The Green Planet Monitor

The Green Planet Monitor

United States of War

January 21, 2024
GPM # 45

It’s an astonishing fact:

In the 248 years since the United State of America became an independent state, the American republic has only been at peace for about eleven.

The United States of War, you could call it. David Vine does. Vine, a Professor of Anthropology at American University, in Washington D.C., has recently completed the third in a trilogy of books about permanent war as a US way of life, and about the role military bases play in Washington’s warfighting pursuits – across North America, at first, then around the world.

The United States of War – a Global History of America’s endless conflicts, from Columbus to the Islamic State, was published in 2020 by University of California Press.

The GPM spoke with David Vine. Listen to our conversation in today’s podcast. Click on the play button above, or go here.

Listen to our complete conversation here:


It’s a sobering, largely unappreciated truth:

Having dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, eighty years ago, America would probably not have become the most powerful nation in the world had it not been for a string of atolls in the central Pacific, and the hospitable islanders who let it test its arsenal there.

The people of the Marshall Islands didn’t have much choice.

America tested its first bomb in July 1945, code named Trinity, in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Two months later, it dropped its second and third bombs — Little Boy and Fat Man — on Japan.

A year after that, having secured the newly liberated Marshall Islands as a UN Trust Territory, with the fiduciary duty of helping the Marshallese people fulfill their inalienable right to self-determination, the US turned two of the Marshalls’ populated atolls into nuclear weapons testing sites.

The US set off ‘Able’ and ‘Baker’ at Bikini Atoll in July 1946. Twenty-one more tests followed, including the leviathan Bravo blast, on March 1, 1954. Forty-four nuclear weapons were tested at Eniwetok atoll, in the northern Marshalls.

Old observation tower pad on Bikini Island (David Kattenburg)

The Pentagon’s nuclear weapons testing program changed the Marshall Islands, and the lives of their people, forever.

Sixty-six years after the end of US nuclear weapons testing, Bikini is still contaminated, and has not been resettled.

Cancer rates in the Marshallese population are high. Unable to grow their own traditional subsistence foods, Marshallese residents eat packaged and canned foods shipped from the US. Diabetes and heart disease kill more of them than nuclear-related cancers. 

Still, the Marshallese people and their leaders are friendly to a fault — even warmhearted toward the Americans. Since 1986, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) has maintained a ‘Compact of Free Association’ with the US. In exchange for favours of questionable value (chief among these, the right to reside in the US), the RMI faithfully votes the way Washington tells it to at the UN.

Kwajalein Atoll, in the central Marshalls, has been a US ballistic missile and missile defense site for years. Since the early 1960s, the US has been firing nuclear-capable missiles at it from California and Alaska.

Last October, the US-RMI Compact of Free Association was renewed for another twenty years.

In the words of a US State Department media note, the Compact confirms a “special relationship that is deep and enduring, and that furthers the U.S. commitment to a Pacific that is secure, free and open, and more prosperous.”

Since the end of US nuclear weapons testing in 1958, the U.S. has provided the Marshalls about $600 million in cleanup, resettlement and health payments. The Marshalls claims about $3 billion.

Listen to a story about all this in today’s podcast. Click on the play button above, or go here.

Bikini Island at sunset (David Kattenburg)

Thanks to Dan Weisenberger for his superb guitar instrumentals.