Marshall Islanders Reflect On A Dark Legacy of Nuclear Testing

The Republic of the Marshall Islands have been making ripples in global news lately. Fresh off a strong gathering at COP 21 in Paris, where the Honorable Tony de Brum (ex. Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Marshall Islands) rallied with other global leaders to advocate for more stringent policies for combating climate change, the small atoll nation of approximately 70,000 inhabitants also recently welcomed President Hilda Heine as their new Head of State. Not only is President Heine the first female president in the country’s history, she is also the first female president of ANY independent Pacific Island nation.

Children in the Marshall Islands playing in the lagoon after school. (Photo by Daniel Lin)

This month, the people of the Marshall Islands are shifting their focus on another critical issue. On March 1st, the Marshallese took time to observe Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day, which kicks off a month-long remembrance of a dark legacy that they hope the world will never forget. On this day, in 1954, a hydrogen bomb (code named “Castle Bravo”) was dropped on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands–a bomb that was hundreds of times stronger than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was part of the nuclear weapons testing program conducted by the US in the Pacific Islands and has led to numerous documented cases of illnesses related to radiation. For the Marshallese, this is a painful memory that still resonates strongly in the stories of elders and the images and videos of Operation Castle that have since been released. This is why every year, the month of March is dedicated to making sure that people in the Marshall Islands and around the world do not forget about the consequences of war and neocolonialism. This is especially cogent in light of the current intentions by the US Government to turn the island of Pagan into a live-fire training site.

One notable effort to raise awareness is the following collaboration between acclaimed Marshallese poet, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, and several students at the College of the Marshall Islands (CMI) Media Club. This group of young passionate storytellers – with support from the Pacific islands Climate Education Partnership (PCEP) – was able to create a powerful video to capture the emotional and physical toll of this legacy. Having only minimal media/journalism experience and no proper training, what the students of the CMI Media Club were able to produce is a testament to their talent and dedication for telling the story of their island home and people.

College of Marshall Islands Media Club, (from left) Chris, Daniel, Mailon, Robert.
College of Marshall Islands Media Club, (from left) Chris, Daniel, Mailon, Robert.




Meet the Author
A photographer and National Geographic Young Explorer, Dan has spent his career trying to better understand the nexus between people in remote regions of the Asia/Pacific and their rapidly changing environment. Dan is a regular contributor to National Geographic, the Associated Press, and the Guardian. He believes firmly in the power of visual storytelling as a vessel for advocacy and awareness, which helps to better inform policy makers. In 2016, Dan started the Pacific Storytellers Cooperative seeking to empower the next generation of storytellers from the Pacific Islands. Additionally, Dan is a crewmember for the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a Fellow of The Explorers Club, and a member of the IUCN Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas. He received his Masters Degree from Harvard University