Published Date

October 1, 1944

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 45: What Future for the Islands of the Pacific? (1944)

What should be done about this South Sea region at the postwar conference tables, and after? How realistic are the various plans already reviewed? What role should our own country take?

Obviously the political future of the area will depend to quite an extent upon what type of international organization the United Nations may set up to deal with world security and with the problems of the Pacific region as a whole.

After the last war, one of the questions to be solved was what to do with Germany’s colonies. The mandates system under the League of Nations Mandates Commission was set up as a result. At the end of this war the problem of dealing with colonial holdings of Japan will be on the agenda. Perhaps the wider problem of all colonial territories and peoples will come up for examination. Without knowing what the over-all organization and policy of the United Nations may be, it is nevertheless possible to discuss some of the ways in which the South Sea region might be dealt with. These ways would have to take into account its great strategic importance, its limited political development, and the existing stakes of the nations concerned.


What Are Some Possible Lines of Policy?

At the one extreme the present imperial system could be continued, with the various powers holding their island territories under sovereign control.

This system might even be extended by abolishing the mandate system and letting the territories be annexed by the nations in charge of them. If this plan were followed, many believe that the United States would take full control of the former Japanese islands.

At the opposite extreme, an international system of supervision and control might be worked for.

This could cover at least the former Japanese islands and other bases considered essential for world security. Or more widely it could take in all the South Sea territories, linking them in a “confederation” under some form of international authority, presumable a joint council of the interested powers. Out of this might gradually evolve a political unity for the region which the present scattered territories and peoples lack.

For some thinkers, neither of these alternatives may seem feasible. The one, they believe, goes back to a past which is inadequate to meet the needs of the area and its place in world communication. The other they regard as too fast a venture onto uncertain ground. There seems to be much room for planning between the two extremes, however.

One step beyond the prewar situation that has been suggested is for the various countries to consolidate more fully their different holdings in the area. This is most obvious in the case of Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, which could bring together their territories into a British Pacific Island Federation. Our own territories could be coordinated in similar fashion, and so could those of France. Such a plan, it is argued, would make possible better, training of personnel, white and native, sharing the tasks of economic and other development, avoiding wasteful duplication, and enjoying other advantages. It is also claimed that this plan would simplify regional planning and cooperation on an international basis.

It has been suggested that the postwar settlement might leave the various powers with sovereign control over their territories, but bring them to agreement on a “colonial charter” which would set common objectives for government and welfare. Those who favor this plan say that it would provide a yardstick by which to measure progress and efficient administration. The nations could also, under this general plan, negotiate agreements to provide for military security and to deal with other common problems, such as those of transportation and commerce.

Going still further, it is suggested that they could set up bodies for consultation and common action, much as the American republics do. The “South Sea Regional Commission” proposed by the governments of Australia and New Zealand might be a permanent organization along these lines.

The value of international cooperation has been shown by the work of the famous medical school at Suva, Fiji. There picked native youths from a number of the central Pacific territories, including American Samoa, are trained as “native medical practitioners.” This project, developed by the island governments with help from the Rockefeller Foundation, is revolutionizing medical work in the South Seas. The war, too, has brought about smooth and efficient collaboration among the Pacific powers in military matters, and on bodies such as the Pacific Council and United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Observers point out that there seems to be no reason why this collaboration could not be continued into the postwar period.

Five Zones

One feature of the island development which should be of help in such planning is that the South Sea region falls into five rather distinct zones. Each of these zones has a main port or administrative center to give it unity.

In the northeast is a dominantly American area, with its natural hub at Honolulu in Hawaii. An eastern area is almost wholly French, with its center in Papeete (Tahiti). The central Pacific is mainly held by Britain and New Zealand, with Suva (Fiji) as its historic focal point. A west-central area is French, with Noumea (New Caledonia) as center. The northwest area, formerly dominated by Japan but being occupied by the United States, is focused on Apra in Guam. A southwest area, the concern of at least Britain and Australia, is at present centered on Port Moresby (New Guinea), but after the war, the more centrally located Lac, new capital of the New Guinea mandate, might be used.

For a general hub of the South Seas, its position and history seem to make Suva the natural choice. It has been suggested that an international organization might be built upon this regional framework, with certain meetings and other mobile activities rotating around the various centers.

Tasks to Be Done

Whatever future organization may be worked out, the prime concern of the nations must necessarily be with security. Second to this concern, this review would indicate the need of encouraging the political development and social progress of the local populations. As pointed out by the 1944 International Labor Conference meeting in Philadelphia, it is not in the best interests of the more advanced peoples to allow any groups to stay ignorant and backward, with low productive capacity and purchasing power. Such places serve as breeding spots for future world troubles.

Enough of the islanders have gone to the top of the educational ladder and have made good in the professional and business world to show that they are capable of meeting opportunities as these may be opened up. As a phase of training in self-government, it has been suggested that whatever organization may be formed to deal with the wider island affairs might have representatives of the local peoples taking part.

The United States now bears the major burden of Pacific security, and there is no reason to suppose that it will not have to carry this on through the postwar era. Many Americans believe that for the sake of world peace as well as for reasons of self-interest, this country must obtain, whether nationally or as international charges, whether by agreement or by annexation, all the bases necessary to carry out this task.

If this is done, it follows that the United States will correspondingly have to assume responsibilities for increased numbers of the island peoples and will have to work cooperatively with other powers for their well-being and development.

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