Sunday, May 27, 2007

Those Other Immigrants in Springdale

Northwest Arkansas is home to the largest concentration of Marshallese in the world outside the Republic of the Marshall Islands, with an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 living here. This weekend, several hundred more flocked to the Jones Center in Springdale to celebrate their independence from U.S. control. These people are not U.S. citizens but are eligible for certain government benefits, so I'm surprised that the local yahoos and their legislative showmen are not clamoring to send these "brown people" back to wherever the Marshall Islands might be.

Like other immigrants, some of the Marshallese came to Northwest Arkansas for better jobs.The latest edition of "Doing Business," prepared by the World Bank's private sector resources department, declared the Marshall Islands to be the world's number one business environment for its cheap labor and ease in hiring and firing workers. Not being among the 179 signatory member countries of the International Labor Organization, the country is not obliged to abide by such fundamental labor standards as elimination of forced labor, child labor and discrimination, and respect for freedom of association and right to collective bargaining.

But there is another reason. After church on Sunday, February 10, 1946, U.S. Military Governor Commodore Ben Wyatt went to Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands (then a so-called U.S. "Trust" Territory) to ask them to give up their islands for the "good of all mankind" so that the U.S. could test nuclear weapons. The Bikinian leader, Juda, replied with resignation, ""Men Otemjej Rej Ilo Bein Anij" ["Everything is in the hands of God."]. Between 1946 and 1958 the United States detonated 67 thermonuclear atomic weapons in the Marshall Islands, including a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb in 1954 that was some 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Castle Bravo bomb blast vaporized three islands. The inhabitants were forced to abandon the other nearby islands three days after the test, leaving behind their homes and all their belongings, but many soon died. In 1957, three years later, the U.S. declared the area "clean and safe" and allowed the islanders to return. Evidence of continued contamination mounted, however, as many residents developed thyroid-tumors, and many youngsters died of leukemia. Even today, the grandchildren of the survivors are being born with severe birth defects.

The United States Army, under the 1986 Compact of Free Association, still maintains the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missle Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands for the "good of all mankind," and "Everything is in the hands of God."

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