By Que Keju
I first witnessed missiles being launched from Kwajalein Island in the 1960s. The beaches of Ebeye Island, an islet about 5 miles north of Kwajalein, would be swamped with both children and adults each time a launch was scheduled. It was always a spectacular scene each time-fire works, at its best.
Ten years later, when I returned from the states after attending high school, it would not be an uncommon thing to stop in the middle of a basketball or volleyball game to watch streaks of missiles zooming over Ebeye and Kwajalein Atoll. Destination: the Mid-Corridor zone- an off-limit Mid-Western Pacific Ocean “Bermuda Triangle” in the Kwajalein lagoon, and the bull’s eye to incoming ICBMs shot from Vandenberg Air Force Base, where we are this minute. So I’ve completed a circle trying to understand where these missiles were going or coming from, starting on Ebeye Island and ending up here in Vandenberg. So this is the place. This is what it’s all about! What a journey…
What’s the big deal? Actually a lot. First, the Kwajalein landowners are displaced from their land and relocated to Ebeye Island to make room for the Mid-Corridor zone and the missile testing program. Ebeye is only 66 acres and home to more than 10,000 Marshallese. The composition of the population density: Kwajalein landowners mixed with other indigenous Marshallese from other neighboring atolls. The result: community and social ills at peaks. Some say that Ebeye was once the slum of the Pacific. Was? It still is! When the relocation plans were drawn up for the Kwajalein landowners, it was understood and agreed that basic infrastructure would be in place: housing, healthcare, schools, recreation, and land payments, among other perks-don’t worry, be happy! More than 40 years later, the landowners are still grappling with chronic community and social challenges. Ebeye-and Marshall Islands as a nation-has surpassed Nauru, a neighboring Pacific nation, with the highest rate of diabetes. The known diseases such as tuberculosis and acute flues, eradicated from most of the global community decades ago, are but rampant on Ebeye. The power outage saga on Ebeye continues, after four decades, with the two halves of the island sharing basic electricity to run their hospitals, public works, schools, businesses, churches, cooking utensils, basic lighting and food refrigeration for their homes, and, oh yes, the island’s main sewage command center. When power is out on Ebeye, all of the previously mentioned, and essentially the livelihood of these innocent folks, cease. During my trip back there in 2002, I encountered the electric-toilet combination must, and I was shocked: no power, no toilet on all of Ebeye! Please take a moment to recap the more than 10,000 inhabitants scrambling to find basic relief. It was a powerful reminder that we, the big city dwellers here in the U.S., are so fortunate to have such basic infrastructure 24/7.
Sadly though, five miles south of Ebeye lies Kwajalein Island; a pristine community of both military and civilian personnel, ready to mobilize and man the Star Wars Program. Some of the best burgers and fries in the world are grilled and bubbled down there. There is a golf course; several movie venues; a radio station and accesses to cablevision and speedy internet service; a bowling alley; sports courts and fields; scuba diving, sports fishing and sailing; and retail stores operation with prices ridiculously cheaper than U.S. wholesales, where you can buy the cheapest Paul Mitchell Awapuhi Shampoo and the Detangler Conditioner, or the current copy of Fortune Magazine. Life is good on Kwajalein! Yet misery reigns on Ebeye. That’s sad.
Secondly, the SDI Program is flawed. The American Physical Society-among many others-informs us that in the end, when all the mobilizing forces think that the program is finally ready, by then it’ll be obsolete. We learn that 9 out of 10 test missiles miss their targets. In looking at the program’s basic premise, it isn’t so difficult to question and be skeptical as to how the program can effectively intercept-and-destroy 5, 10, or even 15 incoming Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, considering the time it would take to respond-or rather react-if such missiles travel at blazing speeds of 18,000 mph. And when we think about the working wonders of the ever-confusing decoys, it wouldn’t be so difficult either to seriously doubt the precision of the SDI.
Third, if the SDI is unrealistic, compromises have to be made, and fraud is powerfully played. Homing Devices are used in order to convince the American public that this program is real. Heating certain elements within the launched unit is tactically done to easily track and hit the “bad missile.” Doctoring data, tweaking test results and making false statements are a norm in the program’s attempts to glue down the trust of the American public. Then when the whistleblowers from the Pentagon, MIT, Boeing and Lockheed reveal the deception, the GAO (Government Accountability Office) steps in to set the record straight, concluding only that no wrongdoing was ever done. Amongst the bad there is always the good one; one of GAO’s own whistleblowers came forth to tell us that even the overseer is fraudulent, and that it is a serious matter that there is no one to oversee the overseer.
Is this SDI an exploratory program? But it’s taking a toll on a lot of things, especially humans.
Rather than exhausting precious energies on the SDI Program, perhaps we need to cross over to the realistic side and concentrate on improving the overall defense of the United States by revisiting tangible mechanisms such as the airport systems, the country’s seaports, or the ever expansive and multi-nationally laid borders from sea to the mountaintops. When we’re reminded that the 911 terrorists used box cutters to infiltrate our airports, and until we finally realize that 16,000 containers enter the U.S. seaports daily with fewer than 2% of them opened for inspection by U.S. Customs, no one can dispute that it is time to cross over. It’s now-or-never.
Instead of firing off ICBMs to the Mid-Corridor Zone, the U.S. ought to share its might in health, education, transportation, communications, investments and outright good will to keep Kwajalein and the rest of the Republic of the Marshall Islands afloat. If good programs are to spill over to regions such as the Marshalls and the rest of Micronesian, they ought to be in the forms of solid institutions and effective systems.
Lastly, each time we explore the phenomena of the SDI or the exploitation of indigenous Marshallese through A- and H-Bomb tests, it isn’t rhetoric or blah-blah-blahs. It’s all real stuffs! We’re fiddling around with innocent folks’ lives. Two years ago in 2004, I had the grand opportunity to translate in a documentary film yet to be released by Adam Jonas Horowitz, personal stories of some of the only remaining few survivors of the nuclear fallout on Rongelap Atoll from the bomb tests in the 50s. Two of these ladies finally succumbed to nuclear radiation just a few months ago. I will forever revere the endurance of Ariko Bobo and Elmira Matayoshi. In 1993 my father, Jinna Keju, agonized and was bedridden in the hospital on Majuro, Marshalls for over a month. He lays in the Monkubok cemetery on Ebeye. Three years later in 1996, my sister, Darlene Keju-Johnson, also lost her battle to cancer. Both Jinna and Darlene had the symptoms of cancers from nuclear radiation. My mother, Alice Keju, who lives on Ebeye today, is a cancer survivor; she went through a mastectomy about 15 years ago.
My friends, you have the energy, the know-how, the deep convictions. It is time to cross over to the other side, the realistic side. It’s now…or never!
Ketak Le eo!
My name is Glenn Thompson, I worked on Kwajalein,for a year. I was a good friend of Jenna your dad. Jenna sent some money ,by me to his daughter at a school in Hawaii. Later on your dad came to North Carolina,to visit me,and stayed with me for a week. I think he was on his way to Washingto at the time. I am so sorry for what happened to your people. I also went to the Church on Eybe. and I ate with your Dad and Mother,before leaving for the ststes. Good luck and God Bless. Glenn Thompson.
How odd it is for me to have revisited this missile testing piece from six years ago today, only to find your post and your message. What an opportunity for me to hear from someone special from those days on Kwajalein & Ebeye, and NC as well. Yes, my father had friends from abroad who were really genuine folks who helped my father and, essentially, my family: yes, you’re one of them! You know, my father had an island way of befriending: his friendship lasted until the day he passed — that’s how he was. So I guess his trip to NC to visit you resonated with how he really felt about his friends.
Thank you very much for sharing your story w/ me, and you can contact me anytime you’d want: sharing photos from then and today, or for anything else about the islands and your & my father’s times then.
Many thanks again and best to you.