Kim Wall was a journalist most aspire to be
“Kim Wall was one of the first reporters who helped us get worldwide exposure about our mission and the consequences of our government’s decisions: past, present and future,” wrote Frank Bolton, who along with contracted civilians, disposed of radioactive debris in Enewetak atoll in the Marshall Islands.
Frank is a founding member of the Enewetak Atoll Atomic Debris Cleanup Veterans, an advocacy group of US military servicemen and civilian contractors who were tasked with cleaning up radioactive debris in the atolls from 1977 to 1980. Along with Hinzel, our reporting partner, Kim and I were introduced to Frank and the group’s work in the course of covering the lingering legacy of US nuclear testing and the consequences of climate change on the Pacific island.
From 1946 to 1958, the US military detonated 67 nuclear and atmospheric bombs on Enewetak and Bikini atolls, displacing indigenous communities and leaving the land radioactive and unfit for habitation.
Frank’s characterization of Kim, who has been my friend since we met in a photojournalism class at Columbia in 2012, could not be more apt. Kim, who disappeared and was confirmed dead after boarding Peter Madsen’s homemade submarine in Copenhagen, was the type of journalist many aspire to be: courageous, creative and impactful. Her body of work speaks to journalism’s core mission: shine light on the world’s troubles, illuminate the dark places.
As Kim wrote, Enewetak was just what the US military wanted in a test site. It was “sparsely populated, equipped with a gigantic Japanese-built airstrip, and sufficiently far from major shipping lanes yet conveniently close to supplies from Hawaii. Never mind that all of its ancestral land belonged to someone.” As she made clear, “the Americans didn’t bother asking for permission.”
Kim had an astute skill for communicating cultural and political nuance for an international audience. She did so with detail and care as she wrote of Marshallese ancestral land and how the nuclear testing era decimated traditions in sea voyaging, music and cultivation on the low-lying atolls. The bombs also poisoned the islands for generations, causing intractable illnesses among its population.
In the same piece, Kim brought to life the memories of those directly affected by the testing. “Tagaji Iso remembers spending weeks in the midst of the Pacific,” she told her readers. “They brought only clothes, tatamis and blankets and there was never land in sight. A boy at the time, he was in awe with the sheer size of the ship: a US vessel, complete with volleyball courts on deck. As atomic bombs fell on Tagaji’s ancestral land, shockwaves rocked the ship like a toy boat.”
As an International Women’s Media Foundation fellow, she had been trained in working in hostile environment situations. And her determination to tell a story to the best of her abilities outweighed the challenges and uncertainties that come with freelance international reporting.
There can be no doubt, we’ve lost a friend, a daughter, a sister and a light of compassion in the world.
Kim’s family, friends and extended network are in the process of honoring her life and impact in journalism with a grant. The grant will support young women journalists pursuing an interest in reporting on subcultures. If you are interested in supporting or learning more, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read more of her work, please visit the website, Remembering Kim Wall.
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