The Nuclear Pacific: An Interview with Patrick Flanagan

Monthly Review, January 1988 | Go to article overview

The Nuclear Pacific: An Interview with Patrick Flanagan


THE NUCLEAR PACIFIC: AN INTERVIEW WITH PATRICK FLANAGAN

The following interview was conducted in April 1987 for the Barcelona periodical Integral by Jenny Dowell. Patrick Flanagan is an Australian philosopher now living and teaching in Barcelona.--The Editors.

Jenny Dowell (JD): Can you situate Dennis O'Rourke's film Half-Life in the history of nuclear testing in the Pacific and in the Marshall Islands in particular?

Patrick Flanagan (PF): The Marshall Islands are part of a complex of 2,000 islands in the Pacific that collectively comprise Micronesia, inhabited by 160,000 indigenous "native" people. Dennis O'Rourke, the independent Australian filmmaker, has made a powerful film, Half-Life, about the effects on the Islanders of the first U.S. open-air hydrogen bomb test in 1954, code-named "Bravo." The bomb detonated over Bikini Atoll, which was the testing ground for U.S. atomic bombs from 1946. The 1954 bomb test involved a deliberate use of the indigenous population as radiation guinea pigs. Dennis O'Rourke's use of declassified U.S. ducuments and direct interviews with North American personnel involved in monitoring the weather conditions for the test, demonstrate conclusively that the indigenous population was experimented on in this way to test the radiation fallout effects.

JD: Why is Half-Life important?

PF: The importance of the film consists not just in its demonstration of the fact that at the time and subsequently the U.S. authorities tried to cover up the enormity of this horrific crime against humanity, comparable to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when the Japanese were totally defeated and wanted to surrender. In addition, it shows the contradiction between two totally incompatible ways of life. On the one hand we have U.S. state capitalism, based on the authoritarian presumption that your land is ours and that we have the right to dominate, manipulate, and if necessary destroy you, your natural resources, your relation to your land and nature--in our God-given interest, as we conceive that interest. Half-Life captures well this imperial totalitarian arrogance toward other peoples and their land. On the other hand, O'Rourke provides a beautifully realized depiction of the Marshall Islanders' libertarian way of life, living in radically different, harmonious relationship with nature, at least before 1954. The film captures the irreversible effects of the first culture on the second. Half-Life is a tragic depiction of the destruction of the indigenous Marshall Islands culture by Yankee technological totalitarianism.

JD: Can you explain briefly the U.S. Trusteeship of the Marshall Islands?

PF: The Marshall Islands were absorbed like the rest of the islands of Micronesia into the U.S. Pacific empire after the Japanese were defeated in the Pacific war. During the Second World War, these islands were occupied by the Japanese. As part of the spoils of victory, the United States took them over, administering them as United Nations mandate territories, with control over the economy, political institutions, and social life, as part of U.S. "strategic territory." U.S. historical domination of Asia goes back well before the Second World War. In effect, since the second half of the nineteenth century, the United States has competed ever more successfully with the British and other European powers to gain economic and military access to the resources of Asia as a whole, Southeast Asia and the Pacific in particular. This takes us from mainland China, right down through Indonesia to Australia and the islands of the Pacific. The Second World War in the Pacific between the United States and Japan was fought basically for control over energy and the other rich natural resources of the region.

JD: What is the strategic importance of the Marshall Islands for the United States?

PF: When you are in the business of running an empire, every strategic part of a system represents a key element in that total system.

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