Variations | The TT and the USSR

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THE Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands — the NMI, the Marshalls, Palau and what is now known as the FSM — was administered by the U.S. (specifically by its Navy, and then by the Interior Department) “on behalf” of the United Nations.

In reality, the U.N. had little or no say in how the islands were governed. But each year, E.J. Kahn wrote in his 1966 book, “A Reporter in Micronesia,” the U.N.’s Trusteeship Council would hold a session to hear the U.S. report on the progress it was making toward achieving the U.N.’s long-range goal for the TT: self-sufficiency and self-government.

Besides New Zealand (which was the co-administrator of Nauru) and Australia (which was “administering” Papua New Guinea), the council’s other members were the non-administrator nation of Liberia and the U.N.’s “big five”: the U.S., the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom, France and the “Republic of China.” (Taiwan’s official name. In 1971, the U.N. kicked out Taiwan and recognized the Communist regime in Beijing as China’s “only legitimate representative to the United Nations.”)

Kahn said as the only non-capitalist nation on the council, the USSR considered it “a bastion of the colonialist powers” that should be abolished or placed under a U.N. special committee whose members were friendlier to the Soviets. (Whenever they were reminded of the Soviet subjugation of Eastern Europe, the leaders of the USSR would usually go bonkers. Google “Nikita Khrushchev’s shoe-banging incident.”)

Kahn said the Trusteeship Council session usually lasted about a month, but the press rarely printed a word about it. The Soviets, he added, did most of the talking.

The June 30, 1967 issue of the Marianas Bulletin — a mimeographed weekly newsletter published by the TT district office on Saipan — included an account of a council session that discussed the conditions in the Trust Territory. Not surprisingly, the Soviet representative, P.F. Shakhov, was highly critical of the U.S. administration of the TT. After 20 years of U.S. rule, he was quoted as saying, there had been no political, economic, social or educational progress in the TT. The U.S., he added, “had deliberately tried to absorb the Territory economically, militarily and politically.” And despite comments to the contrary, Shakhov said, the islands were not on the verge of self-determination. The Congress of Micronesia, he added, had no actual power, and all of its bills were thought out in Washington, D.C. Moreover, he said, all legislative and executive power rested with the American high commissioner who had veto power.

Shakhov said the most important positions in the TT were held by Americans who, he added, had also spoken of “absorbing” the islands, contrary to the principles of the United Nations. He accused the U.S. of trying to convince the islanders that they were incapable of self-government. “To this end, [the U.S.] especially used the services of the infamous Peace Corps which had inundated the [islands] in recent years.” Channeling his inner Lenin, Shakhov said the U.S. “wished to absorb these islands to advance its economic imperialism by obtaining a supply of raw materials and a market for American business. The only things done in the islands were done to fulfill the economic and military interests of the United States, not the interests of the indigenous population.”

What “raw materials”? What “market for American business”? The Soviet representative apparently had confused the U.S. with the previous administrator, Japan, which created a vibrant economy in the islands before World War II.

Nevertheless, Comrade Shakhov pressed on. The Americans, he said “were appropriating the most fertile land for their military and other purposes.” He added that the U.S. claimed that the land it “alienated” was used for schools, hospitals and roads. “Since 50 percent of the land was [TT] government-owned, it would seem that the islands were covered with these institutions — which was not so….”

He also pointed out, with glee, to be sure, that according to the U.S., “these poor conditions…were due to the lack of funds,” but “the rich country of America” always had enough money to build military bases on a large scale in the islands.

But Kahn said such Soviet denunciations “don’t seem to have much zing to them; the Russian spokesman at these sessions give the impression that they are merely speaking for the record, which by now they have contrived to make a bulky one.” Kahn also noted that although the Soviet appraisal of the U.S. administration of the islands was apt to be studded with phrases like “brutally exploiting” and “colonial yoke,” the USSR was “smart enough to realize by what a lopsided margin the natives would undoubtedly express determination not to rock the boat that America is steering.”

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