- Domination and Resistance: The United States and the Marshall Islands during the Cold War by Martha Smith-Norris
Anthropologists, journalists, and filmmakers examining the impacts of US militarism in the Marshall Islands are numerous and sometimes trip over one another during research. It is refreshing to have a trained historian provide perspectives from a different discipline, as each field of study brings its own methods and foci.
Martha Smith-Norris's book supplements our collective knowledge about US Cold War activities in the Marshall Islands in many important ways. The sixty-five pages of endnotes and bibliography, as well as many photos in the text, include resources not discussed in other examinations of this topic and bring into clarity large-scale patterns of US behavior. Rather than treat US nuclear weapons testing and US missile testing in the Marshall Islands as two separate activities, the author shows how the missile testing is an evolution of US actions and motivations at its Pacific proving grounds that began with nuclear weapons tests in 1946 and continue with contemporary US activities on Kwajalein Atoll.
Of critical importance to this history, Smith-Norris's archival sleuthing amplifies the contributions of Marshallese activists by documenting resistance to US military tests, including the sail-ins and sit-ins led by the landowners of Kwajalein. The archival research focuses on the ways that these protests embarrassed the United States or halted missile tests and on the fact that these resistance groups sometimes comprised mostly women. The impact of Marshallese protests on the military and political leadership in the United States becomes evident in source material Smith-Norris presents, such as the response of the US commander of the missile base in Kwajalein to the 1982 sit-in: "We should not underestimate the determination of the landowners … or their capacity to undertake further occupation measures calling for physical discomfort or even violent confrontation" (121).
Through her archival research, Smith-Norris also amplifies the colonial arrogance of US Government practices, such as the takings of land without obtaining Marshallese consent, including the decision to use Bikini Atoll in 1946 for nuclear weapons tests: "For a sum of $10, the government of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands granted the United States the 'exclusive right to use and occupy' all of the Bikini Atoll 'for an [End Page 382] indefinite period of time.' This document was signed by two American representatives … [but] significantly, no members of the Bikini Council were asked to sign the agreement" (45–46).
Another pattern that surfaces from the archival evidence is the US Government's repeated resettlement of Marshallese on atolls or islands that were not previously occupied and that were unfit for full-time human habitation such as Rongerik, Ujelang, Ejit, Kili, and Mejatto. Smith-Norris's meticulous archival research also substantiates previously documented patterns of human experimentation involving Marshallese exposed to radioactive fallout, resettled on contaminated lands, or used as control populations in biomedical research; none of these activities were for the "benefit" of the Marshallese. After reviewing documents pertaining to biomedical experimentation on Rongelap, the inhabited atoll closest to the ground-zero location of Bikini Atoll, the author concludes: "Clearly, the [Atomic Energy Commission's] research interests prevailed over concerns for the health of the Rongelapese" (89).
While the standard format for most book reviews is to discuss both the strengths and critiques of a publication, this review draws inspiration from Shawn Wilson's call (in Research Is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods ) to build relationships, in this case between disciplines and researchers. As Wilson pointed out: "Criticizing or judging would imply that I know more about someone else's work and the relationships that went into it than they do themselves. I have no doubt that as others did their research, they used the methods and paradigms that seemed most suited to the job as they saw it" (2008, 43). With Wilson's...