In the 1950’s, the United States began testing nuclear weapons in the Pacific. The tests targeted various atolls in the northern Marshall Islands — inhabited coral islands spread throughout Micronesia. The effects of the testing on both the land and the people continue to shape Marshallese life. Anthropology Professor Laurence Carucci has dedicated a lifetime of research to these changes and consequences.
Dressed in a polynesian-print button down shown, he proudly admitted to purchasing it from a Hawai’ian thrift store “for about three dollars,” Carucci animatedly recounted his career with a quavering and passionate voice.
His Ph.D. dissertation research at the University of Chicago, completed in 1978, took him for the first time to the Marshall Islands for the first time. Even after moving to Bozeman 35 years ago to assume a tenure-track professorship, he has never really left the islands.
“Part of my being is to live my life in Marshallese mode,” he said in his Wilson Hall office, surrounded by tall stacks of books and papers, lit by the already fading light of late summer.
Carucci’s research has primarily focused on the Enewetok people, one of the groups displaced from their home atoll during nuclear weapons testing. Since volunteering their home islands for testing in the 1950’s, the Enewetok and other Marshallese islanders have endured repeated hardships stemming from the tests.
[pullquote align=”right”]“It’s my job [as a professor] to get students to understand that if we want others to know and appreciate us, we have to come to know and appreciate them.” — Laurence Carucci[/pullquote]
The Enewetok, for example, faced starvation after being relocated to Ujelang, a much smaller island that lacked the resources to provide for their population. According to Carucci, many of these hardships have been caused or exacerbated by the United States’ lack of support and compensation for the bomb tests’ damages.
“I simply don’t think the United States has been just in our treatment in terms of follow up…We’ve made some stabs at compensation for the abuse these people have suffered and their land has sustained, but we have not fully compensated them,” Carucci said pointedly.
International courts determined the United States still owe the Marshall Islands “several billion dollars” in compensation, explained Carucci. “I represented the community in international court settlements, and it’s part of my job to do that.” According to Carucci, Congress has yet to appropriate any funds for compensation and the Bush administration declared, “we had already paid our share.”
“It’s not my job, as an anthropologist, to pretend I somehow can obtain this objective stance towards the situation,” said Carucci. “My job is to figure out what local people’s lives are like, what their interests are, and what their passions are… The fact that we blew up [the Marshallese] landscape and some people were directly irradiated, were just atrocities that occurred. Am I passionate about that? I am, because they’re passionate about it.”
“We live in a very multicultural world,” Carucci said, “We live in a world where the United States has a huge amount of hubris…and we think we’re in control of everything. But things are more complex than that.”
“It’s my job [as a professor] to get students to understand that if we want others to know and appreciate us, we have to come to know and appreciate them… Hopefully, I’m able to convey this in the classroom.”