Nuclear explosions were experienced countless times by the residents of Rongelap, when the US tested its nuclear projects in the Marshall Islands, kept secret by gag order. The song written by Lijon McDonald, one of the survivors, signaled a wave of musical political protest of the island's women
Noam Ben Zeev, Haaretz, February 25, 2013
The Marshall Islands are located at the end of the world, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean and far away from Western civilization. Five islands and 29 coral reefs (atolls) that form the archipelago are surrounded by water from horizon to horizon. Precisely because they are so remote, the Marshall Islands have attracted the attention of scientists in the United States: it's out of sight out of mind, and far from the range of our hearing, who hears the outcry of a handful of people (the Republic of the Marshall Islands today numbers 60 thousand people), located in the ocean? The voice is the voice of the tree falling on a stormy night in the middle of the rain forest: the sound of silence.
Therefore, the United States has chosen to develop its nuclear weapons in this archipelago, in that human paradise it had, and between 1946 and 1958, after it cleared and roughly expelled the residents to suit its needs, particularly Bikini atoll, it began to develop its nuclear bombs. However, they forgot to vacate the Rongelap Reef, about 60 tiny islands in the northern archipelago with a few hundred people.
The statistics are hard to believe: The volume of the 67 nuclear explosions conducted by the United States trials at the Marshall Islands are the equivalent of 1.6 of the "Little Boy" bomb's explosions which destroyed Hiroshima in World War II - every day, for 12 years. Such enormity of nuclear holocaust on nature and the environment - and as it turned out human beings as well - was never experienced. Most experiments were conducted above the water, and the atomic mushroom soared in the sky on an average frequency of once every two months, when the bombs devastated the surrounding area - and worse: radiation was emitted at unprecedented proportions.
March 1, 1954 was a special day for that American celebration, when a spectacular mushroom cloud the likes of which have not been observed: the explosive premiere of "Castle Bravo", the hydrogen bomb, the largest and strongest in history. Only 120 miles away, residents of Rongelap were dazzled by the bright light. Testimonies of survivors recall an incredible deafening sound, strong wind that almost blew them away, and the ground that began shake, harder and harder. To their horror they saw a huge cloud of smoke rising in the west, covering the ocean waters that turned purple, and hiding the sky.
But then they experienced something the likes of which have never been: snow, or what seemed to them as snow: radioactive fallout of "Castle Bravo", along with the remains of three reef islands from the evaporated Bikini atoll, soft white flakes appeared to slowly fall from the sky. The people of Rongelap played with these flakes, squished them, tasted them as you taste snowflakes, and even used them as a shampoo. A delegation of American scholars arrived at the atoll a few days later, wearing protective anti- radiation sealed suits and equipped with Geiger counters. They inspected the place and returned empty-handed, without warning the residents. Only later did they evacuate them. The monstrous results were immediate.
Marking 50 years since the crime at Rongelap, as Jessica Schwartz writes in the latest issue of the Internet journal "Politics and Music" , which appeared at the end of 2012, , Lijon McDonald, a survivor, composed a protest song and memoir. In her song, written in 2004, McDonald describes the silence when she was eight years old, quiet suddenly broken when she woke up crying: "I couldn’t see clearly (look forward) because of my tears" the poem ends. On the same occasion she said: "Having suffered multiple losses when bearing children, uncontrolled weight fluctuations, memory loss and distorted fingers, having nearly lost my voice, I can say that nothing is more important than having my health and my voice to sing".
The birth of classified information
The songs of Lijon McDonald's, a fertile composer, a politician (in the better sense of the word) and an activist against nuclear weapons started a new musical style: songs of protest and lamentation of the women of Rongelap, and songs of longing for their destroyed homeland, now contaminated with radiation.
This is the backlash of the islander to the policy of silence enacted in the United States on the "Manhattan Project" - the development of the atomic bomb, the experiments in the project and following it, and people who were its victims and who also, diabolically, victims of an experiment to test the effect of nuclear fallout, as in Rongelap. "Study of Response of Human Beings Exposed to Significant Beta and Gamma Radiation Due to Fallout from High Yield Weapon" - the title of the American study named "Project 4.1", and was born directly from the exposure to radiation by the residents of Rongelap on 1 March 1954.
"Silence is security" said a harmless-looking poster published by the security forces of the United States in 1943, with the accession into World War II. Jessica Schwartz from "Politics and Music" distinguishes between kinds of silence and silencing, creating the same "nuclear silence", as she calls it. First is the metaphoric silence, resulting from the internalization of the disaster and the traumatic damage and the inability to express its dimensions. The second is silence by law: the prohibition on publishing it, control of information and persons who might disclose the information. Third comes the true physical silence that surrounds an evaporated island and a person killed by the bomb.
"The atomic energy directive", signed by President Harry Truman, was published at the beginning of the experiments in the Marshalls, writes Schwartz. It was concerned with silencing: "Classified information" was one of the terms coined. For the first time it was forbidden to express any suggestion, comment, even a rumor about this "classified information". A gag order in its contemporary sense, which is still in place in countries which allegedly practice freedom of expression, was born then, with the destruction of the Bikini Islands. Confidentiality, censorship, activity in the dark, a ban to mention the ban itself: These too are the consequences of the atomic bomb.
That silence was broken on the 50th anniversary of the bombing. Dozens of people from Rongelap, mostly older women who were eventually evacuated from their homeland to Majuro, the capital of the Islands Marshall Islands and survived have assembled. The T-shirts carried the words "Project 4.1". The protestors sang the Rongelap anthem to highlight their displacement from the homeland, and followed by songs composed by the women themselves, including a song of solidarity with other victims of other islands, and the song "177", the title relating to the US compensation act to the victims of the nuclear tests.
Schwartz describes Lijon MacDonald as composing while playing the guitar. Her voice is rough because of thyroid resection she had to undergo after developing like many other residents of Rongelap. Her description recalls the image of the Japanese grandmother, a survivor of the bombing of Nagasaki, in Akira Kurosawa's film 'Rhapsody in August "- the grandmother returns and is pursued by a giant eye, shining in the sky, which is the flash of the bomb.
McDonald's fingers converge around the C major chord, and she begins to play - and then sings the song: "I composed this song by myself when I spent time contemplating the bomb," she says. "It is something I grew up with. I used to dream about the bomb, and in my dreams I would see the bomb drop on an island, and I would be the only one standing, with all the fire, and there weren’t any people, and so I would be scared. I would awaken and cry because I was so scared, and I’d wake up because the flash of the bomb hurt my eyes. I would cry so much, and that is the reason I wrote this song. "