Domination and Resistance: The United States and the Marshall Islands during the Cold War

Hardback: $62.00
ISBN-13: 9780824847623
Published: January 2016

Additional Information

264 pages | 31 b&w illustrations
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  • About the Book
  • Domination and Resistance illuminates the twin themes of superpower domination and indigenous resistance in the central Pacific during the Cold War, with a compelling historical examination of the relationship between the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. For decision makers in Washington, the Marshall Islands represented a strategic prize seized from Japan near the end of World War II. In the postwar period, under the auspices of a United Nations Trusteeship Agreement, the United States reinforced its control of the Marshall Islands and kept the Soviet Union and other Cold War rivals out of this Pacific region. The United States also used the opportunity to test a vast array of powerful nuclear bombs and missiles in the Marshalls, even as it conducted research on the effects of human exposure to radioactive fallout.

    Although these military tests and human experiments reinforced the US strategy of deterrence, they also led to the displacement of several atoll communities, serious health implications for the Marshallese, and widespread ecological degradation. Confronted with these troubling conditions, the Marshall Islanders utilized a variety of political and legal tactics—petitions, lawsuits, demonstrations, and negotiations—to draw American and global attention to their plight. In response to these indigenous acts of resistance, the United States strengthened its strategic interests in the Marshalls but made some concessions to the islanders. Under the Compact of Free Association (COFA) and related agreements, the Americans tightened control over the Kwajalein Missile Range while granting the Marshallese greater political autonomy, additional financial assistance, and a mechanism to settle nuclear claims.

    Martha Smith-Norris argues that despite COFA's implementation in 1986 and Washington's pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region in the post–Cold War era, the United States has yet to provide adequate compensation to the Republic of the Marshall Islands for the extensive health and environmental damages caused by the US testing programs.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Martha Smith-Norris, Author

      Martha Smith-Norris is associate professor of US Cold War history at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Martha Smith-Norris’s book supplements our collective knowledge about US Cold War activities in the Marshall Islands in many important ways. The sixty-five pages of endnotes and bibliography, as well as many photos in the text, include resources not discussed in other examinations of this topic and bring into clarity large-scale patterns of US behavior. Rather than treat US nuclear weapons testing and US missile testing in the Marshall Islands as two separate activities, the author shows how the missile testing is an evolution of US actions and motivations at its Pacific proving grounds that began with nuclear weapons tests in 1946 and continue with contemporary US activities on Kwajalein Atoll. . . . Smith-Norris brings forward a much-needed focus on the resistance of Marshallese people.
      —Holly Barker, The Contemporary Pacific, 29:2 (2017)
    • A welcome addition to the interdisciplinary conversation examining the unequal power dynamics between Marshall Islanders and the United States. . . . Domination and Resistance is a necessary and timely book. The Republic of the Marshall Islands continues to struggle with the legacy of nuclear and ballistic experiments, seeking redress most recently in the United Nations’ International Court of Justice. The Marshallese are now also facing the urgent consequences of climate change: the sea is rising there faster than anywhere else in the world. It is a good thing that scholarly attention to Marshallese environmental and political struggles is increasing. Smith-Norris’s book joins the chorus as an invaluable resource for historians and other scholars, as well as for activists in the work ahead.
      —Collier Nogues, University of Hong Kong, Postcolonial Text, 12:2 (2017)
    • Smith-Norris presents a complex and uncomfortable chapter in Cold War history of which most Americans, even students of history, are unaware. . . . Through her analysis of the steadfast, resilient ‘resistance’ by the Marshallese, she offers a valuable context for understanding contemporary US nuclear policies and global missile defense systems. Her work contributes to the field of not only history but international and domestic law, particularly in relation to health, environmental, and financial justice. . . . This significant work should be required reading for both students and policymakers alike.
      —Sylvia Frain, Pacific Affairs, 91:1 (March 2018)
    • Smith-Norris adeptly brings the little-understood military history of the Marshall Islands forward into the twenty-first century. And given the current diaspora enabled by the Compact of Free Association and involving more than one third of the island nation's population, her timing is just right. [She] provides a play-by-play of the Marshall Islands bomb testing, illustrating how a sovereign, sustainable tribal North Pacific society was rendered a dependent social welfare state. . . . This book sheds an intense light on the Marshallese and their human rights struggle.
      —Jacqueline Froelich, Arkansas Historical Quarterly, 75:3 (Autumn 2016)
    • [T]his is a book about justice. Focused on the . . . atolls of Bikini, Enewetak, and Kwajalein, Domination and Resistance is also a larger, searing history of the Cold War as a global political and strategic phenomenon. . . . [T]he author has done admirable work in pulling together sources and articulating a number of grand arguments about Cold War histories through Micronesian voices. . . . With attention to engaging, not just informing the reader, this book is both a detailed reference and a sobering, scholarly statement on continuing struggles for both history and justice.
      —Matt Matsuda, Pacific Historical Review, 86:4 (November 2017)
    • Well-written. . . . [The] book stands out for its focus on the response of the Marshall Islanders to repeated forced resettlements and relocations, lack of compensation or help with survival on islands where life was difficult in exile, medical studies that ultimately outraged even the docile Marshallese, and the lack of action to address festering health and social problems [on] Ebeye Island. . . . The book is meticulously footnoted, with over 60 pages of references to original source material.
      —Giff Johnson, The Journal of Pacific History, 53:2
    • Smith-Norris interrupts the field of U.S. foreign relations, which favors top-down realist reconstructions of U.S. global engagements during the Cold War, by focusing on a community often ignored by those narratives. . . . [T]he advantage of Smith-Norris’ text is that it brings together histories of U.S. hegemony and Marshallese resistance in a compact volume that is accessible to new audiences who might not be familiar with the Marshall Islands’ nuclear legacy.
      —Monica Labriola, Journal of World History, 28:3-4 (2017)