The Pacific Islands We Hold

Trusteeship American statesman and diplomat, FRANCIS B. SAYRE served as our High Commissioner to the Philippines from 1939 to 1942, escaping from Corregidor with his wife and son by submarine. In 1947 President Truman appointed him our Representative in the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations, and in this capacity in 1949 he completed an 11,000-mile survey of the former Japanese-mandated islands which our Navy is now administering as trust territory.


SAIPAN and Kwajalein and Tinian were names to conjure with — front-page news— five or six years ago when American lads were being machine-gunned in the bloody assaults lo wrest these Pacific strongholds from the grip of the Japanese. What part is the trust territory of the Pacific Islands playing now in lhe cold war sequel to World War II ? In the early days of the past summer they became the subject of heated debate in the United Nations Trusteeship Council, when their administration by the United States came under the fire of violenl Soviet attack.

As I nited States Representative in the Trusteeship Council I was anxious to pay a visit to the islands and see for myself the character of the administration which I should be later calk’d upon in the Council to defend. Last May I took the t rip. I went with my lingers crossed; for the United Stales, unlike Great Britain, has had but limited experienee in the administration of dependent territories.

We set out from Pearl Harbor and traveled some 11,000 miles by ships, by flying boats, by land planes, by whaleboats, by landing craft, and by out rigger canoes. Throughout the vast archipelago which constitutes the trust territory, we visited islands of every kind and every description some extensive and supporting comparalivelv large populations, some tiny coral atolls almost awash with white surf and uninhabited, some “high" volcanic islands of mountain peaks and rugged scenery, and some “low" islands, spots of low-lying vivid green in the surrounding blue of the Pacific.

We talked with all manner of island peoples tattooed native chiefs clad in loincloths and welcoming smiles, village councils assembled to greet and to exchange thoughts with us. magistrates, headmen, sell-sacrificing missionaries, church groups all dressed in their Sunday best, various officials, titled and untitled, workers of every kind who desired to talk, groups of school children, and even inmates of local jails.

On the whole, I found the people happy. Everywhere they seemed responsive and eager to learn more of American ways. Throughout the vast area I found no food shortages, no epidemics, no cases of prexmlahle human need. I he indigenous population O i lie islands, judged by I lie standards of (heir own culture, arc today well fed, well housed, and in good health. Their material needs are well cared for.

Life for most of these attractive, brown-skinned Micronesian peoples is simple and primitive. Thev ha\e no literature. Few of them have any but the most elementary education. For centuries before the white man came they maintained a fairly happy existence, developing a culture admirably adapted lo the conditions under which they lived. Theirs was a subsistence economy undisturbed bv worries of buying and selling. Mother Nature is for the most part kindly in the South Seas, Coconuts, bananas, breadfruit, pandanus, taro, and lish are easily to be had; clothing presents no trouble— the less the better; and shelter is easily furnished by the leaves of pandanus or palm. Sustained work was quite unnecessary. A strongly developed communal family or clan system removed ihe fear of individual want or incapacity, and promised care in time of sickness or old age.

Lew of the people today are eager for change. Free from individual poverty or want, they prefer the idle, happy life which they have always known. They do not wish increased economic returns at the price of hard work. And who can blame them? They regard their culture as superior to our own.

Rut whether happily or unhappily for them, ihe old days are gone beyond recall. Easygoing seventeenth and eighteenth century cultures cannot withstand ihe intense pressures and aggressive inroads of twentieth century Western civilization. Samoans tried to do so and lost their sovereignty. In Hawaii today less than a sixth of the population are of the Hawaiian race. In every South Sea area invaded by the whites has come the slow disintegration of South Sea cultures and the adoption of some of the best and much of the worst of alien ways.

The Mieronesians are a likable people, tolerant of foreign ways, possessed of dignity and poise — and with a sense of humor, too. At Kwajalein I wanted to try a sail in an outrigger canoe when the wind was brisk and the seas ehoppj. The ownci called the island governor aside. “Do I get him wet or keep him dry? he gravely asked. I came back drenched. But I was convinced that the outriggci canoe is a considerably better and faster sailing craft than anv boat of comparable dimensions to be found m New England. I was told these sailing canoes can make twenty knots, and I can well believe it.

Everywhere I found friendliness. I wondered sometimes whether, dropping down from the sky as we were accustomed to do in our flyingboat and anchoring in the lagoon within the fringe of white breakers pounding on coral reefs, we should find islanders resentful of our rude intrusion into the quiet of their seldom visited homes. Yet I never saw a scowling face. As we stepped from the canoes which brought us ashore through the surf or tortuous channels, the leading men, assembled in a long line to meet us, would ceremoniously shake our hands, and behind them the untitled men and frequently the women and children would gather to greet us. Often would follow ceremonial dances for our entertainment; and not infrequently when our departure time arrived, we would become the center of a “shower party” of gifts — tortoise-shell fans, small mats woven of coconut fiber, gay shells, model outriggers, various pieces of native handicraft, and on Yap even pieces of the native shell money.

The problems ol administering such a territory are formidable and unique. The trust territory covers a sea area of some 3,000,000 square miles - approximately as great as that of continental Ended Stales. In this vast archipelago lives a comparatively small population — not more than 54,000 people—but widely scattered among some sixtyfour different island groups. Problems of transport and communication assume, therefore, an unusual importance.

The immense distances separating these various island groups make naturally for sharp diversities. The peoples differ markedly in appearance, in wavs of living, in patterns of thought. At least eight distinct cultural groups have developed, each with its own language. Each island people is a problem unto itself. Each has its local loyalties— and also its local prejudices and jealousies. Catapulted into this archipelago of problems came American naval officials to fill ihe vacuum and take up the administrative tasks left by the 70,000 Japanese who had been killed or had to be packed home. Our task has had to be to build from the ground up.

Thus far everything has been left to the Navy, which first took over. True enough, the President s Executive Order of July 18, 1047, terminated as of that day the pre-existing military government and set up a civil administration under the Secretary of the Navy. Granted that the immense distances separating the islands make the task essentially a sea job, nevertheless the question which kept haunting me was whether naval officials were competent to cope with the subtleties of problems such as these. Accustomed to carry on their work by commands and regulations issued from above, could naval officials be expected to understand indigenous viewpoints profoundly different from their own, and to win primitive peoples over to political, economic, educational, and social programs that will carry the islanders forward into new ways of thought and life? Tasks such as these call for a high degree of imagination and sensitive understanding.

The Navy’s authority to administer the islands stems, not from legislation, but from a Presidential Executive Order. No Organic Act has yet been passed, defining the fundamental rights of the inhabitants, setting up a civilian structure of government, or outlining the policies to be pursued. Until Congress determines what basic long-term policies are to be followed in order to implement the provisions of the Trusteeship Agreement, all planning must be on a temporary basis.


AGAINST this background of difficulty, how much has the United States actually been able to achieve among these primitive, likable peoples in the two and a half short years since the Trusteeship Agreement came into force?

In the political field considerable groundwork has already been laid. The task of organizing local municipalities, officered and largely run by the island people themselves, has been vigorously pushed by American officials. Over one hundred of these local organizations have thus far been constituted. It is true that not all municipalities are now set up on a representative basis. The United States has endeavored to build upon the best of the existing indigenous organizations. Nevertheless, many democratic elections have been held; and the fact that approximately 80 per cent of the island inhabitants of voting age today enjoy some iorm of suffrage is a clear indication of the progress being made in political education.

In the economic field, the outstanding problems come from the two chief marketable resources: copra and the Angaur phosphate deposits. Copra is dried coconut meat, from which oil is extracted, used among other things for soapmaking and edible oils. To assist the people in getting their copra to world markets and bringing in such goods as they need, the Navy organized the Island Trading Company. It is planned that all the profits from this organization will go to 1 he welfare and support of the island peoples. The Island Trading Company, however, is only an interim arrangement until such time as the inhabitants can be taught to carry on these functions for themselves. This has already begun.

I suspect that the illustrated pages of American Sears Roebuck catalogues have something to do with increased copra activity. Thumbing through those catalogues the islanders see alluring pictures of American fineries which excite their admiration or desire. The only way to salisfy them is with money; and money can be had by making more, copra and selling it lo the Island Trading Company. Ihe copra production is thus increased, and new Western items appear on the island, to the envy of some and excitement of all. The present cloud on the economic horizon is the falling price of copra in world markets.

The mining of phosphates on Angaur Island was carried on extensively by the Japanese before the war. Prior to the adoption of the Trusteeship Agreement an informal arrangement was made providing for the mining of up to 865,000 tons of phosphate ore at aroy alty of 45 cents a ton. The total amount mined was shipped to Japan for the account of the Supreme Commander, Allied Powers, Tokyo. In view of the world-wide short age of food following the war, and of the Allied responsibility for preventing starvation in Japan, the export to Japan of this phosphate was considered a desirable interim measure. But the nice problem now arises whether its continued shipment is compatible with the promotion of the economic interests of the people of Angaur. In ihe light of the effects of the mining upon the agriculture and fresh-water supply of Angaur Island, the matter is being carefully reconsidered.

In the field of education the Navy has gone to work with a will. Nearly every inhabited island lias its elementary schools. Moreover, elementary education has been made compulsory . Today one out of every six of the indigenous population is at school. This is no mean achievement. In every island I visited, always I made for the school.

I nhappily, too often I found no school in session because of the holiday to do honor to ihe visiting Ambassador. But on a number of occasions I was lucky enough to find the boys and girls in school and hard at work. After watching the conduct of the teaching, I usually asked the children questions to test their English and their general knowledge. The answers were not always accurate, but their faces were always eager and alert. “ Who is the President of the United States?" I asked one of the smaller youngsters in a primary grade at Yap. Boys and girls scratched their heads. This was a hard one! Finally, an inspiration came lo a small, half-naked boy; he raised his hand. “Abraham Lincoln,” was the triumphant reply.

As yel, the children have learned little of world geography or of what lies beyond the while breakers encircling their palm-fringed islands. But they are avid lo learn English, which all consider the highroad to advancement and the key to much of the magic and the myslery of America, It is taught throughout the territory, and will one day replace Japanese as the lingua franca of the islands.

Any system of compulsory elementary education must be based upon a good indigenous teachers" lraining school. If would be impracticable to bring sufficient American teachers lo the islands to man fhe elementary schools, One of (he early steps in the educational program was therefore lo organize a first-rate teachers" training school. The Pacific Islands ’readier Training School, or “PITTS” as it is called, is now in full swing at ’Truk.

Finally, in the social field, particularly in the realm of public sanitation and health, notable progress has been made. When t he Americans came, eighteen out of every twenty people of the islands were afflicted by yaws, a very infectious and troublesome systemic disease, manifesting itself primarily in its active stage by open ulcers on the skin. Prom 85 to 50 per cent of the boys and girls under seventeen presented active lesions. Today ihe incidence of open lesions is less than one in a hundred. About half the people sullrred from malnuIrilion. today there is almost none. Intestinal parasite diseases have been reduced in some districts from an incidence of 05 percent to 5 percent. Tubereulosis, however, in spilte of earnest effort, still remains a serious problem. All children under sixteen and most adults of the trust territory have been vaccinated against smallpox, tetanus, and typhoid fever.

One of the most imaginative projects in the health field is the U.S.S. Whidbey, which, with X-ray, fluoroscope, and an epidemiological laboratory, cruises from island to island, engaged in making a medical examination and keeping a record of each inhabitant. W hen the survey is finished the United Stales will have a detailed and complete record of the diseases of every island, and of the sanitary and health needs of every part of the trust territory.

Of poignant interest is the leprosarium recently built on Tinian. Here are gathered from various parts of the territory those afflicted with leprosy. Since leprosy is not considered a highly contagious disease, non-infeeted adult members of the family sometimes accompany the patient to the leprosarium and remain with him during treatment. Most of the patients live in attractive little family cabins built for them by the government; the more advanced and active cases are cared for in hospital wards.

The heart of the program of public health lies in the training schools for indigenous medical assistants, dental assistants, and nurses, located at Guam, It is always a great occasion when medical or dental assistants return to theirhome islands to take a professional pari in the visiting medical officer’s work or to preside over local dispensaries or health centers.

When finally, at the end of a month, I turned my face homeward I felt a sense of pride in the way the United States has been laying the groundwork for what must constitute a long-time job. During that month I had also gained a new respect for the United Stales Navy. I had feared that the Navy might concentrate all its effort upon salisfving the immediate material needs of the people, with eyes blind to the subtler spiritual needs, or else upon theoretical and impractical “uplift" programs that would have confused the issues and needlessly upset the people’s accustomed ways.

The Navy does not claim to have been free from mistakes. Amidst its hundreds of activities it has of course been guilty of rash judgments and unwise decisions. But by and large, the United States Navy, engaged upon this exacting task, has to my mind witli outstanding ability and understanding achieved a notable success.


LAST summer before the Trusteeship Council the United States was called upon to give an account of its administration of the islands. How and why we were bound to do so is part of the aftermath of World War II.

At the end of the war, having driven the Japanese out of the Pacific Islands at a fearful cost, we Americans found ourselves in military occupation of the Marshalls, the Carolines, and the Marianas. We could not repeat the inexplicable blunder of 1808, When we took Guam and the Philippines and left for sale on the open market these strategic islands lying directly athwart our lines of communication to the Philippines. For this blunder we had paid dearly in blood. Never again could we afford to permit these Pacific bastions to be held or fortified by any militaristic state.

But outright annexation was impossible. Again and again during the course of the war we had declared. and sincerely declared, that we were fighting to gain not one single inch of foreign soil.

The alternative was to place the islands under the international trusteeship system which the United Nations was setting up with the strong hacking and support of the United States as one of the pillars of peace for t he new world. Accordingly, we entered into a Trusteeship Agreement.with the United Nations. We thereby pledged ourselves, in the words of the Charter, “to promote the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the inhabitants . . . and their progressive development towards self-government or independence.”

To watch over the interests of dependent peoples in trust territories the Trusteeship Council was created as an organ of real power. It is not, like the old League of Nations Mandates Commission, a committee of experts, hut rather of “specially qualified ‘ persons representing their governments. It is not merely a debating group. It is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations, composed of governmental representatives with power to bind their governments. It is not confined to examining reports but may send missions of its own to each of the trust territories In investigate and see for itself and in report its recommendations directly In the General Assembly. This is strong and heady medicine. It is potent for good or, if misused, for international mischief.

In order to preserve an even balance and thus prevent one-sided decisions, the Council is composed of an equal number of administering and non-administering states — the live Great Powers, all other states which administer trust territories, and sufficient non-administering states, elected by the General Assembly for three-year terms, to make the balance equal. At present the Council is composed of twelve members as administering states, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States; and as non-administering states, the Soviet Union, China, Iraq, the Philippines, Argentina, and the Dominicnn Republic.

At the Council’s session last July, when the first Unitled Stales Report on the Pacific Islands was examined and debated, it was bitterly attacked by the Soviet representative, He centered bis attack upon the failure of the United States to replace the islanders’ clan system by modern forms of democratic political organization. He was quite unmoved by the reply that democracy in American eyes means government with the consent of the governed, and that to tear out by its roots the clan system, in which the Pacific islanders have been bred for centuries, and replace it overnight by Western processes of government which they neither understand nor desire, would smack more of dictatorship than of democracy. His attitude was that of a man with eves tight shut following the objective of attack rather than of truth-seeking.

At the conclusion of the debate the Soviet representative stood alone. The Council, by a vote of nine in favor and one against, adopted the first paragraph of the Pacific Island Report, stating that the I rusteeship Council, “taking into account the comparatively brief period that has elapsed since the Administering Authority assumed responsibility for the administration of the Territory, and recognizing the difficulties arising from the destruction caused by the Mar, commends the Administering Authority for the progress it has already made in the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the inhabitants.” The final vote of the Council approving the entire Report containing this commendation was eight to none.

The great unanswered question is whether the Trusteeship Council, a political body rather than a group of technical experts, is able to solve the complex problems of dependent races in trust territories struggling upward toward self-government or freedom.

During the first year the Soviet Union boycotted the Trusteeship Council; as a result the Council worked like a happy family and achieved much But when, at the end of the year, the General Assembly clothed the Trusteeship Council with political power to set up a government in Jerusalem, the Soviet Government promptly forgot its constitutional scruples and without more ado took its seat at the Council Table.

Since that time the Council has been harried by Soviet tactics. The danger is that genuine concern for human welfare may be crowded into second place by the exigencies of political attack and defense.

The examination of annual reports should consist of helpful and constructive criticism. Unfortunately the Soviet representative regards the examination as if it were a trial with the administering power a prisoner in the dock. With a debonair unconcern for the facts, the Soviet representative seeks by innuendo and skillful cross-examination to show up “Western imperialism. And since the debate must be strictly confined to trusteeship problems, no one can mention the fact that. emerging from the Second World War. Soviet Russia has brought under its rule or dictation and is now exploiting some 200 million people of some twelve countries by methods of terrorism and iear. The six administering authorities, forced to defend themselves against often quite unjustified attack, find themselves too luquently compelled to vote as a bloc logethei.

The situation places the United States on the horns of a profound dilemma. On thr one hand, we cannot forget the hopes and yearnings of dependent peoples. We were once ourselves a colony; and our traditional American policy is to speed among all dependent peoples the building of the necessary foundations for self-government. On the other hand, we cannot close our eyes to the misrepresentations and propaganda of the Soviet representative against the administering powers. We ourselves are one of these; and it is to our vital interest to help defend Western powers against Soviet aggression. We cannot ignore the economic and other issues involved in cutting colonial ties. It is the tactic of the Soviet Union to magnify the cleavage between the administering and the nonadministering groups, posing herself as the ardent champion of all downtrodden peoples, and branding the United States and the other administering authorities as archimperialists.

Once the Council falls into the pattern of six-tosix voting, deadlock results and no progress can be made. Consequently a feeling is abroad in cetluin quarters that the Trusteeship Council, like the Security Council, is hamstrung by Soviet tactics.

With such a view I cannot agree. The Soviet Government possesses no veto in the Frusteeship Council, as it does in the Security Council. If ’he non-administering states can be thoroughly convinced of the profound insincerity of the Soviet’s position and the untruth of its charges, the Soviet member can delay temporarily, but he cannot chec kmate, the work of the Council. This principle, however, is subject to one all-important proviso. If the administering states are not convincing, the votes of the non-administering powers are frequently united against them. It is a constant battle; and victory goes usually to the side which can prove that the welfare of the inhabitants is its genuine concern. The recent Pacific Islands discussion is a case in point.

Cp until the last session of the Council the number of six-to-six votes was on the increase, reaching a maximum in the Fourth Session of fourteen tie votes, each of which prevented the Council from taking action. In the last session the Council seemed to have learned better how to appraise and to judge. A majority of seven or more was obtained in seventy-one votes; and during the entire session there were no tie votes. In the balloting the Soviet representative found himself frequently alone. Tensions, one can hope, are lessening: the members of the Council are learning better every year how to push successfully forward in their ever increasing agenda.

The preparation of an undeveloped people for self-government requires high vision and the careful development of long-term programs. It involves preparing indigenous peoples to carry on democratie government, to teach schools, to practice medicine, and generally to improve standards of living through work in the fields of economics and public health. It involves the construction of schools, hospitals, and public buildings, It involves large financial outlays which must be kept geared to the economic development and the revenues of the territory.

There are in the world today some 200 million dependent peoples. Many of these aspire to independence. They have often heard the name of America coupled with human freedom. Now they are hearing the trumpets and the echoes of Communist propaganda. They are learning also of the United Nations and the Frusteeship C ouncil. In these they see hope for underprivileged peoples.

These dependent peoples particularly those of Asia and Africa—will play an increasingly important part in the structure of future world peace. Recent heated debates in the General Assembly over the disposition of the former Italian colonies in North Africa give some indication of the importance of colonial issues to world peace. The task of leading underprivileged peoples out of the valleys of ignorance and dire poverty and disease is emphatically a world problem, requiring constant international coordination of effort. In this undirtaking of magnificent proportions the role of the Trusteeship Council is vital to future peace.