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)

There is evidence that the American people favor taking a much more active part in the affairs of this South Sea region than in the past. They believe that the requirements of national security and the expenditures made in money and lives demand this. What do Americans suggest should be done?

There are two extreme schools of thought. One is that the island bases and battlegrounds should be annexed outright by the United States, regardless of who formerly owned them. The other, strongly opposed to any “new American imperialism,” advocates the development of international supervision and control over the islands, with the United States taking a vigorous role.

The greatest area of agreement seems to be on the point that we must control the former Japanese islands either outright or through international authority.

Among the schemes put forward by American thinkers, the following two are perhaps the most specific. A supplement to Fortune magazine for August 1942 describes proposals for future American policies in the Pacific area. It looks forward to a great “trans-Pacific defense belt” stretching from our West Coast via the Japanese islands to Formosa. This would have a chain of fortified islands and bases under international control, with vast runways and underground hangars. Under their protection, civil airports and towns would spring up, creating a “great new path of peaceful, human, intercontinental communication.”

An American editor, writing in Asia and the Americas in December 1943, has the same strategic considerations in mind. But he proposes to have practically all the South Sea territories fused into a “Confederation of Oceania.” This, he suggests, would be supervised by a governing body of the interested powers, with its headquarters at Honolulu.


What Are Other Nations Thinking?

Other interested parties are also having their say as to what should be done. The Australians, who barely escaped invasion of their homeland by the Japanese, are determined to see that the islands to the north of them are never again made a pathway of aggression. They assume, along with the British, French, Dutch, and ourselves, that rightful possession of their colonial holdings has not been impaired by Japanese occupation.

Americans, with their background of Revolutionary days, naturally think of “independence” as the desirable goal for dependent countries. But the British, French, and Dutch look instead toward the day when their colonies will become “partners” within a continuing empire or commonwealth. Yet responsible officials of these powers have expressed willingness to cooperate and consult on an international basis.

The most concrete scheme yet suggested publicly for the future of the Pacific islands is contained in the so-called “Canberra Agreement,” put forward in early 1944. In this joint statement the governments of Australia and New Zealand defined their common policies. They proposed the creation of a “regional defense zone” for the South Pacific, stretching through the islands from the New Guinea region to Samoa and the Cook islands. They also suggested that the nations with Pacific island territories should establish a body to be known as the “South Seas Regional Commission.” Without infringing on national sovereignties this would serve as an agency for consultation and study regarding matters of common concern, and would advance “trusteeship” over the backward peoples in the area.

To handle the airways of the future, they proposed that an International Air Transport Authority be created. This would operate air trunk lines through the Pacific islands, as elsewhere over the world, and the bases needed would pass under its control.

The Canberra Agreement stated that Australia and New Zealand wanted to have a say in all future territorial adjustments in the Pacific islands. It also said that the use of bases for war purposes does not give any grounds for territorial claims after the war. These two points have been criticized by some members of Congress. Apparently, however, the second point does not rule out the possibility of the United States leasing or otherwise arranging for the use of bases in these waters.

The French have also made public some proposed policies for the future of their territories. French leaders are talking of setting up a “French Federation” after the war. This would give the French colonies greater local self-government and more independence of action than they formerly had. In this way they hope to prevent the breaking up of their empire.

How can we judge the worth of such plans for the future of the islands? Before this can be done it is necessary to know much more about them. Who are their peoples? How are they governed? What are their resources?

Next section: The Island Populations