Sunday, May 3, 2015

Marshall Islands

On average, about once every ten countries, a small group of coral atolls in the middle of an ocean somewhere occurs in this catalogue, and it remains only to determine whether they are part of France or not; usually they are. On this occasion however – not; they are part of the USA. The CIA World FactBook states: "After almost four decades under US administration as the easternmost part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, the Marshall Islands attained independence in 1986 under a Compact of Free Association. Compensation claims continue as a result of US nuclear testing on some of the atolls between 1947 and 1962. The Marshall Islands hosts the US Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA) Reagan Missile Test Site, a key installation in the US missile defence network.”

Enough said! Two long chains of atolls, twenty-four in total, making over a thousand islands, some of them so small they are known as islets. The whole area is known as Micronesia, which includes Kiribati and Mauro; the name Marshall refers to an 18th century British explorer, John Marshall, who actually named them “Lord Mulgrove’s Range.” The islands, which are known to have been settled by indigenous peoples around 1500 BCE, became the property of Spain until it sold them to Germany in the 1880s, who lost them to the Japanese in World War One, who lost them to the Americans in World War Two, since when they have been used, as we have seen, as a base of preparations for World War Three. Today they are free and independent, whatever that means when the USA has "a key installation" in its missile defence network based there. A Presidential Republic anyway, though ultimately the current President may well be Barack Obama and not Christopher Loeak, for it was Loeak who got himself elected in 2012, but Obama who pays most of the Marshall Islands bills, and the islands are almost entirely dependent on American imports for any goods except subsistence groceries.

Of the atolls used for nuclear testing (and for which $150m was paid in compensation by the US in the 1980s), Bikini is the most famous, and it remains uninhabitable for the foreseeable future. Enewetak has been “partially decontaminated”, though I am not sure how one partially decontaminates; the cockroaches are gone from my bathroom but still infest my kitchen; I no longer have chickenpox in my upper body; the cancer in my lungs has been cleared up, but they are still working on the ones in my brain and my liver. On the subject of “partial decontamination” I declare myself an atheist.

Surprisingly, given the above, the Marshall Islands will receive a mark, not so much for a contribution to human growth and progress, as for a contribution by that tiny percentage of humans who may be described as intelligent. In October 2011, some 772,000 square miles of ocean around the Marshall islands was declared a shark sanctuary by the government, making it the largest shark sanctuary in the world, unless you include the New York Stock Exchange.

Marks For: 1

Marks against: $150m

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

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