Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Happy Lucky Welcome Fun 7

Two years later the final American Pacific bomb, code name Fig, was detonated. The Bikinian exile continued another twenty years, until in 1968, some Atomic Energy Commission scientists convinced Lyndon Johnson that the radiation levels at Bikini Atoll no longer offered ‘a significant threat to health and safety.’ Lyndon ordered the 540 Bikinians living on Kili resettled ‘with all dispatch,’ and by the mid1970s, over 150 islanders were living in new houses, and eating breadfruit, coconuts and pandanus from new plantings. In 1977 the scientists realized they had been terribly wrong in their estimates, recording alarming increases in cesium 137 isotope levels in the islanders. Three ships floated them all away on a sea of tears, back to Kili, and to Majuro. The only thought left on Bikini was the sign in the machine shop. We can fix everything except broken heart.
But wait. The scientists were back with two more Happy Lucky Welcome Fun promises in the mid1980s. They had discovered that, by applying large amounts of potassium fertilizer to Bikini’s soil, cesium levels could be reduced ten-fold. Furthermore, this combined with the simple removal of the topsoil layer, would get the Bikinians very close to the 15 millirem safety standard necessary for repatriation. And, there was other good news.
The Bikinians had come into some real money. In 1986, as part of the new Compact of Free Association with the US, they had received $75 million in damages. Two years later, they got another $90 million, designated specifically for radiological cleanup. The compact also set up a Nuclear Claims Tribunal, which meant that their grievances all the way back from the early 1980s, would be heard by a new US court. The Bikinians, ‘if they desired, could go back.’
But the Bikinians had not only been living in a cultural and scientific and financial limbo for over thirty years, for over thirty years they had changed. They were the five thousand children of original 147 of the deep cobalt blue and coconut palms and breadfruit and pandanus. They no longer fished with homemade nail hooks baited with hermit crabs, nor swam in crystalline waters. They were the children of housing and food subsidies and insurance and medical plans and scholarships and health care. They were part of the Marshallese forty per cent unemployment and four per cent population growth and emigration to Oregon and Arkansas. Their trust fund balances were chopped in half by the market crashes of 2001 and 2008, and the critical mass was reached in 2010, when they lost their Nuclear Claims Tribunal case against the US government. The Supreme Court of the United States of America, the country responsible for their 66 year nuclear exile, their starvation, their irradiation and medical experimentation, their five time relocation, the loss of their way of life, and the exploitation of their generosity of spirit, determined that, like Bob and Patti on Pohnpei, it didn’t have the right to rule over international agreements. The nation that had spent twenty billion dollars on the Manhattan Project, fourteen billion dollars on a thousand ICBM launch pads and silos, that had built 67,500 nuclear missiles and 4,680 nuclear bombers, and given the Marshallese the equivalent of 7,000 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs at the rate of eleven a week, producing 104,000,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste, had no jurisdiction over or responsibility for the few Pacific islanders they had so ignobly made permanently dispossessed and homeless. One might think that there could be no better glow, after such a Bikini waxing. But you would be wrong.
According to the Compact of Free Association, the Marshallese are not allowed to shop in the facility stores on Kwaj, or swim in the pools, play on the tennis or racquetball courts, or tee off on the golf course. They’re probably teed off enough, already.
Frankie Avalon hermit crab nailed it, in Bikini Beach.
“Baby.” He said. “I think we associate with a very unstable group.”

               ‘No longer can I stay, it’s true
                No longer can I live in peace and harmony
                No longer can I rest on my sleeping mat and pillow
                Because of my island and the life I once knew there
                The thought is overwhelming
                Rendering me helpless and in great despair.’
                             Lore Kessibuki, Rongerik horror, 1946

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