiv] Alan Leeman, untitled, January 1978, photograph, Atomic Cleanup Vets Enewetak Atoll Atomic Debris Cleanup Mission Survivors,

[lxxv] Bolton III, “Pictures From A Runit Glow By Nighter-Alan Leeman”, December 13, 2015.; Leeman, untitled, January 1978, photograph.

[lxxvi] Defense Nuclear Agency, The Radiological Report of Enewetak Atoll, 111.

[lxxvii] Defense Nuclear Agency, The Radiological Report of Enewetak Atoll, 179-218.

[lxxviii] David B. Drachlis, and Herman Kokojan, “Recovering A Lost Paradise.” Airman, July 1978, 2-9; 7.

[lxxix] Drachlis, and Kokojan, “Recovering A Lost Paradise,” 7.

[lxxx] Drachlis, and Kokojan, “Recovering A Lost Paradise.” Airman, 2. 

[lxxxi] R.R. Monroe, “Letter to Representative Paul G. Rogers,” This document originally from David Phillips, “Troops Who Clean Up Radioactive Islands Can’t Get Medical Care,” The New York Times, January 28, 2017.

[lxxxii] WRAL Investigates, “Vets Who Cleaned Up Nuclear Test Sites Seek Extra Health Benefits,”, posted July 27, 2017, updated July 28, 2017.

[lxxxiii] WRAL Investigates, “Vets Who Cleaned Up Nuclear Test Sites Seek Extra Health Benefits,”

[lxxxiv] Phillip Cloutier, “Soldier Who Did Radioactive Duty Now Has The Info,” The Enlisted Times, August 1979, 2.——-en-20–1–txt-txIN-enewetak+————–1.  Independent Voices.

[lxxxv] Tom Z. Collina, and Daryl G. Kimball, “Not Going Back: 20 Years Since The Last Nuclear Test,” originally posted September 20, 2012.

[lxxxvi] Tom Z. Collina, and Daryl G. Kimball, “Not Going Back: 20 Years Since The Last Nuclear Test,” originally posted September 20, 2012.

[lxxxvii] Tom Z. Collina, and Daryl G. Kimball, “Not Going Back: 20 Years Since The Last Nuclear Test,” originally posted September 20, 2012.

[lxxxviii] Barbara Rose Johnston, “Nuclear Savages,” Counterpunch, June 1, 2012.

[lxxxix] Susanne Rust, “How The U.S. Betrayed The Marshall Islands, Kindling The Next Nuclear Disaster,” The Los Angeles Times, November 10, 2019.

[xc] US Congress, House of Representatives. Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act. 116th Cong., 1d sess., (February 26, 2019).

[xci] US Congress, House of Representatives, March 4, 2019, “Mark Takai Veterans Healthcare Parity Act,” Grace Meng, 116th Congress, 1st sess., Congressional Record vol. 165, no. 38, E235. ProQuest Congressional.

[xcii] John Raughter, “Toxic Paradise,” The American Legion, March 2016, 40.

[xciii] ABC News In-depth, “This Concrete Dome Holds A Leaking Toxic | Foreign Correspondent,” 16:41-16:47.

[xciv] ABC News In-depth, “This Concrete Dome Holds A Leaking Toxic | Foreign Correspondent,” 17:00-17:15.

[xcv] Nick Perry, “In Pacific, Rising Tensions Evoke Troubling Nuclear Legacy,” The Seattle Times, October 6, 2017.

[xcvi] ABC News In-depth, “This Concrete Dome Holds A Leaking Toxic | Foreign Correspondent,” 20:56-21:10.

[xcvii] ABC News In-depth, “This Concrete Dome Holds A Leaking Toxic |Foreign Correspondent,” 20:38-20:53.

[xcviii] PBS Newshour, “Marshall Islands: A Third Of The Nation Has Left For The US,” December 16, 2018. 0:01-0:18.

[xcix] Dan Zak, Kevin Schaul, and Laris Karklis, “A Ground Zero Forgotten: The Marshall Islands, Once A U.S. Nuclear Test Site, Face Oblivion Again,” The Washington Post, November 27, 2015. PBS Newshour, “Marshall Islands: A Third Of The Nation Has Left For The US,” December 16, 2018,; 0:56-2:25.

[c] PBS Newshour, “Marshall Islands: A Third Of The Nation Has Left For The US,” 8:58-9:05. 

[ci] Pope Francis, “Full Text of Pope’s Message in Hiroshima,” The Mainichi, November 24, 2019.

[cii] Pope Francis, “Full Text of Pope’s Message in Hiroshima,”.

Primary Sources:

Committee to Study the Feasibility of, and Need for, Epidemiologic Studies of Adverse Reproductive Outcomes in the Families of Atomic Veterans, and Institute of Medicine. Adverse Reproductive Outcomes in Families of Atomic Veterans: The Feasibility of Epidemiologic Studies. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 1995. Accessed October 10, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.

This medical study was done to investigate the possibility of doing an epidemiological study on “Atomic Veterans” and their descendants.  The committee concludes that such a study is impossible, but that was not I want I got out of from reading this. This report details and references other medical studies about radiation and the health effects that are linked to exposure. The committee explains in simple terms these health issues as “adverse reproductive outcomes” and scientific terms such as background and manmade radiation. This source could be used in conjunction with personal testimonies from servicemen to explain that these nuclear tests had a negative effect on them.

“Help for ‘Atomic Veterans’ Praised by Legion.” New Voice of New York, Inc., Dec 27, 2000. 10.  Ethnic NewsWatch.

This source is more recent compared to the other sources that I used for this annotated bibliography. The then-National Commander of the American Legion reacted to changes by the Department of Veteran Affairs to change the definition of who is an “atomic veteran”. It goes beyond those who participated in tests. The proposal would include veterans who were assigned at some nuclear plants in the United States. However, it did not cover those who were stationed at the troubled plant in Hanford, Washington. It is the same plant that Kate Brown discussed in Plutopia. This source will help me consider inequality amongst the servicemen who served in uniform with these weapons. The inequality is that not every serviceman received benefits by the United States government for their service.

Lerager, Jim. “In the Shadow of the Mushroom Cloud: America’s Atomic Veterans.” USA Today, July 1988. 47-49. ProQuest Social Science Premium Collection.

Lerager interviewed several “atomic veterans” in this article who were exposed to nuclear fallout from the tests. Anthony Guarisco was at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Decades later, he was suffering from nerve, prostate, and bladder issues. His children and grandchildren also suffered from issues that Guarisco believed that he passed down to them. This source demonstrates how these veterans faced these painful medical problems, and the sense of betrayal that these men and their loved ones have because they were not told about what radiation exposure would do to their children and themselves. In short, these nuclear weapons were causing generational trauma that was being passed down.

Nuclear Weapons Channel HD. “Radio Bikini FULL MOVIE Nuclear Weapons Channel HD,” YouTube, posted on March 31, 2017.

This documentary contains an interview with a man named John Smitherman. Smitherman was another serviceman who served in the Pacific during the nuclear tests in the 1940s. It is an oral history. This source provides me another individual who served and later became sick, which he believed that it came from his exposure to nuclear weapons. The film has scenes where the camera shows Smitherman’s entire body. You can see his swelled hand and he is in what appears as a wheelchair. He explains to the camera that his legs had to be amputated. Smitherman states that he and other enlisted men were never told about radiation, but he thinks that “radioactive exposure” was discussed within the officer ranks. Smitherman’s appearance, unlike the other sources here, clearly shows the physical toll that these servicemen went thought. I think it is more powerful to see it than just reading words.

Piehler, Kurt, Leli, Janet, and Brittan, Michael. “Robert Salvin.” Rutgers Oral History Archives. Last updated 2019.

This is an oral interview given by Robert Salvin in 1997. Robert Salvin was stationed in Bikini Atoll, but he left a month before the test occurred. He talked about his own experiences serving in the Pacific in the Navy. He was lucky. He talked about a reunion he attended in 1992 for the crew members who worked on “the second ship”. Salvin said that many men he served with were already dead. They got sick from cancer. Salvin’s recollections of his Navy service provides me what the servicemen did on duty, and their off time. One episode that he talks about that on Sundays his Captain would order his men to use the hoses in the harbor and spread water around. It was later that Salvin realized that the Captain was preparing them to wash the radiation off the ships that were exposed by tests. He only realized that when watching a documentary on the Discovery Channel in the 1990s. The other purpose that I can use this source is to show an example of how the US military was not honest about their activities in the region, and the enlisted men were the ones who did grunt work for them.

Secondary Sources:

ABC News In-depth, “This Concert Dome Holds A Leaking Toxic Timebomb ǀ Foreign Correspondent,” YouTube, posted on November 27, 2017,

This secondary source makes me think about the people who were in the Marshall Islands in the years when nuclear testing occurred. Both Marshallese and Americans are interviewed in this documentary. Most people who were interviewed were not alive when the tests occurred, which makes me wonder about the American GIs who worked at these atolls. One GI was interviewed, but it makes me wonder if other news outlets have documented these GIs who worked as cleanup at Eniwetok Atoll in the 1970s. My question about this source is that why does the United States government not recognize these men as “atomic veterans”, which is the term used by the government to describe the servicemen who served during the tests during the 1940s and 1950s?

Brown, Kate. Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

This secondary source does not talk about my site, but instead it documented what went on in the towns of Richland, Washington and Ozersk, Soviet Union. I learned from this book about how another historian contextualized her information and her argument, which is something to consider when I go forward with my research. Reading Plutopia made me think about my own topics because of the similar themes and main ideas that I am focusing on that appeared in this book. Brown talked about the promises that nuclear weapons had for America post-1945, but what happened was that people got sick and they died prematurely. However, Brown’s book is also a story of people who are willing to tell their stories to anyone who was willing to listen. Oral histories are important to history, and I need to consider them, regardless of my own doubts about oral histories.

Immerwahr, Daniel. “Power Is Sovereignty, Mister Bond.” In How To Hide An Empire: A History Of The Greater United States, 336-354. New York: Farrar, Staraus, and Giroux, 2019.

This is an excerpt from a popular history book where the author explains about the use of remote islands across modern American and European history. Immerwahr wrote how America became a pointillist empire after the end of the Second World War by holding small islands and military bases across the world. This source makes me think about the setting of my topic, and I want to use this source to set the setting of my paper up. These islands were picked by the United States government as test sites because of their geographical isolation. I plan not to go into too much details about the political significance of islands in post-Second World War America, but I feel that it would provide background information for my audience.

McHenry, Donald F. Micronesia: Trust Betrayed. New York: Carnegie Endowment For International Peace, 1975.

This source mostly focuses on political developments that were going on between the United States and Micronesia during the 1960s and the 1970s. However, McHenry references from pages 32 to 35 about a document called “The Trusteeship Agreement” that detailed Micronesia’s political status and the United States’ responsibility to the region as stated in that document. McHenry wrote on page 34 that the United States did not allow the United Nations to inspect Micronesia for years because of security concerns. It made me wonder if this was done in relation to the nuclear testing that occurred in Micronesia. I might not know the answer in time to that question, but this secondary source has provided me a paraphrased primary source document. I need to read the entire, original text to fully understand what the terms were and how do they fit with my topic about the servicemen who served in that remote part of the world with some of the most dangerous weapons mankind ever made.

“Report Tells of ’46 Warning on Atomic Tests,” New York Times, May 25. 1983, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times.

This news article raises questions about the nuclear tests that occurred in the Pacific. This article referenced to primary sources by an individual “Capt. Robert M. Lyon of the Radiological Safety Section,” who wrote about the possible health effects from nuclear fallout. This source provides me with relevant for two reasons. The first reason is that this source provides me with names and information to find primary sources. The second is that the possibility that the government knew about the dangers long before the American public knew about it strengthens my argument that environmental injustice did occurred in the Pacific. However, I need to find these primary sources before I can reach a conclusion. The primary sources do exist, so I consider that to be a step in the right direction.

Image Analysis:


Untitled, posted with permission by Alan Leeman.

The photograph that I selected is an untitled photo that I found on the website that is dedicated to the Eniwetok Cleanup Crew.[i] This photograph is credited to Alan Leeman, who took hundreds of photos during his time at Eniwetok and gave to Girard Frank Bolton III, who posted it on the website.[ii]  I requested Mr. Leeman if I could use this photograph for this assignment and he agreed. I also spoken to him to ask permission to post onto to this website page (Alan Leeman, email to photograph owner, November 1, 2019) (Alan Leeman, phone call to photograph owner, November 2, 2019).  My focus is on Eniwetok, with my focus on the cleanup and the aftermath. I do not have much information about Mr. Leeman, with the only exception of the note that Bolton said he got from Leeman saying that he worked at Runit six days a week during his six-month stint at Eniwetok and “We [Leeman and his fellow soldiers] set up the rock crusher, blasted the reef for rock, set up the decontamination station, built the cement storage, and so on.”[iii] Despite the lack of information about Leeman, the photograph itself speaks about the environmental injustice that occurred at Eniwetok. This photo demonstrates how the United States’ attempt to clean up Eniwetok after the nuclear tests stopped was near impossible because of the weather that occurs at Eniwetok made certain safety precautions impossible.

Leeman’s photo has a focal point which is misleading, considering what else is around it. The first thing that drew my attention was the man in the radiation suit in the center of the photo.[iv] The radiation suit comes to view first because it is bright, which shines brighter probably because the sun is out and there are no clouds in the sky. The suit covers the man head to toe, and you can only partially see the man’s face. The only part of the body that is visible is his nose.[v] His body language also tells the viewer something about what this man was probably thinking. He seems to be uncomfortable in that suit because of how his arms are and he how he is standing.[vi] The material of the suit is not light, and the weather on the day that this photograph was taking probably may it hard for the man to be comfortable wearing. It is an example of how impractical safety measures were for the cleanup at Eniwetok.

The contrasts between the man in the radiation suit and the other individuals around him also backs up how impractical safety efforts were during the cleanup at Eniwetok. There is a second man who is standing next to the man in the radiation suit that showcases the contrasts. You can see that the man is shirtless, and his body is red.[vii] The shirtless man probably did put on sunblock, or it could simply be the fact that his skin was naturally darker and that his exposure to the sun gave him a tan. However, I interpreted his red body not a tan, but more of a sunburn. Another contrast between the shirtless man and the man in the radiation suit is the amount of clothes they are wearing. The shirtless man was only wearing short pants and possibly boots; it is impossible to think that these men could not get away with working barefoot. At the same time, I cannot imagine how hot the ground must had been to allow the cleanup crews to go barefoot. It is unknown if the shirtless man is wearing a hat, because the top of the head is covered by the truck in the back behind the two men, along with the driver who come out as black in the photo.[viii] In short, there are numerous contrasts in this photo that raises questions about safety precautions during the cleanup process and raises questions about what is absent in this photo.

The overwhelming presence of individuals in this photo and the number of contrasts that appear are striking. However, this photograph lacks with one aspect when it comes to civilization and that there are no living structures visible. It is possible that this photograph was taking at Runit, which was decided by the military as too dangerous to be habitable.[ix] However, I do not know exactly because the photograph does not capture any signs that could put down a place. The lack of living structures and the heavy prominence of made-man inventions such as wheeled vehicles and radiation suits also points another contrast in this photo. However, the absence of one object can be use as evidence of not only the questionable safety measures that were in place, but also what were the priorities at that time in Eniwetok.

It is evident that this photograph highlights the impracticalities of certain safety measures during the cleanup of Eniwetok. The contrasts of the equipment wore by the men raises questions about what the policies were at other cleanup sites that have occurred in the United States after 1945. At the same time, scholars need to consider what images can say that words or statistical data cannot about a historical moment. It is also important to think that a photograph is one of the few ways to freeze history at a moment in time.

[i] Alan Leeman, untitled, ca.1977-1980, photograph, Atomic Cleanup Vets Enewetak Atoll Atomic Debris Cleanup Mission Survivors,

[ii] Girard Frank Bolton III, “Pictures from a Runit Glow By Nighter – Alan Leeman,” Atomic Cleanup Vets Enewetak Atoll Atomic Debris Cleanup Mission Survivors, December 13, 2015,

[iii] Alan Leeman, untitled, ca.1977-1980, photograph.

[iv] Alan Leeman, untitled, ca.1977-1980, photograph.

[v] Alan Leeman, untitled, ca.1977-1980, photograph.

[vi] Alan Leeman, untitled, ca.1977-1980, photograph.

[vii] Alan Leeman, untitled, ca.1977-1980, photograph.

[viii] Alan Leeman, untitled, ca.1977-1980, photograph.

[ix] Chad Blair, “Nuclear Victims: Will We Help Vets Who Cleaned Up After Atomic Blasts?,” Honolulu Civil Beat, January 6, 2016.; Dave Phillips, “Troops Who Cleaned Up Radioactive Islands Can’t Get Medical Care,” The New York Times, January 28, 2017.

Data Analysis:

Oral Interviews:


Video Story: