American University
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Collisions of history and language: Nuclear weapons testing, human environmental rights abuses, and cover-up in the Republic of the Marshall Islands

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posted on 2023-09-06, 03:07 authored by Holly M. Barker

Nuclear weapons, the English language and American colonialism arrived in the Marshall Islands at approximately the same time. Atomic and thermonuclear weapons tested by the U.S. Government in the Marshall Islands from 1946--1958 spread radiation throughout the region. Exposure to radiation dramatically altered the lives and environments of the Marshallese who experience acute illness, exile from their home islands, and a variety of radiation-related problems. U.S. Public Law narrowly defines radiation exposure and U.S. Government responsibility for the consequences of the testing program in the Marshall Islands. The legal definition is limited in time and space, and fails to take into account the knowledge and experiences of several populations affected by radiation. As a result, radiation exposure is a legally binding, imposed identity that Marshallese radiation populations actively resist because it does not comport with the experiences of a substantial number of people exposed to radiation from the tests. This dissertation identifies and analyzes sources of information outside of the official U.S. Government history to the testing program. Using oral histories and life stories, recently declassified internal U.S. Government documents, and recent changes in Marshallese language, this dissertation deconstructs the experiences of one community downwind of the U.S. tests, Rongelap, to illustrate the breadth and complexity of radiation-related problems faced by the Marshallese. Analysis of a Marshallese radiation language, used by the Rongelapese and other radiation communities, demonstrates how speakers resist U.S. Government efforts to minimalize the effects of radiation. The existence of a Marshallese radiation language also shows that the Marshallese claim experiences with radiation as their own. This research challenges existing U.S. Government policy and demands the writing of a new historical narrative to incorporate the knowledge and experiences of silenced radiation populations.







Thesis (Ph.D.)--American University, 2000.


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