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The Republic of the Marshall Islands is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, and part of the larger island group known as Micronesia.

Geographically, Micronesia is mostly in the tropical North Pacific, beyond the International Date Line, and between Hawaii and the Philippines. The Marshall Islands are part of Micronesia, which is a geographical rather than a political designation. The Marshall Islands is made up of twenty-nine coral atolls, which are coral reefs, irregularly circular in shape, that form a necklace of narrow islands or islets, created by volcanic activity, ocean currents, winds, and the growth of live coral over thousands of years. Usually, no more than fifteen or sixteen feet above sea level, the ring of islets partially encloses a lagoon and, with larger atolls, there is generally an opening into the lagoon on the leeward side that allows for the passage of boats.

Atolls come in all sizes, from small exposures of sea-washed coral with nothing on them but the occasional seabird or turtle, to large expanses of enough dry land to support a tropical forest. Altogether, the Marshall Islands includes 1,156 individual islands or islets. A raised atoll is one that has been pushed up higher than usual, generally by volcanic activity. Raised atolls may have hills as high as two hundred feet above sea level. Generally, the quality of the soil on a raised atoll is richer and better able to sustain human life. Inhabited atolls include Ailinginae, Bikar, Bikini, Bokak, Erikub, Jemo, Nadikdik, Rongerik, Toke, and Ujelang.

The first residents of the Marshall Islands came around 2000 BC to 1000 BC, no doubt by canoe, but not much is known of the early settlement of the islands, as they left no written or oral records.

The Spanish came to the islands in the mid-1520s, and other Spanish vessels followed, making contact with islanders. As the islanders had no immunity to European diseases, a large number of them died from illnesses contracted from the Spanish. No permanent Spanish settlement of the islands was attempted. Captain John Marshall, a British explorer, came to the islands in 1788, and they were named for him on Western charts. In the early 1800s, Russian and French explorers also referred to the islands as the Marshall Islands, a designation that was repeated on British maps.

In 1824, the crew of an American whaler mutinied and some of the crew came ashore on Mulgrave Island. A year later, an American schooner picked up two boys, who were the only survivors of a massacre by islanders due to the brutal treatment of women by the Americans. Other American vessels visiting the islands were also attacked, their crews killed.

Although no Spanish settlement was made, the international community recognized Spain's claim to the islands as part of the Spanish East Indies in 1874. Shortly afterward, however, Spain made no objection a German protectorate over the Marshall Islands. German emissaries settled on the Jaluit Atoll, a large coral atoll of ninety-one islands in the Ralik Chain of the Marshall Islands. The Germans signed a treaty with the chief of the Ralik Islands, after which seven other chiefs signed treaties with the Germans. Spain sold its claim to the islands to Germany in 1884. During the German protectorate, Catholic missionaries conducted missionary activities there.

During World War I, Japanese troops took control of several of the islands and upon conclusion of the War, Germany was forced to renounce its claims in the Pacific, including the Marshall Islands. In 1920, the League of Nations approved a mandate for Japan to take control over all of the former German colonies in the Pacific Ocean north of the equator. Under Japanese rule, power on the islands was placed in the hands of appointed local leaders, weakening the power of traditional leaders. Prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the administrative center of the Japanese 6th Fleet was on Kwajalein Atoll, in the Marshall Islands. During World War II, the United States occupied the islands in 1944, destroying or isolating Japanese garrisons.

The Marshall Islands became a Trust of the United States. Between 1946 and 1958, the US tested sixty-seven nuclear weapons on the Marshall Islands. This included the largest atmospheric nuclear test ever conducted by the United States. In a 1952 test of the first US hydrogen bomb, the island of Elugelab was destroyed. By 1956, the Marshall Islands were declared the most contaminated place in the world by the US Atomic Energy Commission. In 1979, the Marshall Islands became self-governing. In 1986, the government of the Marshall Islands entered into an agreement with the United States that provided for the US defense of the islands in return for the continued US military use of the missile testing range on Kwajalein Atoll. Marshall Islanders are free to enter the United States without visas.

 

 

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