Coming of Age in Micronesia

Courtesy Reuters

We had best take note of Micronesia. It is, with Samoa and Okinawa, the one area of the world where "American colonialism" is an incontrovertible presence, where our responsibilities are not a matter of policy preference but of law. Except for Papua-New Guinea, which is officially headed for independence, it is the only remaining U.N. Trust Territory, and a unique one at that. No one knows where this splattering of Pacific islands is headed politically and perhaps only the Defense Department really cares. But having completed 21 years under American authority, the Micronesians are expected to vote soon on whether they will freely associate with the United States or strike out on their own.

How is one to become concerned about a people so limited in numbers that they could be fitted into the Rose Bowl, though they are scattered over an ocean area the size of the United States? With all our problems at home and abroad, how can we worry about a hundred thousand lotus-eaters on their picturesque atolls which total only 700 square miles? The answer is that we have a particular legal obligation to the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands unlike any other; that we have a national, strategic interest in the Territory which is hardly exceeded anywhere; and that failure to recognize these obligations and interests may carry stiff penalties. That we also have a special moral obligation to the Micronesians, who have been pawns of the great powers for a century, is an added factor that will be acknowledged by some if not by others.

A measure of the Micronesians' condition today can be gained from the fact that their second largest export is scrap metal from World War II. Their population is half what it was a century ago when Spain dominated the islands, as it had for three centuries, bringing them little but Christianity. In the 1880s came the Germans to challenge the Spaniards, first with gun-boats, then with the equivalent of $4.5 million

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