Journal of Cold War Studies 4.2 (2002) 148-150
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National Security and Self-determination:
United States Policy in Micronesia (1961-1972)
Howard P. Willens and Deanne C. Siemer, National Security and Self-determination: United States Policy in Micronesia (1961-1972). Westport: Praeger, 2000. 281 pp. $68.00.
Howard Willens and Deanne Siemer have given us a close-up look at what might have seemed an insignificant part of the world were it not for the fact that the Cold War was at its height in the 1960s. The islands of Micronesia, then a United Nations (UN) trust territory administered by the United States, were thrown onto the international stage because of the geopolitical events during the decade about which the authors write, from 1961 to 1972. With a population of less than 100,000 at the time, Micronesia may never have occupied the center stage—for these were the years of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban missile crisis, and the escalation of the conflict in Vietnam—but the islands nonetheless commanded the attention of decision makers in Washington and others around the world. With the insurrection by the Huks in the Filipino island of Luzon recently put down, North Vietnam threatening its neighbor to the south, and the potential outbreak of a number of other conflicts in the area, the United States had good reason to be preoccupied with the security of East Asia and the western Pacific. The Defense Department had always worried that U.S. bases in the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea were vulnerable to political shifts in these countries as well as to an attack by hostile powers. What better fallback position than the three archipelagos of Micronesia, which were then under the aegis of the United States anyway?
The three million square miles of ocean, with a hundred or so inhabited islands and total land area only half the size of Rhode Island, was placed under the administration of the United States in 1947. The trust territory was not so much granted by the U.N. as demanded by the United States. The islands, captured from the Japanese during the Allied counteroffensive late in the Second World War, were "paid for by the sacrifice of American blood," as Admiral Ernest King once asserted. If outright annexation of the islands had not been so contrary to America's stated anticolonial foreign policy, Micronesia would have become a full possession like Guam. The need for some form of compromise that would assure full U.S. control of the islands, including the right to fortify them, if necessary, suggested a special type of trusteeship under the UN. Hence, the islands were labeled a "strategic trust territory" when placed under the administration of the United States.
Sooner or later, of course, the permanent political status of Micronesia would have to be settled. After a decade and a half of U.S. supervision under an intentionally laissez-faire policy toward social and economic development, critical voices began to be raised. The UN Visiting Mission in 1961, charged with the task of reporting on conditions in the trust territory, complained that infrastructure development was virtually nonexistent and that needed social services were being neglected. The United States responded by revising all aspects of its policy in Micronesia, increasing the annual [End Page 148] budgets for the islands, and undertaking a speedy program to provide education, health services, and jobs for the islands' residents. While this was happening, the question of the political future of the islands was being vigorously debated in the halls of Washington and by the islanders themselves, as well as by their administrators. That is where Willens and Siemer pick up the story.
The authors fill in the canvas with remarkable detail not to be found anywhere else. They offer a fascinating glimpse of what was happening behind the scenes during those critical years. Based largely on a wealth of personal interviews with the principal actors—U.S. government officials, Micronesian political figures, and a handful of interested...