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018_ Interview: the marshallese contribution to world peace

26 January, 2021 - 9 min read

018_ Interview: the marshallese contribution to world peace

Hey there, and thank you for taking the time to listen to this, perhaps my most important, episode of _bandwidth: coast to coast.

At the present event that this is being released, the world looking out from my spot in the middle of North America, looks and feels like absolute chaos.

A chaos, that further hides many of the issues which continue to surround us out in the open, while completely going unnoticed.

One of those issues that has a high ranking on my list of imminent concern, is nuclear weapons.

I use the parable by David Foster Wallace in his “this is water” speech frequently, as the simplest framework to view these types of problems, that go completely and unknowingly unnoticed, while directly occurring in front of us — or even within us.

Things not forgotten, but never became aware.

Here’s Wallace’s parable again:

There are two fish swimming along, when an older fish swims by and says, morning folks, how’s the water?

The two other fish swim merrily along for a bit, when one goes to the other and asks, “what the fuck is water?”

The point of this, is the most seemingly obvious banalities, are often the most important to keep in mind, or like fish in water, we can forget the very fabric of the world around us.

Like the fabric of our current world peace, where no major conflicts between military powers has happened in the past 75 years. A peace that is due to one single innovation.

Accept it or not, our current world peace was brokered by the use of nuclear weapons.

It’s worth noting the massive movement to tie countries’ economies together through quote “modern” industry, that happened between the quote “capitalist” or democratic, quote “west,” and the communist soviet block.

I say quote “capitalist,” because I believe we haven’t experienced true capitalism until after the soviet union folded. But that, is for another episode…

This along with the Marshall plan, are due for a big call out, however, none of it would have been possible had it not been built under the safety blanket provided by nuclear weapons.

Suddenly, and violently, massive troop movements and all the industrial warfare introduced in WW1, before being perfected in WW2, became completely obsolete.

For with one drop of a few hundred pounds of metal and wires, a whole city could disintegrate in an instant.

This is something that’s incredibly easy to forget, for nearly all of us alive were too young to learn these lessons first hand, few have memories of the bomb drills in schools, while the vast majority grew up in a world where this nuclear peace was taken completely for granted, like fish swimming in a current, unaware of it’s force.

Sure there were events like the Fukushima plant in Japan, or Chernobyl before it, but neither were at the scale or intention of a nuclear bomb.

Yet, dropping a nuclear weapon nearly always gets brought up as a knee jerk reaction to any overwhelming use of force.

Like we heard from Rowan on the first interview of this series, as he was walking down lower Manhattan first learning that the plane sticking out of the world trade center was done intentionally by terrorists, and over hearing passersbys on the street suggesting we “drop a couple of eggs” in the middle east. As the plane attacks gave us casus belli for that level of proportional response.

The bomb, has been a staple of the world since before the world even knew about the Manhattan project or the first peace it brought was signed on the USS Missouri.

It was a silent race against time, that pulling from Richard Feyman again, even the scientists working on it didn’t know what would happen when they successfully pulled it off. There were legitimate fears that the chain reaction would ignite the atmosphere on fire.

Which brings me back to the moment this all occurred in.

The fear for what new industrial horrors the war would bring were SO GREAT, that the best and brightest minds dropped whatever they were working on, and all got together in a race to create the ultimate weapon.

Something that the great Albert Einstein had a large hand in starting, and later regretted it had he known the Germans would never have created a nuclear weapon.

The Einstein–Szilárd letter as it’s known, encouraged FDR to race to create the bomb, for fear and knowledge that the Nazis were at present working on it.

Just imagine if one of those V2 rockets bombarding London, had a nuclear payload. Everything within the M25 in London would be gone beyond recognition.

That was the set and setting for the creation of the weapon, and the furthering of its development came from the pressure a new Soviet empire put on the quote, “west.”

The cultural, economic and military friction was still there, so if a new war broke out between the powers created out of the end of the war, what would the world come to? What would be left?

So as the zeitgeist went, the plan was to build bigger and bigger, more and more efficient and destructive weapons. For if we both had the keys to destruction, perhaps no one would turn pull the trigger.

It’s in that iteration, not the introduction or development of it, but rather the effects and legacy of it, that this episode focuses on.

As my guest, the chair of the Marshall Islands Nuclear Commission Rhea Moss-Christian, will detail. Starting in the 1940’s, the U.S. government was using the Marshall Islands as a testing ground to understand the effects and capabilities of nuclear weapons.

Long before a global non-stop news cycle, when world cultures and economies were just starting to get thrown into a connected net with one another, and well before an idea of social media was even in the fringe — — an isolated group of people were experiencing the effects of modern war, after peace was already brokered.

People who for years upon years were thriving in communities on islands that to the uninitiated, would look like an isolated vacation spot, but to them, was home.

The fears, uncertainties, and what if’s that brought nuclear weapons into existence, are unimaginable.

What was done from there though, is known, documented and felt by the souls living on these islands.

We’ve all become familiar with the idea of an arms race. Stacking up enough don’t fuck with me weapons, so the other side builds more of their own, creating a cycle that thus ensures by proxy, that the weapons are never used.

What we’ve not become familiar with, is what effects that has outside of the idea of a race. What happens in reality, when the don’t fuck with me weapons are atomic reactions.

Mutual destruction ensured a world without major conflict. That’s a truth, just as much as it was complete chance.

How though, was that mutual destruction perfected and improved?

We will hear in this episode, what debt we owe to the civilian people of the Marshall Islands, for a choice that wasn’t their own, but effects they’ve had to endure nonetheless.

Effects of having your family removed from their homes before it’s whipped off the map in a sudden fiery flash, or mistaking nuclear fallout for snow and having to watch your children live with that honest mistake.

The legacy of these tests isn’t far out from our culture. Just like fish swimming in water, it’s been obviously hiding right in front of us- in many things I’m sure you’ve seen.

From shifting the narrative a bit for the Mathew Broderick Godzilla movie in the ‘90’s, where nuclear radiation gives birth to a new sky-scraper sized species of lizard.

Or in the 2016 movie on Netflix Hail Caesar, where a Lockheed Martin exec joyfully explains the latest nuclear explosion and the financial opportunity of getting into the arms industry in the ‘50’s.

Or for an all ages example, bikini bottom bay in the infamous cartoon Sponge Bob Square Pants, which is set on the Bikini Atoll, with the characters being the mutant creatures altered by the radiation from nuclear tests.

As well as numerous other examples from pop culture.

It’s been hiding, in plain sight, as nothing more than a banal mushroom cloud and made near aesthetic with the memory it manufactures.

What I hope this episode provides, is more than images of explosions and the twice removed concept we get from these tests when they’re filtered through a scientific, historical or pop perspective.

But instead, the human stories of those affected. Those who never so much as saw someone without melanin on their skin, who then have ships full of white people coming ashore telling them not to eat their food or drink their water, days after the radiation fell and already started it’s toll.

I struggled with making this intro long, short, not having one, or putting this as a stand alone thought.

After deliberating and consulting, I decided to keep this in, in the hopes of giving all those alive to hear this, more perspective on the nuclear legacy we’ve unknowingly inherited.

Thank you to all the Marshallese people, for the history you’ve had to endure, the diaspora, social and health costs emerging from it, and the untaught, indispensable hand you’ve played in giving the world the safety to come together as one, peaceful, species; which paved the way for me to have this interview, across the whole Pacific and a day away.

And a special thanks to my guest, Rhea Moss-Christian, for taking the time to talk with me, sharing her family’s story and giving me more perspective on how to live a good life.

I appreciate your listen, and I’m wishing you well.

-J.R.

This was an excerpt from the intro essay to _bandwidth: coast to coast

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