The United States used many of the atolls
in the Marshall Islands as nuclear testing grounds
from 1946 until the late 1950s. These nuclear tests have done irreversible damage
to many of the atolls, the local population, and the wildlife in the region from
coral reefs to sea life and more.
Outside the nuclear tests, the Americans
did little to alter the culture other than introduce new technologies. The people
continued to essentially self-rule their islands through this time, but communication
and infrastructure improved with new technology.
In 1979 the United States granted the Marshall Islands greater independence (although
full independence wasn't gained until 1986). Since that time the political scene
has been fairly peaceful and quiet. The greatest political splashes have come with
the United States. The two nations work together in a free association (which puts
the United States in control of the Marshall Islands' defense), while the United
States continues to control Kwajalein Atoll via payments and has also given the
government of the Marshall Islands money as compensation for past nuclear testing.
The other political debate has come in controlling the government. The iroij
dominated the political scene until 1999 when elections began to actually represent
the people. This change is a symbolic shift in the culture as well. For centuries
the culture and people have lived in a very tribal society as local chiefs controlled
the political, economic, and even social lives of the people as there were few to
no complaints regarding this system. Perhaps due to outside influences, the people
have been empowered as they have taken control over the political scene and the
people no longer see the iroij as unquestionable leaders, although they
continue to receive a great deal of respect.