by Devin Thomas
Last Saturday, the Vandenberg Peace Legal Defense Fund and local activist MacGregor Eddy held a protest at Vandenberg Air Force Base calling for an end to U.S. space domination and nuclear testing in the North Pacific Ocean. Vandenberg — just north of Lompoc — is a key player in aerospace technology and a launching site for missiles landing in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. tested 67 nuclear weapons on the islands, including the infamous Castle Bravo that resulted in the radiation poisoning of 236 Marshallese. The islands achieved independence from the U.S. in 1986, but the U.S. continues to operate the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site (RTS) on 11 of the 100 Marshall Islands in exchange for providing economic aid to the Marshallese.
The protest was staged at the front gate of the Vandenberg Air Force Base and included testimony by three guest speakers — Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange, Bill Mitchell of Gold Star Families for Peace, and Marshall Islands native and activist Que Keju. Keju lost both his father and sister to cancer derived from radiation poisoning. Despite the devastating effects of U.S. nuclear weapons on the island, many Marshallese support the RTS because they see U.S. aid as the only way to keep the islands afloat economically. Keju, however, advocates complete self-sufficiency for the islands. He calls on the U.S. to “create an economic engine that will sustain [the Marshallese] for years.” He also urges Marshallese who consider relocating to the U.S. not to abandon the islands. According to Keju, they must ask themselves, “Am I going to abandon my home? Am I going to abandon my precious life?”