Today is Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day as commemorated in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, where several of the largest nuclear bombs ever detonated by the United States were tested in the 1950s and 1960s. Last year, I wrote about the impact the dual legacies of nuclear testing and climate change are having on the Marshall Islands and the Marshallese diaspora in Springdale, Arkansas, home to 12,000 Marshallese people.
With nuclear weapons in the headlines again, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the human impact—physical, cultural, communal—that the development of these horrible weapons of war has had, on what has been lost as the actions of powerful people and powerful states have created a precarious world.
"I can't imagine losing your home and trying to find a place to replace it — but in truth, you cannot, because you lost it," said Joyce, one of the students featured in the video. Her art includes a portrait of her grandmother, one of those displaced to make room for the U.S. to conduct its nuclear tests.
When U.S. military personnel arrived on Bikini Atoll in 1946, they told the more than 160 Bikinians they were removing from the island that their relocation and the use of their home for testing bombs was "for the good of all mankind." When radioactive fallout from the Bravo test drifted hundreds of miles to the inhabited atolls of Rongelap and Rongelik, the U.S. did not evacuate the islands or tell the Marshallese inhabitants what the material falling from the sky was until two days later — after children had played in it and eaten it, thinking it was snow. The radioactive fallout poisoned them as well as adults. Women who had been exposed to the fallout gave birth to children without bones and with transparent skin, known as "jellyfish babies."
The U.S. also did not tell those who were exposed that they were part of Project 4.1, a federal government study looking at radiation exposure's effects on humans. The study was done without the Marshallese participants' informed consent.
A couple months ago, I had the chance to participate in an editing workshop with the editors of the Washington Post's Made by History column, which publishes pieces from historians and other academics that give a wider lens on the news of the day. As part of the workshop, we all pitched and edited columns based on our academic research. My column, about the work Black journalists did to expose and hold to account the systemic racism and economic justice that led to the Elaine Massacre, was published in the Post a couple weeks ago.
The work of Black journalists is a model for how newspapers today can better cover sensational, headline-grabbing incidents of racist violence and racial injustice: putting them in social, political and historical context, giving them sustained attention and questioning the official narrative of events.