Children of Israel: US military imperialism and Marshallese migration in the poetry of Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

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In 1946, when the US government chose Bikini atoll as a nuclear testing site, the military governor of the Marshall Islands persuaded islanders to leave their homeland on the grounds that scientists were experimenting with nuclear technology “for the good of mankind and to end all wars.” This rhetorical sleight-of-hand holds a bitterly ironic significance given that although the Bikini Islanders believed their exile would be temporary, the resulting environmental damage from various nuclear tests has rendered the atoll uninhabitable for an estimated 30,000 years. Although the dominant discourses surrounding nuclear testing has been consistently downplayed by a US government anxious to project a narrative in which the Bikini Islanders willingly left their ancestral lands, Marshallese are still dying as a result of corporeal and environmental irradiation, diseases resulting from a forced dependency on imported Western foods, and the threat of further displacement due to rising sea levels through global warming. This paper explores the imperialist legacy of American nuclear testing and responses to it in the poetry of Marshallese eco-poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner’s protest literature. Her work indexes displacement, health problems, and ongoing socio-political struggles of Marshallese diasporic communities through globalised political and technological platforms such as the internet and climate change conferences to raise awareness of, and potentially gain redress for, the socio-economic and environmental problems faced by contemporary Pacific Islanders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)930-947
Issue number7
Early online date28 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • US imperialism
  • Marshall Islands
  • nuclear testing
  • Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner
  • activist poetry


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