Pacific Postcards

Nuclear Testing and the Pacific (Michael Eghbal)

       Since World War Two, the concept of nuclear warfare, and whether or not its use is justified in the midst of war, has been up for much debate. This stems from the first integration of nuclear warfare in 1945, when the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, completely devastating Japan. Since then, there have been many worldwide conferences and treaties written, all in an effort to effectively prohibit the use of nuclear weapons. Jeffrey Sasha Davis’s Representing Place: "Deserted Isles" and the Reproduction of Bikini Atoll, describes the history of the United States’s treatment of the reef, and whether it is fair to displace a people solely for nuclear testing. But in Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press’s The Nukes We Need: Preserving the American Deterrent, they argue that in both the past and the present, the United States’s success relies on having a nuclear arsenal ready at all times. Looking back at American history, especially in regards to the ways smaller nations have been treated, it is safe to say that the United States has imposed its power whenever possible. However, there are certain circumstances that when handled properly, it is justifiable for the U.S. to tap into their powerful supply of weapons and tactics. Although controversial for the subsequent consequences on the civilians directly affected, the testing of nuclear weapons on Bikini Atoll was necessary as the United States had to test and advance its nuclear technology in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the American people at large from international threats posed at the time.

       Davis’s Representing Place: "Deserted Isles" and the Reproduction of Bikini Atoll defends the native Bikinians and argues against the United States taking them out of Bikini Atoll to use for nuclear testing. Bikini Atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef within the Marshall Islands, about 2500 miles west of Hawaii. For many years the atoll was seen as a tropical paradise, and though it was small, it was one of the most beautiful places on earth. But when the United States noticed large amounts of radioactive contamination in previously bombed areas, such as Japan and even their own New Mexico, they knew it was in their best interest to test their nukes somewhere else. After deciding on the isolated islands of Bikini Atoll to be their target, the United States started spreading false information on the atoll and their native Bikinians, stating that the islands were unhealthy, and that the natives needed to be taken out for their own good. It got to the point that, “the imagined cultural inferiority of the Bikinians and their supposed weak attachment to Bikini were used by the U.S. military as legitimization for their removal from their atoll. It is here that we see another place-myth emerge regarding Bikini … Bikini was represented as a marginalized place” (Davis 614-615). Davis asserts that the United States success in removing the natives from their land was completely unjust, as their basis was founded in lies. He believes that there were better ways to test nuclear weapons, especially ones that did not involve displacing people from their homes. In fact, “there was widespread disapproval in the United States over using Bikini as an atomic test site as well as lamentation on the part of Americans on Bikini that the atoll was going to be damaged by testing” (Davis 615). Davis is not alone here; during the 1940’s and 50’s when these bombings were taking place, most of the U.S. population was against destroying innocent islands and displacing civilians. However, the United States was so skilled and calculated in creating an acceptable story on the surface that there was nothing anyone could do to thwart their agenda. Davis, like many others, was not necessarily against the United States testing their bombs and making sure they were ready; they just had reservations over the unjustified removal of people from their homeland and rendering it useless and uninhabitable. If the U.S. truly deemed those actions necessary for testing their nuclear bombs, then they should not be doing it to begin with, even if the goal was to protect all Americans. Furthermore, “in any contest over place, to say that your view of place is right and another group’s view of a place is wrong is only the start” of signs that your nation relies on exploitation to be successful (Davis 622). This couldn't be more true for the United States, because spreading of false representations and beliefs is what got Bikini Atoll destroyed in the first place. In the end, Davis believes that if a nation has to take drastic, and sometimes destructive, measures to achieve its goal, it should not be done at all.

       Contrarily, Lieber and Press’s The Nukes We Need: Preserving the American Deterrent discusses the need for continued nuclear testing in the 21st century, especially through the lens of America during the 1900’s. In the past couple decades, we have seen a strong deterrence in the use of nuclear weapons within conflicts. But with more worldwide disputes transpiring, it puts strong nations, like the United States, in a difficult spot. While the idea of every country putting away their nuclear armaments sound great, Lieber and Press demonstrate that that is not that simple. If the United States were to go to war, their, “adversaries would have powerful incentives to brandish or use nuclear weapons because their lives, their families, and the survival of their regimes would be at stake” (Lieber and Press 40). Lieber and Press believe that countries like the U.S. should be prepared for the worst. They must realize that other countries are fighting for their lives and future, and will try to defend themselves at any cost. So, the United States must act the same way. But after World War Two, nations didn’t just create and test nuclear weapons to strictly use on their opponents. A big part of having, “nuclear forces [was] to deter nuclear attacks on the United States and its allies'' (Lieber and Press 41). A big reason for testing nukes was simply to show the rest of the world that they were armed and dangerous; they didn’t want any other countries to meddle with them. And especially during the Cold War with the arms race was in full effect, both the United States and Soviet Union knew they had to stay on top of their games. This meant constantly pumping out more and more effective weapons, because that’s what the Cold War really boiled down too. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. worked on their nuclear ordnance so they were prepared for any catastrophic event, but were both reluctant to actually use them on each other. This included improving their weaponry at any cost, because they understood the importance of this potential conflict and what it could have meant for the future. And by the end of the war, Lieber and Press explain that this worked, as, “nuclear weapons helped keep the peace in Europe throughout the Cold War, preventing the bitter dispute from engulfing the continent in another catastrophic conflict” (Lieber and Press 39). While it took much work and sacrifice to develop their nuclear arms, it seemed to be worth it within the scope of the Cold War. There have been solid arguments against the use and practice of nuclear bombs, but in the bigger picture of world peace and order, it is something all nations must consider.

       Lieber and Press highlight a multitude of good points that can be looked at when reviewing the arguments of Davis. In Davis’s novel, he illustrates the hardships of the native Bikinians, and the cruelness of the United States government to remove them from their land for the use of nuclear testing. Though never directly stated, he criticizes America, and paints them as this cruel, selfish nation that has no regard for its actions so long as they are the ones benefiting. But Lieber and Press combat this idea, and try to convince the reader that the United States had no choice but to assess their arsenal. And as we’ve come to learn, the only way to achieve this was to test their bombs on the atoll. Davis’s argument fails to think about or come up with any alternative ways that the United States could have tested out their nukes; he just denounces their actions as a whole. While he may be correct that it was shameful for the U.S. to kick the Bikinians out of their home, destroy the islands, and lie about their reasoning, he should come to understand that there were not many other options. Lieber and Press explain that not only was it important to have bombs ready for use, but an essential part of nuclear testing was to show their arsenal to the rest of the world, which was a warning to other nations. Furthermore, though these tests caused much damage to the small islands of Bikini Atoll, in reality, they did not negatively affect the rest of the world at all. The anger of the native Bikinians, and those who supported their small population, is completely warranted, because it does not seem right to destroy their islands. But what Lieber and Press point out is when you look deeper, this sacrifice had to be made in order to prevent much more damage from taking place. If the United States tested out their nuclear warheads on their own land, or didn’t test them out at all, that certainly would have harmed and killed millions of more people. This is because a much greater population would have been affected from the radiation, or there simply would have been a higher possibility of nuclear war occurring. There is no clear solution to this problem, but Davis should have at least addressed this in his writing, because when criticizing someone’s actions, it is important to consider other options. And as we see by the end of the Cold War, these nuclear tactics were effective in deterring the superpowers of the world from engaging in combat. It definitely was not an easy decision for the United States to bomb Bikini Atoll, but it was a sacrifice they were willing to make to protect the rest of the world.

       The idea of using nuclear weapons to attack other nations is a very sensitive topic in today’s world. Especially when nations decide to test out their armament on others’ lands, many people look to their moral compass to see what is right to do. In his work Representing Place: "Deserted Isles" and the Reproduction of Bikini Atoll, Davis argues for the people of Bikini Atoll, who had their home unjustifiably taken away by the United States merely for the use of nuclear testing. But in The Nukes We Need: Preserving the American Deterrent, Liber and Press give their side of the story, and claim that it is crucial for the United States to test and have nuclear weapons ready at all times. In the case of worldwide conflicts, it is important not just to be able to bombard other countries, but to also pose a threat to the other nations to deter war as a whole. Both testing and not testing nuclear weapons have their clear advantages and consequences, thus there is no one definitive way for nations to go about these circumstances. But when taking into consideration the greater good of the world, as well as the imaginable damage that could happen during war, it makes sense for nations to go about testing their arms, no matter the cost.


                                                                     Work Cited

       Davis, Jeffrey Sasha. Representing Place: "Deserted Isles" and the Reproduction of Bikini Atoll

Taylor & Francis Group, 2005. 


       Lieber, Kier, and Daryl Press. The Nukes We Need: Preserving the American Deterrent. Council 

on Foreign Relations, 2009.

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