09.03.2019 in Book Report
Critique for Bravo for the Marshallese

Authors and writers focus their works of art on different aspects of the society and write them for different purposes. Some books, essentially works of art are aimed at providing readers with an insight into the happenings around them and the events that influence their lives. Such is the hallmark of Holly Barker’s work in her book Bravo for the Marshallese. The title of the book comes from the name of the island on which the content of the story is based. Set and based on a story on the Marshall Islands, the book grabs the attention of the reader as it delves into the fine details of the events that preceded and followed the weapon testing program that was conducted in this small country. These events took place more than half a century ago (1946-1958).

Holly Barker takes the reader through a string of opinionated views and factual information. She attempts to give the reader an alternative angle of view as regards the events and the situations surrounding the controversial weapon testing program. She bases her book from the perspective of the Marshallese and dwells particularly on the side effects that the weapon testing program had on the communities and the country in general. These she does by collecting and corroborating relevant information on the history of Marshall Islands, her own experience working with the government of the Republic of Marshall Islands, and other useful sources of information. Being an anthropologist, the vehemence and conviction with which she passes her message to the reader cannot go unnoticed. Holly Barker views it as something akin to detestable that the United States government could undertake steps to endanger the lives of innocent civilians in the way it did by virtue of overseeing the implementation of this program.


In a concerted effort to raise awareness on the effects of the radiation that was taking its toll upon the lives of the Marshallese, Barker uses the book as a tool to enlighten and by so doing emancipates the Marshallese from the aftermath of the nuclear weapon testing program. At some point, one gets the impression that she is urging the Marshallese community and its leaders to seek redress and compensation for the brunt their people had to bear and still bear due to errors of omission and commission by the United States. Barker presents her case in utmost honesty stating that despite all the ills done to Marshall Islands, nothing or at best little has been done to alleviate or reverse the situation. She uses thoughtful and commanding expressions and statements in a bid to paint the picture in her own words. For instance, in her book, she mentions that despite the widespread negative effects that the radiations had on the Marshallese, not a single hospital or specialist in cancer and chemotherapy was available to deal with the rising cases of cancer and cancer related complications. Decades after the program ended, nothing worthwhile has been done to rectify the devastating effects that the project bankrolled.

Most of the background information on which Holly Barker bases her argument and the case was obtained from declassified records. These bear the details of the association and agreement between the Republic of Marshall Islands and the United States. Armed with this information, Barker attempts to show that the Marshallese were given or are still being given a raw deal and that the agreement was not precise on the deal that brought the two nations on the negotiation table. In addition, the information in the book is riddled with informative findings from interviews and fieldwork study. For the fact that she was an anthropologist, Barker took it upon herself to find out the effects of the radiations first-hand from the Marshallese. This was buoyed by the position she held working with the Marshallese government. Having lived, worked, and interacted with the Marshallese for more than fifteen years prior to her writing the book, Barker was not only able to obtain valuable information from the interviews she held, but also from witnessing the effects of the radiations. According to her, some of these effects were worth taking into consideration and with it compensation. One outstanding case is the information obtained from one of the subjects she had interviewed. The woman who had just lost a child and had a second one suffering from an acute defect of the skull and who, therefore, had to have the head supported to avert any horrific incidents. In both cases, the radiations were the reasons behind it. Such compelling stories move the reader and trigger emotive feelings.

Following the plot and content of the book Bravo for the Marshallese, it becomes apparent that Holly Barker had a message to send in her writing. It may be argued that the message was directed at the United States authorities who could then learn from their mistakes. Even then, it goes without saying that the content of the book stretches beyond the scope of the perceived wrongdoings of the United States and its reluctance to offer a long-lasting solution to the problem, but also to the Marshallese. The book appears to urge, inform, and sometimes even sound an awakening call to the Marshallese to manage the situation appropriately. This could be through seeking compensation or learning to take care of themselves and protect themselves from the effects of radiations. Nevertheless, Holly Barker uses her writing prowess to bring to light an atrocity in a way that could never be bettered.

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