Heritage and the Politics of Culture
Pacific nations that were the sites of some of the largest nuclear weapons tests ever conducted on Earth have long had difficulty in preserving memory culture of these horrific history because of the dynamics of colonialism and poverty. Oral histories gathered as part of the Nuclear Claims Tribunal in the Marshall Islands spent several decades deteriorating in boxes in the salty, humid climate of the Marshalls because there were not funds to properly preserve them. No museums or public funding for the collection of oral histories exist in these locations as they do in Japan, and in the nuclear weapon states that irradiated the Pacific test sites and their populations. Now these sites face a new challenge to the maintenance of memory from these historical traumas: rising sea levels which threaten to immerse the actual test sites themselves under water. In French Polynesia deep shafts dug into coral atolls for underground tests are in danger of breaking apart, redistributing radionuclides into the sea. In the Marshall Islands Runit Dome is filling up with water, threatening similar releases. In both countries, and also Kiribati, the fact that the highest elevation at these sites is typically 3-4 meters means that the former test sites, as well as the populations that were displaced by them may be forced to find new locations for their entire societies. How will memory be maintained when both those who lived through traumatic histories, and even the very geophysical locations of those traumas disappear?