Lemeyo Abon, an indigenous elder from the Marshall Islands, is a survivor of fallout from the largest nuclear bomb ever detonated by the U.S. Last month, she told her story to people of faith at Ecumenical Advocacy Days, then shared it with members of Congress on Capitol Hill.
Lemeyo was just a girl when the United States began testing nuclear weapons on the Marshall Islands. 67 atomic tests took place there between 1946 and 1958. The largest bomb, named "Bravo," hit the Bikini Atoll with a crippling effect on those living downwind. Lemeyo's island was evacuated two days after the test bombing. But by then toxic levels of radioactivity had seeped into her organs and bones. Lemeyo's father died a painful death by way of stomach cancer. Her own body bears the scars of battling thyroid cancer.
Three years after the bombing of the Bikini Atoll, the residents of Lemeyo's island were resettled. They continued to live close to the earth, eating the island's fruits and fishing in the surrounding waters. Nearly three decades later, residents chose of their own accord to leave their homes and their land to offer a healthier future to their children and grandchildren. They still have not returned. Says Abon, "We cannot go back because the U.S. has not allocated enough funds to clean the contaminated land." The sacred nature of the land to indigenous communities was violated in the act of nuclear weapons testing. I couldn't help but inquire, "Has the U.S. government ever made a formal apology?" No, was her reply. No.
This month, as people of faith throughout the nation mark Earth Day with a renewed commitment to living in right relationship with God's created world, we would do well to consider the eco-footprint of war. The call to green our personal lifestyles is essential. But we cannot combat climate change without addressing the systemic issues that hamper our efforts-like weapons manufacturing and war. Global warring levels a triple impact upon global warming: first, with the production and testing of weapons; second, with the environmental fallout of warfare (including the transport of weaponry and personnel); and third, with the fossil fuels burned to rebuild destroyed infrastructure. It should come as no surprise that the Pentagon is the world's largest consumer of oil.
The good news? The work of peacemaking lightens our load on the planet. One way people of faith can take action this Earth Day is to enter into a covenant across denominational, theological, and ideological lines to call for redirecting federal budget dollars away from militarism toward curbing climate change. For the sake of Lemeyo's grandchildren and our own, let's raise our voices and put our hands to work building a nuclear-weapons free world.
Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss is the Faith Communities Educator for Women's Action for New Directions. WAND's Faith Seeking Peace curriculum, including the study guide "War's Silent Casualty: The Eco-Footprint of War" can be downloaded for free at www.faithwand.org.