Thank you for meeting with us. We’re really excited to be here. To begin, can you tell us about yourself and your background and how you came to be senator - foreign minister - previously senator?
I came home from school in 1968, after being gone for ten years, with a roundtrip ticket from Honolulu. I had a job there; I was working on a linguistics program. Apartment, dog, a car, the whole thing. So it was not my intention to come back home. Upon arrival, I was greeted by Amata Kabua, who was at the bottom of the steps right of the aircraft, saying “I heard you were coming, get ready to go on with me to Saipan.” He was then the president of the senate of the congress of Micronesia, our original Micronesia-wide legislature. I have got to go back to Honolulu first. He said, “Yeah, we’re going to Saipan“. And that was in May of 1968; that was the beginning. I worked with the congress of Micronesia as a clerk for one of the committees and then came back and then stayed home - didn’t go back to, to what I had been doing before. I worked as a director of the Community Action Agency because at that time, the Trust Territory government, which is an extension of the Department of Interior, did not feel comfortable hiring new graduates. Mind you, I was just like maybe number six or number seven Marshallese graduate from from college at that time. They did not feel that the group that was 67/68 was fit for government service. They thought that maybe we were a little bit too much a product of the American college campus of the ‘60s. And so we set up an NGO and then hired our own group. Actually, we had five of our next five college graduates go to work at the Marshalls Community Action Agency. After that, I went to work with the government and then in 1973 when we formed our Political Service Commission to seek independence, I was appointed to that board, to that commission, and served as its vice chairman. Amata Kabua, the same man who was at the bottom of the stairs, was the chairman and he became our first president. And I guess the rest is history.
Could you tell us a little bit about where you grew up and your childhood?
I grew up in Likiep Atoll in the north, 1,240 miles from here, until I was eleven. Then I came to Majuro for two years. And then was shipped off to high school in Truk when I was thirteen. After that, I went away to Honolulu and went to college, to the University of Hawaii. Well Chaminade University first, and then the University of Hawaii and returned in ‘68.
Is it accurate that you witnessed a nuclear test here, and if so, could you talk a little bit about that?
I witnessed many of those shots, many of the nuclear tests. From Likiep, you could see the blast, you could see the flash. And some of them you actually felt the wave, the energy wave, the shock. But I also saw Bravo, the most infamous of these, from Likiep. I was fishing with my grandfather. He was throwing net and I was carrying the basket for the fish when the flash went off. Early in the morning of March 1st, 1954. And it, it is an experience that still gives me goosebumps. Chicken skin like they say in Hawaii. Because there was no warning, we knew it was an atomic bomb, or as it turned out, a hydrogen bomb test. But we were not expecting such a horrific power and display of nuclear power. We felt the shock and the whole world turned red. Bravo was, has been described by some of the people who lived a little closer than we were as having two sunrises at the same time because the sun was just about to come up at that time and then they saw one coming up in the West. It was the same in Likiep except that after the flash and the initial shock, and when the rumbles began, when we began to hear the rumbles of the shock, the whole world, I mean the sky, turned red. It was - I’ve described it before as if you were under an inverted fishbowl and somebody poured blood over it. It was just totally, everything was red. My grandfather was red, his neck was red, fish were red. We abandoned everything of course. And called a village meeting where he told people to take down their gutters from their homes because in Likiep we have only 30 inches of rain a year so we catch our own drinking water. He told them to take, with the help of two policemen - the only policemen we had in the village - to take down the gutters so as not to catch any contaminated water. But yes, I was in Likiep for that. I was here in Majuro when the people for Rongelap were taken back in 1957. My grandfather died on May 13th, 1956. After his death, I remained in Majuro and went to Catholic School down the road.
Can you tell us a little bit about the effects that the testing had on you or people you knew?
Are you talking physical effects, psychological effects or what kinds of effects? I think those are still being measured as we speak. But there have been a lot of illnesses associated with the testing. We follow the same lists of radiogenic conditions, health conditions that the United States uses for its own medical program and compensation plans. So we have a lot of those anomalies here. We’ve had birth defects; we’ve had people being displaced from their homelands, some forever. The Bikini people are still not repatriated as we speak. Half of Enewetak will be contaminated for the next twelve thousand years, and probably will not allow people to go back to their homelands. Rongelap, the people of Rongelap, are still living in Kwajalein. So there’s been a lot of displaced population within our own country. There has been a full ramp to compensate, which has turned out to be grossly inadequate. There is a program for medical care but reserved only for those people that the United States determines to have been exposed and not to everyone as we think it should be. There are many, many different interpretations given by people as to the effects. But I think the initial shock began on the morning of March 1st, certainly for me. And two weeks later my grandfather and I visited the people of Rongelap in Kwajalein, people who had been evacuated from Rongelap. I remember walking in with my grandfather to the tents, to the camp where they were being kept and the mayor running out, the magistrate we called them at the time, Magistrate John Anjain, running out and telling my grandfather, “Anton! Anton! Don’t bring your son in here. We don’t want him to catch our illness.” I was only 9 at the time but I think that some of those early experiences have left their mark on me and then they are still manifested in all that I am trying to do. And these later years of my life, in terms of bringing the issue of nuclear testing to the forefront of world consideration and focus.
Why do you think the U.S. tested in the Marshall Islands?
Because they wanted some place where they could test in relative secrecy, controlled environment as far as they were concerned. And there were not too many American citizens that would be exposed, like in New Mexico or in Utah or Nevada. I think that’s the reason they tested here.
Do you think the U.S. has made sufficient reparations to the people of the Marshall Islands?
Not by any stretch of the imagination, no. The United States held all the information necessary for us to make a decision as to whether the treaty arrangement that we have with them was sufficient. They withheld it and are still withholding this information from us as of this day. But in the compact itself, it says that the northern Marshalls radiological survey was the best representation of the nuclear issue that the United States could possibly give us. And based on that, we accepted the compensation of 150 million for the tribunal, which was administered in accordance with an agreement that we have with the United States. During that process, during the adjudication of those claims, we discovered that based on metrics that the United States uses for its own exposed people, we had totally underestimated the damage that it had done here. Physically to the human beings that live here as well as to the environment. We have not even barely met the requirements of physical compensation for health effects. We have not even touched damage to property and to damage that interferes with the use of property. We have not even touched that, and we’re totally out of money that was sent.. recently.
Why do you think the U.S. government and Congress has been, has given this type of response?
Because they can. We have tried through the courts to have them pay more attention to the people of Bikini and Enewetak. We’ve been negotiating for years and raising this up with them every time we have a chance. For ten years or so, it’s been a wall. A straight wall. They will not even consider our requests. The administration says it’s the Congresses business. The Congress says it’s administration’s business. And then both of them say it’s the judiciary. And it just kind of rolls around over there and doesn’t gather any effects in any one place. But in the meantime, people are still getting ill. We’re sending people to Hawaii for exams and America for treatment and are being pressured to bring them back because they - we are told they are an undue burden on the social structures on those different places. But there’s no way that this government itself can handle. We do not have the financial or the technological resources to take care of our own nuclear victims from the testing.
Speaking of action through courts, could you tell us a little bit about the current lawsuit that the Marshall Islands is filing?
There are two lawsuits. We filed one directly against the United States in the federal court to which we provide the United States has responded, and we will respond to that response in the next few days. But the ICJ, the International Court of Justice, the lawsuit is basically a call for an application to the ICJ to ask it to give us a ruling as to whether the United States and the other nuclear powers have lived up to their treaty agreement, Article 6 in particular, which says they will disarm, or negotiate disarmament, as soon as possible after the signing of the treaty. We’ve signed on later, of course. We became members of the UN much later but we feel that we have not only the mandate from the testing period itself but as members of the UN and as members of that treaty to ask the nuclear powers to disarm.
Could you tell us a little bit about like how the idea to file this lawsuit came about?
We have friends in the NGO community and also in the legal, law institutions throughout the world and even in New York who have been looking at this for a long time. We have friends in California in the organization called the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, which started this discussion with us two, maybe three, years ago. But we did not make a final decision to actually go forward with the lawsuit until April of this year (2014).
When you say “we”, who do you mean? Because I know we were speaking to a lot of people here who seemed like they weren’t really aware of the lawsuit until after it happened - was filed.
That was the nature of the beast. We had to be keep and maintain confidentiality prior to the filing. We took it to Cabinet and then Cabinet. At that time, I was not Minister of Foreign Affairs. Another gentleman was, Phillip. Cabinet authorized Phillip to appoint me to carry the case forward. And it wasn’t until we did an assessment of what we were up to now, what’s going on with displaced people, what’s going on in Kwajalein, what’s going on in the rest of the world, that we decided to engage fully with the law firm recommended by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation to move forward with it. And the timing was set to occur at the review, the Nonproliferation Treaty review in New York in April. So we went in on that first day of that review and made the announcement. We understand that there will be people who say that they should have been informed about this. Actually, there is a difference between the issue of compensation and damages and liability with the United States that’s separate in part from the issue of the ICJ application, which says, “Can you tell us if these nuke powers are living up to their commitment to disarm?”
Can you describe the U.S.’s response and their basis for why they responded?
There is no response yet in the ICJ. There is a response in the federal court, which is basically the same tune that they’ve given us all along every time we filed anything against the United States pertaining to the nuclear tests. “It’s too late, you really don’t have mandate or standing to bring this up. Technically we can’t, we think it should be dismissed for those reasons.” Not on substance.
Well this is like a really sort of bland question, but why is the lawsuit important?
The lawsuit is important because it is a matter of world survival. The lawsuit is important because we cannot keep passing it on and pointing fingers, the “you go first” kind of thing to the other members of the treaty. The lawsuit is important because those of us who have experienced what results there are from just testing these horrible weapons understand and can attest to - there comes a time when we must speak up. Otherwise, those of us who were around during the testing will be dead and gone. I was looking around at the Nitijela this morning and during our luncheon, and I could only count four people that I know were around during the testing period. And if we don’t do it now, who’s going to feel that they have enough knowledge about this thing, at least as far as the Marshallese people are concerned, to move it forward. There are bits of knowledge scattered here and there. There are those who experienced it from their own atoll homelands. There are those who experienced it from their government jobs. There are those who experienced it from their medical problems or other claims that they’ve filed before. But we are fast losing those who have a comprehensive view of what must be done. And it was our feeling that if we don’t do it now, then it’s not going to be done in any way that is going to be as fair and as comprehensive as if we were to involve those who were involved in the first place. That’s why it’s being done now. The other thing is that we go around preaching to the world the need for sanity in the climate change issues. I’m reminded of when I went to Jesuit school. I’m reminded of St. Ignatius Loyola’s teaching. St. Francis Xavier saying, “What would it gain man - what would it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” What would it do, what would happen if we succeeded in bringing climate sanity to this world and somebody presses a nuclear button? This whole exercise is for naught. Those threats are just as real and just as dangerous to everyone. You can’t separate them. Just image if that rocket that was fired at that jet over Ukraine. If that was a nuclear missile. And they were around there too. Recently a council general was asked to have lunch on the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan where one of their guys pointed out to the honored guest, “This ship can end the world.” There’s nuclear weapons out there, depends on who you talk to, up to 23,000 warheads. Right in this country, they test these missiles with multiple warheads. We have 4th of July ten times a year with all the fireworks in the sky when these things come back into - from the atmosphere. So it’s very real to us. We have displaced people from Kwajalein because of the missile testing program. I don’t differentiate between missile testing and atomic bomb testing. They’re one in the same. One is a vehicle for those terrible weapons. The other ones are those terrible weapons themselves. But people are being threatened and not just us, but especially those after us. And it is for them that we must do this.
So, why is the Marshall Islands the right party to bring this lawsuit? Is it because of their history with nuclear testing, would you say?
The thing about the UN is that, leaving the security council aside, every country has a vote. And every country has a standing in any treaty to which we subscribe. We are members of the NPT, we have a nuclear history, we have a continuing open wound from that nuclear history as far as our closest friend in the world is considered. And that closest friend happens to be one of the biggest missile and atomic powers in the world. So it makes sense for us to bring this to their attention. Sure, we’re going to be criticized for being such a small country taking up the giant but, as I’ve said before, where would we be if this was the argument that we had followed when we were trying to be an independent country? We would not be an independent country now.
What do you think the Marshall Islands is hoping to gain from this lawsuit?
That the United States and the nuclear powers will sit down and talk about disarmament.
Do you think it’s going to be successful?
If I didn’t think so, we would not file it. I really believe that there is some justice left in this world and that perhaps, just a little push from time to time will help bring it out. But it may appear to many people that as a small country, as a partner of the United States, that we’re being insolent or being ingracious or that we don’t appreciate the kind of effort that the United States is putting out for world security. No, that’s not the case at all. Here is a treaty to which you agreed. You have not done what you promised you would do under Article 6. ICJ, is this right or not? Very basic, very simple. I don’t think that there should be any more confusing issues thrown into the matter at all. And I think that part of what might be construed as ignorance about the case or the criticism that we didn’t check with every exposed person in the Marshalls about the case is a misunderstanding of the differences between our ongoing efforts to bring closure to our nuclear wishes with the United States and our wanting that the NPT have some meaning. Because without disarmament, that whole exercise is worthless. It’s like going through all these climate change meetings and not achieving a two-degree cap on global warming. If that doesn’t happen, all of these meetings since Rio in 1992 are for naught, ‘cause these islands will go under by the middle of the century if we do not do that. So, it’s a parallel issue; there are necessarily some overlaps that you will run into along the way. But if you look at these issues as standalone, you will see that we are not trying to confuse the issues at all. Of course, The United States must explain to the world why it chooses to abide by certain treaties that it signs but not by others. That’s in their wisdom and their thousands of lawyers that work for them, they can explain this to the ICJ, and the ICJ’s is going toexplain it to the world. But it is not for us to say whether the United States is or is not doing something. All we know is that they’re choosing and handpicking what treaties they actually abide by and what treaties they do not abide by. And if they are reminded about those treaties they are answering, “It’s none of your business. We may be doing wrong but it’s really none of your business.” Well we’re members of that treaty, so it is our business.
How do you think the lawsuit will affect the relationship between the Marshall Islands and the U.S.?
If, if that happens then all this preaching about the United States being the champion of world democracy and justice is not true. The United States is a mature country. It abides by the rule of law, we believe. That’s my belief. And the United States as a full-grown nation can take care of itself. It should not take a reminder from a small partner country like ours as reason to, what? Cut off our foreign aid? Or what, how are they going to get angry? And who is going to get angry? The Association of Mayors of the United States have endorsed our lawsuit unanimously. They represent millions of people in America who think that this should be done. The Council of Churches. Many, many nobel laureates throughout the world, and associations throughout the world have come forth and said, “We think that you guys have done a wonderful thing”. We’ve heard some negative, even here in my country, we’ve heard from people who if - just because they are on the other side of the aisle in parliament. If I say that this wall is light green, they’ll tell you it’s blue. And if I say it’s raining outside, “No, no, no the sun is out”. It’ll always be that way. And we accept that. We also accept the fact that there will be a few people in the administration of the United States that will express some disappointment about this. But we do not think that asking a court to declare what is just or what is not just, or what is right or what is not right, is ample reason for retribution on the part of anyone. No.
Speaking of the relationship between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands, some people we spoke to earlier described it as a relationship between a bigger brother and a younger brother. Is that how you see the relationship between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands?
That description may reflect some aspects of the relationship, but this is a treaty between two equal countries. The relationship between the United States says, “United States you have the right to defend the Marshalls and to construct military bases in the Marshalls.” It’s a security relationship. It’s mutual security. We’ve said, “If somebody comes and attacks you America, we will come and defend you. If somebody attacks us, you will come and defend us.” It’s an equal relationship. That relationship does not preclude one or the other partner from saying, “Hey man, we think you’re doing the wrong thing here.” Because if that’s the case, we’re all wasting our time. International relations are based on friends, allies, or enemies playing check and balance on each other. And the United States again is grown, is a fully grown democracy, and must take this as such. You will notice that in the ICJ, the UK has been very civil, very civilized, in its response to it. They’re talking to our lawyers, they’re talking with the court, they’re trying to figure out where and when and how long it will take to do this, that, and the other to make sure it goes forward. Not just to simply say, “Dismiss this one”. The Russians and the Chinese have said, “We decline jurisdiction,” which was expected. We did not expect those guys to come walking in and say, “Okay Marshalls, we will listen to what you say.” But we expect the United States to answer this civil manner as well, and not just simply say, “Dismiss it because these guys didn’t bring it up as soon as they signed the treaty.”
Do you think that the U.S. also views the Marshall Islands and the U.S. as having an equal relationship?
I don’t think the United States as a government believes that it is equal to a small country like ours, no. But I believe that the United States as a democracy believes that everybody is free and has the right to go to court to ask the court for an opinion on anything that is contentious that comes to the just administration of a treaty, a law, or a traffic violation. But when it comes to something this important for the future of the world, the United States should recognize that and not just push it off as something that they can simply swat as if you’re swatting a fly.
Do you think the lawsuits can affect the nonproliferation disarmament movement as a whole?
I hope it gives them inspiration and more confidence and broadens their support from the grassroots of the world. I really believe it could do that because I think it demonstrates that in this case, it’s not, it doesn’t matter what’s your size. If the principle is there and you have standing, then you should move it. And you should move on it in a timely manner, yes. But timely manner compared to what? If the United States is claiming that we did not move on this in a timely manner, we’re saying that they didn’t move in disarmament negotiations in a timely manner. That’s our accusation.
What, in your opinion, is the most important nuclear weapons issue facing the world today?
That there are too many of them and that they can wipe this world out. Accidentally, on purpose, or just because somebody’s crazy. And there are a few of them out there.
Do you think that the NPT is effective in today’s geopolitical world?
As long as the nine nuclear countries do not think so, it’s not going to be effective. But one way to make it effective and to cause the nine nuclear countries to make it effective is to have them sit down and start talking real disarmament. They agreed that it was something that must be done. They’re the ones who put this thing together. Then just having it sit there and not doing anything about it is causing a lot of war in the world.
Is that what you would consider a success for the lawsuit, to get the discussion going?
There seems to be a disconnect today, especially with the younger generation, for certain in the U.S., related to nuclear issues. Why do you think that is and how do you think we can overcome this sort of disconnect?
You know, there’s a disconnect with the younger generation as far as climate change is concerned, too. We’ve organized champion groups. We’ve organized young people to go out and talking in the villages. We’ve organized workshops for them. We’ve organized, including climate change and some of these related issues, in the curriculums in our schools to bring out the young people’s understanding to a level where they can be active and effective partners in climate change. We can do the same thing in nuclear issues. In this country, remember, we were, well, reportedly annexed by the Germans in 1888 after the Spanish were in here. Subsequently the Japanese came in 1914 and kept us under their thumbs until 1944. The Americans came in. People on the Marshall Islands have been used to being dominated by foreign powers for too long. When we became an independent country, we saw, we who put the agreement together, those of us who wrote the constitutions, those of us who said this government has got to be independent, we view our relationship with the United States as not one only between an older brother and a younger brother but also between equal states. We view what the United States provides in support, financial support, for our government as an obligation of the United States under that treaty. Just like we have an obligation under the treaty to make sure nobody else comes in here, except the United States. That’s a very major sovereign right to sacrifice to another country. Where the United States can now today as we speak, they can issue a proclamation that the lawsuit that we have filed is not in keeping with the military and security relationship, and it’ll go away because they have their right to under the treaty. A treaty we will respect because we respect treaties. And if the United States would respect treaties, it would start disarmament talks.
Can you tell us a little bit about Project 4.1?
Project 4.1 as described in documents that we’ve received from the United States government, was described in November of 1953 as a project to study human beings exposed to radiation or to radionuclides. But bottom line after March 1st, 1954, after Bravo, that same Project 4.1 was retitled, “Study of Human Beings Accidentally Exposed to Radiation”. We think that there was, prior to Bravo, anticipation on the part of maybe not the government of the United States but certainly some of the people who were conducting the tests that human beings would be exposed. And that they were prepared to study them. What is wrong with it is that it was kept secret and the purposes for which it was established were not discussed or shared with the people of the Marshall Islands, who became, in fact, guinea pigs under 4.1. My colleague, Senator Jeban Riklon from Kwajalein, is one of the original subjects of 4.1. His number is 40 and he was a year and a half old when they put him in the project. There were two infants in their mother’s womb who were given numbers too. 4.1 was denied as every existed by the United States many, many times. When we finally got the documents that it really did happen, and when we finally saw reports from the teams of energy doctors who conducted these studies - and they were studies, they were not treating people for their illnesses they were studying them - they saw them in Brookhaven in New York. They said, “Well it was really not meant to be that, we really wanted to treat those people for their exposure.” Remember that after Bravo when the people were evacuated from Rongelap and Utirik, the program was suspended for a short period. But after the people were put back on Rongelap, and after the people of Utirik were put back on Utirik, more than half of all of the atomic and hydrogen events occurred after the repatriation of these people. Back to the places where they were exposed in the first place. Give me a break. If people are saying that there was no deliberate attempts at some point to expose more people, I think that they really ought to reexamine their thinking process.
With all this history and the current refusals in the U.S. government, do you have hope for the future that the Marshall Islands and the U.S. can come together on this issue?
If I didn’t I wouldn’t be speaking with you. There must always be hope. I have 3 daughters, 9 grandchildren, 4 great grandchildren. And if I go home some evening and somebody asks me, “What have you been doing for me?” What am I gonna say? That I gave up hope? I don’t think so. I think if there’s one thing nobody can take away from us, it’s that. And sure we will be, we will step on people’s toes from time to time because that’s, like I said, the nature of the beast. But, it must be done.
This is like, okay, kind of a cliché question but how does the fact that Project 4.1, that the United States denied it, make you feel?
Haha. You know, that sort of thing for normal a human being, it would make you feel angry. It will make you, you know - think anger would be the first reaction. But it also must be taken with an understanding of some of the way the people thought in those days. The Cold War, the Russians. You know, the petition to ask that the testing be stopped - my grandfather was involved in that too - was held up at the UN by Henry Cabot Lodge and Dag Hammarskjöld, the first secretary general, so that the testing could continue without interference from the UN. And when that was done, and then they presented the petition to the trusteeship council. I don’t think that that those gentleman actually said, you know, “Let’s just blow up a few more shots and explode more people.” I don’t think that was in their minds. I think that they really believed they were doing the right thing. But there was a middle layer of military and scientific people. I think, what my theory is, who had overview of the project, who were filtering what was going up to American political leadership, and at the same time, filtering what was coming down from the leadership to the folks on the ground. And I think that’s where the damage occurred. But regardless of whether it occurred, we should not let that anger control how we move forward with the issue. We should let clearer minds prevail. We should let, let history, ride its course. But whatever we can do to make sure that the world learns from that mistake, we should do so now. And there’s no better learning than say what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or what happened in the Marshalls. Or Kazakhstan. To citizens in Australia. To human beings who had nothing to do with the fight. Had nothing to do with the contention as to who is the most powerful country in the world. And yet, the people responsible for that, the people, the entities, the governments responsible for that, remain sheltered. They may run into the covers of statutes of limitation or other procedural protection and refuse to own up to their responsibility.
Around the same time as the nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands and Project 4.1, the Nuremberg Trials were going on in Germany.
A lot of people were convicted for war crimes for conducting medical tests on humans. Do you feel this is relevant to the Marshall Islands testing?
If a military jeep were to drive around this curb behind us and flipped over, there would be an investigation. You ask people if there ever was an investigation as to what happened with Bravo. I have never found any evidence to that effect. And I’ve always asked, “Why is that everybody’s talking about this accident that happened in the Marshalls and there’s no accident report.” But three days after Bravo, there was a medical team, 4.1 medical team, on site to begin its study.
Could you tell us a little bit about attempts to get adequate compensation from the United States?
Limitation of liability on the part of the United States? Well first of all, they didn’t give us the information to make - not an educated guess, what’s the other word that’s used?
No, no, no, no, no.
Like an estimate.
No, no. The estimates they gave. So that we could make an educated, an informed choice, as to what was happening to us. All that information was withheld and to this day, they still refuse to share it with us. Even information that we have identified as necessary for us to fully understand what happened. They refuse to share with us on the basis that it is security, in the security interest of the United States. So, when we agreed to the 150 million dollars as part of the 177 Agreement under the compact, this estimate was told to us by the United States to be sufficient. To cover whatever issues might arise, including physical compensation, property damage compensation, and medical care. Of course, we now know that that was total nonsense. We also found out that the representatives of the United States sent to negotiate with us were given an authorization of 450 million dollars, not 150, and upon reporting their success to the Congress, they were quite openly scolded by some of our friends in Congress that one of them actually said, “You screwed the nukes,” to the ambassador, the United States ambassador responsible for the deal.
Can you talk a little bit about how life for people changed, I guess, after the nuclear tests?
Well, it’s not easy for our American friends to fully understand it because in your country, you can move from New York to California and still be at home. In this country, if I moved from this island to the next one, I’m being displaced because I have no rights on the next one. Every single square inch of land in the Marshalls is spoken for. Every single square inch of land in the Marshalls is privately owned, and it’s not very much land as you can see. So when you move the people of Bikini or Enewetak or Rongelap or Utirik or anywhere else from their own lands to someplace else, you are depriving them of their tie to life, to the earth, to tradition, to custom. You’re not only doing that to them, but you are also placing them as a burden on other people upon which land they are now living. It’s not that the people that you move them to do not like it. It’s a reality of the islands. There’s not enough space for everyone. Of course many of our people have moved to the United States. That’s an easy enough opportunity since the compact went into effect. But they would rather be displaced and living in the U.S. than be displaced and living in the Marshalls because that has the biggest social impact. It has torn the fabric of our society where you have Bikini people living as aliens in their own country because they cannot go back to Bikini. Same thing with Enewetak. Same thing with Rongelap. Rongelap people now live in Kwajalein. And they will always be Rongelap people, regardless of where they are. Or here, or Maui, or even Oklahoma. But the most tragic impact, effect, of the testing program is displacement of people. That is one of the reasons when we talk about climate change, we are reluctant to say what is going to happen if the tide comes up. Because we do not even want to think about it. It is repugnant to think about moving people again. And this time, we might be moving people permanently. And now you’re talking, what is the next legal effect of that? What is the next economic effect of that? What’s the social effect of that? What is going to happen to these people if you need to move them again. So that lesson was learned from the testing, but that does not mean that it did not happen before. Of course the Japanese moved people around to build bases in preparation for World War II. In some cases, you can never move back to some of those lands either. But the important thing is that it must be seen from a different light. Our good friends in Chicago would not understand if I were to tell them, “Oh yeah, they moved these people from Rongelap and they’re living in Kwajalein.” So what? It is a very major trauma for any society within the Marshalls.
Is that what - who told us - someone told us it’s like an abbreviation? The 4 atolls, well I was trying to think of the word for this - but anyway the point is the mnemonic. it’s not a mnemonic, the abbreviation spells the word, it makes the word broken?
So the government hides behind their statutes of limitations and what not, but we were quite surprised when we were looking into Project 4.1 that previous movies on it are not being shown anywhere. You can’t find it online or on T.V. and America prides itself for its first amendment freedom of speech. Why do you think about this?
I will give you the email of Nuclear Savage, for example, who's been having a fight with PBS for the last three - I’m sure you’ve heard about that - three and a half years because they [PBS] want to edit it down to thirty minutes, now to twenty minutes. It won’t tell the story. So they’re not just an official government spokesman, voice of America, TV station but also within the U.S. public radio and public television system, people who say that they have an obligation to protect the good name of the United States, I guess. And not a lot, but there is a whole list of videos and films and books that have been written about these things that people refuse to show publicly. Nuclear Savage has won acclaim throughout the world, except in PBS.
I have two more questions. One is, what keeps you up at night? Like what is the one thing you worry about the most?
Haha. You know, being in public office in a small island country like this makes you everything to everybody. I get calls at night to go help admit a pregnant woman to the hospital or to go stop a domestic quarrel where somebody’s getting hurt or to advise a kid on whether he should go to the University of the South Pacific or the University of Hawaii. It’s an unlimited range of duties that you would not find, I don’t think you would find, in a situation like the United States. When we were leaving the opening section this morning, coming across to lunch, the mayor of Wotje ran up to me, pulled me aside to tell me that missile debris has been discovered in Wotje. Wotje is not even part of the testing range. So some of the things that you must deal with are not normally accepted, or not normally listed in a job description for a senator or a minister. But it nevertheless it keeps you going. But we’re also worried about the budget for this government. We need to reduce. We’re worried about the lawsuit. We’re worried about you name it. I have also had the experience of having a granddaughter with leukemia, that took up a lot of family time and resources. Thank god she’s well now, she’s in remission but it - from personal to public life sometimes there is very little way of drawing the borderline. What do you worry about most? That the exercise that we’re going through will be squelched. Not just the ICJ issue but the climate change issue. And to some, I mean, people in New York might not see those things as running together but we certainly do from this point of view. It’s something that’s happening to us that is not of our making, not of our consent, and there is a cure for it but nobody wants to apply that cure. It’s exactly the same thing. So, we continue to fight. I think one of the most - perhaps the next part of your question should be, “What makes you most happy in what you’re doing,”
What makes me most happy in what I’m doing is that I see the eyes of hope and the sound of commitment from young people. Young, young people. I’m not just talking college people in our small college. But I’m talking high school and elementary school. The president’s speech that was read today talked about our athletes in Pohnpei. And you noticed there was applause in the middle of it. That was for the youngsters who came back with 90 medals. That’s going to be the saving grace of this country. That’s going to be what keeps us alive, is the enthusiasm of our youngsters. Of course, they need to play catchup. I mean, we don’t have the best schools or the best preparations that people can have to meet the world. But it’s getting better, little by little. Last May in the state of Arkansa, 220 Marshallese graduated from high school. And that’s the sort of thing that brings you back to focus. Don’t give up. It’s all going to work out.
And then finally, is there anything else about any of these things that you think is important to say that hasn’t been said?
Yes. That we don’t have a quarrel with the American people. We have a disagreement with the U.S. government and some of the policies that they’ve held onto and tried to push even though they don’t make sense in this context. We have differences with them. We treasure most longly our relationship with the American people. If it was not for the American people, again, this country would not exist today. I’m sure there were those in positions of leadership in both the military and the Congress and the administration of America that would have preferred the easy solution to make this a territory and insert it into the portfolio of Hawaii and everything is solved. But that we are now an independent country, that we are now a member of the UN, that we can live until tomorrow to bring our fight to another day, I think we owe to the American people because they’re the ones who put the pressure on the Congress and their administration to set these countries free. Palau, FSM, and the Marshalls. We all fell in the same kind of bundle that presented a, a difficult choice for American leaders to make. But the out - swelling of popular support for the establishment of these governments and recognition of our inherent sovereignty is something we will be forever grateful to the American people.
Okay, great. Thank you so much.