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Defending Whose Country?

Indigenous Soldiers in the Pacific War

Noah Riseman

Publication Year: 2012

In the campaign against Japan in the Pacific during the Second World War, the armed forces of the United States, Australia, and the Australian colonies of Papua and New Guinea made use of indigenous peoples in new capacities. The United States had long used American Indians as soldiers and scouts in frontier conflicts and in wars with other nations. With the advent of the Navajo Code Talkers in the Pacific theater, Native servicemen were now being employed for contributions that were unique to their Native cultures. In contrast, Australia, Papua, and New Guinea had long attempted to keep indigenous peoples out of the armed forces altogether. With the threat of Japanese invasion, however, they began to bring indigenous peoples into the military as guerilla patrollers, coastwatchers, and regular soldiers.

Defending Whose Country? is a comparative study of the military participation of Papua New Guineans, Yolngu, and Navajos in the Pacific War. In examining the decisions of state and military leaders to bring indigenous peoples into military service, as well as the decisions of indigenous individuals to serve in the armed forces, Noah Riseman reconsiders the impact of the largely forgotten contributions of indigenous soldiers in the Second World War.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

It was by accident that I first encountered the Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit (NTSRU). There in the library lay the abridged narrative of the force, tucked away in a tiny book next to a thick book about Aboriginal people in the Second World War. From that tiny book my investigation grew — first informally and then formally. ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xiv

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Introduction: Reading Colonialism and Indigenous Involvement in the Second World War

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pp. 1-34

December 1941. Australian defense forces were engaged in the Middle East and North Africa as Germany and Italy continued their war in Europe, and Adolf Hitler’s army advanced in the Soviet Union. Japan, still engaged in a bloody war with China, was organizing an assault on American and European allies at Pearl Harbor, ...

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1. An Exception in the Equation? Donald Thomson and the NTSRU

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pp. 35-66

Arnhem Land, on the north coast to the east of Darwin, was one of the most vulnerable regions of the Northern Territory at the outbreak of the Pacific War. In addition to the usual non-Indigenous population woes, Arnhem Land also had a small Aboriginal presence. ...

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2. Allies at War: De Facto Yolngu Soldiers

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pp. 67-98

In 1946 the Northern Territory administration proclaimed: “From enquiries made it appears that no Northern Territory aboriginals served with the Australian Defence Forces. A number of aboriginals actually worked for the Army in the Northern Territory, but they were employed under conditions prescribed by the Aboriginals Ordinance ...

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3. Black Skins, Black Work: Papuan and New Guinean Labor

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pp. 99-134

Papua and New Guinea were the only buffers that stood between Japanese expansion and Australia. The colonies were fragmented; white settlement was sparse; and despite strict regulations regarding labor and movement, Australian administration was minimal. There were only about 4,400 white residents of New Guinea and 1,500 in Papua; ...

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4. Guerillas for the White Men: Formal Papuan and New Guinean Fighters

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pp. 135-168

One of the most enduring images of the Second World War from Papua New Guinea is the George Silk photograph of a wounded Australian soldier, Pvt. George C. Whittington, being escorted by a Papuan named Raphael Omibari (see illustration 11 in this volume). ...

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5. The Navajo Code Talkers: Warriors for the Settler Nation

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pp. 169-194

At a July 2001 ceremony honoring the Navajo Code Talkers, U.S. president George W. Bush stated, “Regardless of circumstances, regardless of history, they [Navajo Code Talkers] came forward to serve America.”4 Bush’s speech, through use of the word “regardless,” reflects a significant aspect of the Code Talkers’ history. ...

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6. When the War Was Over: Forgetting and (Re)membering the Code Talkers

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pp. 195-220

The mere proposal for the Navajo Code Talkers had multiple hurdles to overcome. As the last chapter describes, the first hurdles were military approval and acceptance within the Navajo community itself. The strong war mobilization and the support of key commanders in the U.S. Marine Corps resulted in the successful implementation of a training program ...

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Conclusion: The Soldier-Warrior in Modern War

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pp. 221-232

Ideas of exploiting indigenous people for colonial militaries have a long history. For instance, in a published September 1880 journal article entitled “Military Colonization of the Indians” Capt. H. C. Cushing of the U.S. Army wrote of Native Americans: “The Indian is naturally a warrior. ...

Source Acknowledgments

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pp. 233-234


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pp. 235-270


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pp. 271-296


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pp. 297-304

E-ISBN-13: 9780803246164
E-ISBN-10: 0803246161
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803237933

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 24 photographs, 3 maps
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 819136686
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Defending Whose Country?

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Cryptography.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Participation, Indian.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Participation, Aboriginal Australian.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, Australian.
  • Australia -- Armed Forces -- Aboriginal Australians.
  • United States -- Armed Forces -- Indians.
  • Navajo code talkers.
  • Yolngu (Australian people) -- Warfare.
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