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Sunday, June 15, 2014

WWII War Dead Washed From Graves In Vanuatu Island Chain

When I first wrote this article, I began, wanting to be like everyone else and make some pithy comment about Japanese WWII dead soldiers being washed out from their graves.

Then... as I wrote the same old crap out that every other media outlet has, I realized that not only was there a factual error, but it was so effing confusing and convoluted that there was actually MORE than one main theme in the story.

Read that story HERE, then come back and see if I can confuse you. I am a confusing boy whose curiosity made the Cheshire Cat smile. 

Theme #1: Per the headline, the dead are being washed up from their graves;
Theme #2: There is a global climate change meeting going on in Germany, I believe;
Theme #3: The Marshall Islands will one day completely flood thanks to global warming.

These are three separate themes in the story, and while related, it is not presented in a very clear manner—unless I'm just completely effed up again—and I'm not. I've had a couple check the story while keeping my complaints in mind, and they too agree that something is not kosher.

So. Point #1 according to the media
The remains of 26 or more Japanese soldiers who died circa WWII - have been washed out of their grave(s) and

1) found themselves on the beaches of Santo Island, or
2) They traveled from some other island and ended up on Santo Island.

Point #2   
The articles all quote Tony de Brum, who is said to be a minister of foreign affairs for the Marshall Islands: "There are coffins and dead people being washed away from graves. It’s that serious,"

He was talking to a throng of reporters on June 6, 2014 at talks in Germany regarding climate change.

Okay... thanks, Tony... now... why am I making a big deal about this?


a) Tony de Brum is from The Marshall Islands;
b) the dead appear to be washed up on Santo Island;
c) Santo Island is NOT part of The Marshall Islands;
d) Santo Island, also known as Espiritu Santo, is part of the Vanuatu Islands.

This is important, because while in the same hemisphere, there is quite a bit of distance between The Marshall Islands and the Vanuatu Islands:

The screen capture above states ~2500 kilometers (1,500 miles) depending on WHERE each island chain we measure from. 

I'm not sure if you can blame this on global warming, or just poor timing combined with a lack of forethought, but the remains of 26 or more Japanese soldiers have been washed out from their graves on Santo Island, one of the many low-lying islands in the Marshall Islands chain.

Read that story HERE, then come back and see if I can confuse you. I am a confusing boy whose curiosity made the Cheshire Cat smile. 

First off—every single other news item featuring this story is blindly copying the first story, and each one contains a major factual error stating or inferring something geographically inaccurate.

Santo Island is not part of the Marshall Islands chain of 29 atolls and five islands, but is instead part of the Vanutu Islands, and is known as Espiritu Santo, the largest island in the independent Republic of Vanuatu, belonging to the archipelago of the New Hebrides in the Pacific region of Melanesia. 

Vanuatu is part of the Melanesia islands, while the Marshall Islands are part of Micronesia. 
Let's get the facts right, eh?

I suspect that the term Marshall Islands may have indeed been a catchall term back in WWII, but that was then, and this is 2014.

Vanuatu has been divided into six provinces since 1994. The names in English of all provinces are derived from the initial letters of their constituent islands:
    •    Malampa (Malakula, Ambrym, Paama)
    •    Penama (Pentecost, Ambae, Maewo – in French: Pénama)
    •    Sanma (Santo, Malo)
    •    Shefa (Shepherds group, Efate – in French: Shéfa)
    •    Tafea (Tanna, Aniwa, Futuna, Erromango, Aneityum – in French: Taféa)
    •    Torba (Torres Islands, Banks Islands).
Flag of Vanuatu Islands

Regardless... it seems like they are quite a bit of distance from each other.

So... why is de Brum of The Marshall Islands talking about the dead being washed from their grave(s) and landing on Santo Island?

For Point #2 and #3 - he's making a point about global warming and about how his country may one day soon be under water.


Now... because the news articles aren't as clear as it could be: 
  • I wonder if it is possible that the dead Japanese soldiers were originally interred on an atoll or island in The Marshall Islands, and the waters have dragged them from their grave and deposited them onto Santo Island?
  • Or maybe it's bodies from Santo landing on The Marshall Islands?
  • Or, maybe… just maybe, there is some tiny ass little island in the Marshall Island chain called Santo Island… and this is different from the whole Vanuatu Santo Island?  
It seems unlikely that the remains of 26 soldiers could make its way across the waters from the Marshall Islands to Vanuatu... I mean really... 2,500 kilometers?

Are these skeletons in coffins? That makes me curious about who these dead are and the manner of their disposal. 

I actually have an e-mail in to a political handler in The Marshall Islands asking for confirmation on things.  Really. These are the sort of lengths I will go to to ensure I present the facts—to the best of my ability—to people.

But... it's been two days, and I've not received any sort of response - so whatever... hopefully the people on The Marshall Islands can learn how to grow gills.

Back to the story of the dead washing ashore on the beaches.

"There are coffins and dead people being washed away from graves. It’s that serious," Tony de Brum, who is said to be a minister of foreign affairs for the Marshall Islands—to a throng of reporters on June 6, 2014 at talks in Germany regarding climate change.

Now... just because Brum is a minister for the Marshall Islands, it doesn't mean he's a minister for the area where the dead are being washed ashore—Santo Island in Vanuatu. I do not know for certain if de Brum is a minister with The government of The Marshall Islands - that was one of the questions I e-mailed in to a high-level government official of The M.I.You know... fact checking about a place no one outside of that part of the world has any concept of...

"Even the dead are affected," moans de Brum, saying that climate change is responsible for threatening the low-lying island that sits a mere two meters (six feet) above sea level at various points.

Now, I'm not saying de Brum isn't correct about his claims regarding global warming, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and maybe this is just a case of some crappy bad weather—I mean, it's also possible that decades of previous bad weather may have washed away much of the sediment on the island that was keeping the gravesides secure, and the latest swath of bad weather from February-April of 2014 was just the final straw.

From what I understand, these islands are afflicted by something called King Tides - a non-scientific term for monstrous high tides that sweep over the island for about three months every year. What I do know, however, is that King Tides are actually naturally occurring annual events.  

What I do NOT know, though is if the King Tides of recent vintage are higher and higher than those of the past.

de Brum adds, for effect, I assume, that even more skeletons might be found, as the higher tides that were smacking into the island for three months also caused WWII military equipment and some unexploded bombs to wash up.

Again... these King Tides are NOT a new phenomenon. 

Okay… so, we can look at this from two ways… either extremely bad weather (higher than usual King Tides) has caused erosion on the island and has suddenly loosened the grave site(s) of these Japanese soldiers—OR, the bad weather is just bad weather and has over the years roiled up the waters and the below-the-sea sands causing buried debris in the ocean to come to the surface and be washed ashore.

It sounds like the debris and bombs MUST have come from the sea—which implies little to do with global warming—because wouldn't anyone visiting Santo Island have been picking up these materials because they are either collectible or dangerous? Seriously… why would unexploded bombs be lying a few feet below the surface of the island? Surely a metal detector would stop these dangerous devices and thus a bomb disposal unit could safely remove them from the isle?

Surely these islands have ben swept for such dangerous debris in the past 70 years? It's my supposition that bad weather caused the military hardware and unexploded bombs to wash ashore, and to give de Brum the benefit of the doubt that global warming may have played a part in causing the bad weather that has affected the erosion on Santo Island causing the Japanese war dead to be washed out of their graves.

I'm going to reprint here part of an official press release from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Majuro, Marshall Islands, dated march 7, 2013:

RMI’s Foreign Minister, Phillip Muller, said the king tides were the latest in a series of increasingly serious and regular climate impacts:

“While king tides are not new to the Marshall Islands, their frequency and ferocity are clearly intensifying. For those of us in the Pacific, silly discussions about the scientific truth of climate change are futile. We see with our own eyes that the oceans are rising, and our tide gauges confirm it. We know there is only one explanation for this unprecedented phenomenon – climate change has arrived. Last month, US Secretary of State Kerry said climate change could be the world’s “most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.” Here in the Marshall Islands, at an average of just six feet above sea level, we are at ground zero.”

So… Muller's statement from 2013 backs up the fears that climate change is affecting the tides, specifically with King Tides getting worse and now eroding the islands in the Marshall Islands. 

Let's switch islands again... back to Santo Island in Vanuatu...

Now… is it just me, but does anyone else wonder WHY these Japanese soldiers are buried on this  little isle in the Vanuatu Islands?

Since de Brum has said that there might be even more skeletons being loosened from their grave, we can assume that means there is a graveyard, and thus they know that there are bodies buried there.

If these are Japanese skeletons, should they not have been long ago repatriated onto Japanese soil?

"We think they’re Japanese soldiers, but there are no broken bones or any indication of being war casualties," says de Brum. "We think maybe it was suicide or something similar. The Japanese are sending a team in to help us in September (2014)."

But if these are Japanese soldiers (I assume there must be evidence currently available to support that theory), when did the Japanese start burying their dead? I realize a war or battle was going on when these deaths occurred, and if they were killed in battle, then perhaps NOT having the bodies burned was a good way of keeping the remaining soldiers hidden.       

But… since the opinion of de Brum is that these uninjured soldiers may have committed suicide rather than be captured by the Allies, the implication is that the Allies would have done the Japanese a courtesy by burying the bodies.

But… wouldn't the Allies have taken the dog tags of the dead soldiers? Or do they only do that for their own side? Or, dog tags aside, wouldn't the Allied soldiers burying the Japanese soldiers have made an official report detailing how many soldiers were buried? Would this data have NOT been communicated to the Japanese? Whether during the war or certainly after it?

I would think that would be a common courtesy between soldiers and governments of opposing factions to provide family closure…

"We had the exhumed skeletons sampled by the U.S. Navy in Pearl Harbor (in Hawaii) and they helped identify where they are from, to assist in the repatriation efforts," says de Brum.

So... NOW there is going to be repatriation?Didin't he say (according to the original story) that he wasn't SURE if they were Japanese soldiers?

Me am confused.

According to climatologists, global warming has already raised the average world sea levels by about 19 cm (eight inches) over the past century, which affects the impact of storm surges and tides. Glaciers and ice caps are melting, and if you are a real science geek, you should note that water expands as it warms.

Now… for those of you, like me, who react first and then read the full story, global warming is indeed a real concern, and islands like Santo Island are at a real risk.

This isle, known as Espiritu Santo, is the largest of the Vanatu Islands—with some 4,012 km2 of space… so it's not a tiny rock.

This island is, according to most guide books, home to some of the most amazing white sand beaches on the planet!

According to various informative websites, including a tourist site specific to the island chain Vanatu Islands, the highest point in the entire chain of isle is Mount Tabwemasana on Santo, which stands 1,879-m (6,158-ft) in height. Granted, that might still only amount to six-ft above sea level, but I doubt it. 

Anyhow… as mentioned, people are concerned about global warming screwing up the lives of everyone. Click HERE to see some photos (below the press release) of these King Tides causing havoc on the Marshall Islands.

And... just because... here's a photo of Santo Island in the Vanuatu chain:
What is this?! Is this most beautiful place on the planet?! Luganville, Espiritu Santo Island, Vanuatu.

I'm still not sure about what things are like on Santo Island, because every photo I've seen shows it to be an island paradise.

Except for maybe the dead washing ashore... 

Anyhow... other news outlets are making it seem as though the deceased Japanese soldiers were washed from a grave site somewhere in The Marshall Islands... and deposited far, far away in Santo Island in Vanuatu.

That seems so.... unlikely... how are these bodies remaining more or less intact on such a long watery voyage?

A cemetery on the shoreline of Marshall Islands Ailinglaplap Atoll under threat from rising sea levels (File) Photo: AFP/GETTY
Again... if these are indeed Japanese soldiers washing ashore on Santo Island... does de Brum mean that they will be repatriated to The Marshall Islands... or back to Japan?

Anyhow... want to know WHY I am confused about this story that is tragic on so many levels, including reporting and fact checking?

Mr de Brum said the skeletons on Santo Island were exposed after high tides struck the coastline from February to April. Unexploded bombs and military equipment has also washed up.   

That was from The Telegraph (HERE)

So... are the skeletons from Santo Island per The Telegraph? Is there a Santo Island in The Marshall Islands chain... or is it the Vanuatu chain? Japanese military was in both areas... and I can actually find records about Japanese military on Santo Island in Vanuatu... though no evidence of a Santo Island in The Marshall Islands.

Whatever... some islands are experiencing flooding and erosion, and some are blaming that on global warming... and those roiling waters may have caused bodies to moved from graves (which may have either been known or unknown sites), and either landed on another island far, far away... or landed on the beaches of the island they were interned.

And, either we are still truing to determine if these are the remains of Japanese soldiers or we KNOW they are the remains of Japanese soldiers.

And why was any Japanese soldier buried? Why did Japan leave them there? 

And... we do know that the bodies/skeletons will be repatriated, though no one is properly stating WHERE they will be repatriated to - Vanuatu, The Marshall Islands or Japan.

This story is so.... fugged up.  

Andrew Joseph



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