Pacific islanders say U.S. should apologize for testing
5/20/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
NOTE: For related coverage, see UMNS story #401, "Survivors of atomic bomb tests seek aid from Congress," Sept. 10.
A UMNS Report By Larry Hygh Jr.*
By Larry Hygh Jr.*
A delegation of United Methodist leaders joined with
Marshall Islands residents in calling for the U.S. government to
apologize for the nuclear testing that it performed on the islands 49
years ago - testing that is believed to have caused widespread health
problems for the people there.
The delegation and residents of
the Pacific islands also emphasized the need for the government to
provide better health care for the affected residents.
some health problems that I believe are related to the (nuclear
radiation) exposure," said Ruthann Mathew, a 53-year-old survivor from
the island of Utrik. She described what she remembered when the "big bad
explosion" happened. "When we looked up, the sky was all red."
United Methodists traveled May 2-10 to the Western Pacific to work with
local governments on peace and justice issues. They visited Majuro in
the Marshall Islands, Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana
Islands and Guam.
Delegation members from the California-Pacific
Annual (regional) Conference included the Rev. Barbara Grace Ripple,
Hawaii District superintendent, representing Bishop Mary Ann Swenson;
JoAnn Yoon Fukumoto, Peace With Justice educator for the conference; and
Ken Ellis, Santa Barbara District lay leader. The group also included
Jim Winkler, top staff executive of the denomination's Board of Church
and Society; and the Rev. B. David Williams, a consultant and retired
missionary from the churchwide Board of Global Ministries.
in the Marshall Islands, the delegation experienced a two-day
"immersion" organized by survivors of the 1954 nuclear tests. The
survivors have formed a group called ERUB, which is named for the
islands Enewetak, Rongelap, Utrik and Bikini. The new group will explore
the current situation of people affected by the nuclear testing on
The United Methodist Church's top legislative
assembly, the General Conference, adopted a resolution in 2000 on
"Atomic Testing in the Marshall Islands - A Legacy." The statement, No.
267 in the denomination's 2000 Book of Resolutions, was sponsored by the
Hawaii District and the Asian-American caucus.
calls for "more just compensation and expansion of medical care" than
what has been provided. It notes that the U.S. government provided full
compensation to the U.S. citizens who lived downwind of the Nevada Test
Site, but Marshall Islanders have received less, even though their
islands were subjected to a greater tonnage of bombs detonated.
had received some health care through the Compact of Free Association,
which expired in 2001. In 1999, the Republic of the Marshall Islands
submitted a petition to the U.S. government, saying the cost of health
care was underestimated when the compact was negotiated. The petition
was resubmitted in March 2000 but has not been acted upon, according to a
group of islanders who visited Washington last fall.
seven other survivors gave testimonies and recalled the testing that
occurred 49 years ago. They all spoke of the need for the United States
government to apologize and to provide adequate health care.
request that you advocate for further assistance with health care that
the survivors would benefit from," Mathew said. She described how the
testing contaminated the water on their island. She, her mother, two
sisters and brother experienced thyroid problems and other related
illnesses believed to have been related to the testing, she said.
ERUB is planning an event of remembrance to mark next year's 50th anniversary of the nuclear testing.
me, going to the Marshall Islands was a very moving experience,"
Winkler said. "These are people who are survivors of nuclear tests who
have suffered at the hands of our government," he said. "They viewed us
not as representatives of a nation that has destroyed their lives, but
as sisters and brothers in Christ; they gave us gifts and poured out
their hearts to us.
"I feel shame for what our country did to the
people of the Marshall Islands," Winkler said. "Now, I think its time
for us to make it right and provide first class health care."
Saipan, the delegation met with Gov. Juan N. Babauta regarding delegate
status for the Washington, D.C., representative from the Commonwealth of
the Northern Mariana Islands. The representative currently does not
have voice or vote in Congress. Last year, the California-Pacific
Conference adopted a resolution calling for "Due Representation of the
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to the United State
While in Saipan, the delegation also met with Catholic Bishop Tomas A. Camacho.
Winkler and Fukumoto were panelists for a community-wide discussion on
"How Faith Informs My Social Action." The panel included community
"Faith gives me a vision for social action," Fukumoto said. "Social action ministry is the heartbeat of the Christian faith."
recalled how her parents would drop her off at Sunday school when she
was little but would not stay. "When things got rough at home, I could
go to the church and feel safe," Ripple said. When she was 8 years old,
she put an altar in her closet.
"As peoples of faith, we reach
out with our good works to support one another in a network of loving
care and generous giving," she said. "And through our good works (our
actions), the testimony of our faith is made evident."
delegation also visited with members of Immanuel United Methodist Church
in Saipan and saw several of its outreach ministries.
Ellis then traveled to Guam to meet with members of the Guam United
Methodist Church to assess recovery efforts from typhoons Chata'an and
Pongsona. In addition, they visited church outreach ministries that
included several Habitat for Humanity houses that the church has helped
# # #
*Hygh, director of communications for the California-Pacific Annual Conference, accompanied the delegation on its trip.