ODA files, lot 62 D 225, “Trust Territory of Pacific Islands”

The Director, Office of Territories, Department of the Interior (Strand) to the Director of the Office of Dependent Area Affairs (Gerig)

confidential

Dear Mr. Gerig : In reply to your classified letter of May 10, 1954,1 to which was attached a copy of a letter from Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge raising several questions with respect to the Marshallese petition to the United Nations, I am enclosing a copy of a classified letter received from High Commissioner Midkiff.

On page 2 of his letter the High Commissioner raises the question which logically comes to mind as a result of your inquiry as to whether the Department of State wishes to suggest a change in the present situation as regards the channeling of petitions. We shall be glad to receive any suggestions you may have on this question.

On page 3 of the attachment2 to his letter, I believe the High Commissioner has made an erroneous reference to James Milne as the writer of the petition. The writer was apparently Dwight Heine as stated on page 2 of the letter itself and in a recently published newspaper story.

If we can provide any further information on this subject, we shall be glad to do so.

Sincerely yours,

William C. Strand
[Page 1501]
[Enclosure]

The High Commissioner of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (Midkiff) to the Director, Office of Territories, Department of the Interior (Stroma)3

confidential
personal

Dear Bill: I have just completed conferences with the people of Rongelap, Ailinginae and Uterik. A factual report is attached.

I talked carefully with several persons down at Majuro to try to get a line on (1) why the petition was sent to the United Nations direct; (2) whether or not some member of our administration had helped draft the petition; and (3) whether the petition indicates a lack of confidence on the part of the Micronesians in the present U.S. administration.

1. I was informed that the Micronesians repeatedly have been told by visiting United Nations missions to feel free at all times to send petitions directly to the United Nations if they desire. Also, this accessibility—I was once told by members of a visiting mission—has been found necessary and wise in connection with certain of the old line trusteeships where colonialism has been a practice. Many petitions have gone directly to the United Nations via the visiting missions. However, these missions in the past have provided copies of the petitions for us for study prior to the time when they have been delivered to the Trusteeship Council. The Mission Secretary has given them to us in advance somewhat sub rosa.

The Majuro district officials had heard of efforts to secure names on a petition but the district administrator had thought that the petition would in due course be presented through channels. He was surprised to find that it already had gone forward. However, he felt that from previous instructions from U.N. visiting missions, it would be quite out of order for him to try to sidetrack or short circuit a petition from the people to the United Nations and, hence, he avoided following up to an extent that, in hindsight, he now feels to have been over liberal.

I think we have never had a suggestion from State about this subject of channeling petitions. I see from the letter of inquiry on the subject that this present petition and experience pretty well crystallized State’s attitude. I suggest that it would be well to try to get a statement from State on the subject. We could run afoul of the United Nations [Page 1502] on the issue, particularly if the next visiting Mission should have a member from an unfriendly country on it.

2. As to (2), whether or not a member of our American personnel helped Mr. Dwight Heine write the petition, I have his word that he wrote it unassisted except for the support and conference of the President of the Marshallese Congress. The latter speaks little English but is very fluent in Marshallese and is quite a flowery orator. Both he and Dwight Heine are brilliant and able. Heine has had two years at the University of Hawaii and besides has studied elsewhere in Honolulu and New Zealand. He is a hard worker, loves his people, is trying to serve them well.

I learned that there has been existing ever since March 1 a genuine fear of the bombs and their fall out, and of the possible loss of more land and islands. The Rongelap People when I first went there really were depressed about fears for their future health but even worse about fear that they would never get back to their home atoll. They knew of the experience of the Eniwetok People and the Bikini People. I am informed that the latter especially state that they had been assured by representatives of the AEC and Navy that they would soon be returned to their atoll. They are still on Kili and are rather unhappy about it. They value their home islands and land far more than we of America, with vast miles of unused areas, can appreciate.

While I was in Washington last, I received a pitiful letter from Amata Kabua, son of a high chief and land owner in the Marshalls, expressing great fear for the safety of his people and for the threat to the atolls. The young man is presently at Maunaole College in Hawaii. He asked me how he could get help to limit the tests, etc., and if it would be proper for him to write on behalf of his people to the President of the United States. I wrote a letter of reply to him telling him all will be well and to have no fear; I gave reasons in so far as possible. He replied thanking me and stated that he was sending my letter on to Majuro. However, my letter was received in Majuro after the petition to the United Nations had left there.

I saw the March 1 explosion. I was stopped from giving out information about it when I went on to Majuro. However, I did speak in generalities, told of the story that had appeared in Newsweek (article by the Chairman of the Joint-Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy), and tried to assure them they need not fear and that the experiments were for the safety of the Pacific and their islands. I learned of the “fall out” after I left Majuro on March 4 to go to Ponape via Kwajalein. I was told that for some weeks, when the people were losing their hair, were nauseated, had white, non-pigmented patches on their bodies, and when the AEC Medicos, without ability to let the people know why, came down and took blood samples from the people of Majuro—that fear was terrible amongst the Marshallese.

[Page 1503]

I can now report that they feel reassured as to their future health and personal safety and the security of their lands. (By the way, I wish we could get payments concluded from AEC and Navy for land before the end of this fiscal year, and before I go to U.N. That would be a big help to our prestige and a restoration of confidence.)

3. Now as to whether or not the Marshallese have lost confidence in the Administration, etc. There are many who look back upon the active Japanese occupation, when there was lots of work available, money in circulation, new and interesting recreation, etc. and to the Navy occupation and vast activities as contrasted with our cut-back programs, and feel that the great United States is neglecting the Trust Territory by comparison. We are trying and are succeeding in creating an understanding on this score.

I believe there was a reasoning amongst the Marshallese leaders that to get results on this AEC bomb testing program, it would be best for them to appeal to the U.N. quickly. My conversations do not cause me to question their cooperative attitude toward our administration or to doubt that they are aware of and appreciate the good faith and intentions of the United States.

I conclude that their direct appeal to the U.N. was due to their desire to do in what they regarded as a fearsome emergency, that which might get the best results most quickly. I know that they are happy to be under the United States and wish to help the administration of the Trust Territory in all practicable ways. I am sure there is no cause for worry as to their cooperative attitude.

If you have any further points or think certain other data might help Ambassador Lodge to understand the situation, I should be glad to hear from you about them.

Yours very truly,

Frank E. Midkiff
  1. See footnote 1, p. 1487.
  2. Not printed. It was entitled “Report on a trip to Kwajalein and Ebeye to confer with officials and with the people of Rongelap, Uterik and Ebeye; and to Majuro, (Uliga and Ejit) to inspect and confer with the Marshallese petitioners (to UN) and with Trust Territory staff”. (799.021/6–2554)
  3. Under cover of a letter of June 25 the Director of the Office of Dependent Area Affairs (Gerig) transmitted a copy of this letter to the U.S. Representative on the Trusteeship Council (Sears) for the information of Ambassador Lodge (799.021/6–2554). The decimal file copy of the Gerig letter included only the attachment (“Report”) and not the May 21 letter itself. No copy of the source text was attached to the Gerig letter.