My turn: Give help to the Marshall Islands' survivors

Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A few weeks ago, while Juneau residents enjoyed the first rare glimpses of sunshine and warmth, a few speakers from the Marshall Islands and throughout the United States came to share survivor stories of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands. They also detailed technical accounts of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands and gave presentations that spoke to the human elements entailed in war and conflict.

Few here in Juneau got to hear the testimonies or take in the highly detailed accounts that transpired. Out of the plethora of information and insights that could be taken from the Nuclear Awareness Conference, there is one that I think all Alaskans, indeed, all Americans, need to take heed - Senate Bill 1756.

The bill is the first step in the reparations that still have not been given to the Marshallese people. More than 60 years passed after the U.S. government's 67 nuclear tests, which obliterated Marshallese home lands and displaced people from them. There have been incalculable health effects, ranging from a wide range of radiation-related cancers to innumerable birth defects - such as the infamous jellyfish babies, children born with transparent skin who lived for as long as a week.

It so happens that both of these aspects were spoken of by Lijon Eknilang.

Eknilang is a survivor of the nuclear testings that took place during the 1950s, and a survivor of the cancers those testings wrought, as well as a woman who had to bear witness to her own miscarriages, totaling seven, brought about by exposure to nuclear fallout and radiation. Throughout Eknilang's presentation here in Juneau, there was one plea that was utterly apparent - do not simply cry for me, become me, step in my shoes, and tell me what you would do for yourself and for your people.

As a young American, stepping into Eknilang's shoes is not easy. Certainly, living and actually experiencing the pain and disappointment that she has, while maintaining a beautiful smile, is something that seems utterly beyond myself. If there is one thing I can do as an American citizen on behalf of Eknilang and the Marshallese people, it is to continually promote support for Senate Bill 1756.

I plead with all of you, write letters, spread the word, talk to your friends and colleagues - do every bit you can - to help support and push through Senate Bill 1756.

To put Senate Bill 1756 (around a $2 billion proposal) into perspective, fiscally speaking, it is important to note a comparison. Take, for instance, the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense program, what some still call the "Star Wars" program, which has been dubiously dubbed as inept and financially bloated.

Over the course of the BMD program, $65 billion has been spent, with about $3 billion having been spent in the Marshall Islands for the BMD testings that to this day continue in and around Kwajalein. Notice that a billion more dollars are being spent on a failing program than for obligatory humanitarian aid for the Marshallese people.

Finally, as I am sure many are aware, take a look at the projected figures for the money spent on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, where some point toward figures upwards of $800 billion, totaling out to about $12 billion a month for 2008 since the war began.

I leave you with this one question - where do our responsibilities lie for the Marshall Islands and its people?"

• Forest Kvasnikoff is a Juneau resident.

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