Mataeriel Culture: The Archaeology of 20th Century Conflict

By John Schofield; William Gray Johnson et al. | Go to book overview

6

Forgotten and refound military structures in the Central Pacific: examples from the Marshall Islands

HENRIK CHRISTIANSEN


INTRODUCTION

In 1914, when Japan took over the German possessions in Micronesia, they also became a threat to the American dominance in the Central Pacific (Miller 1991:92). Micronesia was ruled under Japanese military governance until 1922, when the League of Nations trusted it to Japan as a C-mandate: that is, they were not to fortify the area. Later, this trust was guaranteed by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 between Japan and the United States (Peattie 1988:60). In 1935, Japan withdrew from the League of Nations and sealed off her mandated areas to foreigners (Crowl and Love 1955:201; Peattie 1988:34). This action, of course, triggered suspicions regarding Japanese activities in the region. After the end of the Second World War, the debate continued as to whether or not the former Japanese-mandated areas in Micronesia were fortified before the outbreak of the war (Okumiya 1968). No decisive proof has so far been found.

One thing can be said for certain: in 1943, when the United States forces fought their way up through the Central Pacific, they found well-fortified military bases on the Marshall Islands, in the easternmost part of Micronesia. In accordance with the American amphibious doctrine, introduced by Pete Ellis in 1921, only a few of the Japanese bases were taken by military force (Reber 1977). The remaining bases were bypassed and left isolated in the American hinterland. After the war, the bypassed bases were abandoned by the Japanese garrisons and the remote atolls on which they were located remained relatively isolated until the 1980s when regular air service was introduced to the region.

Today the bases form a perfect time capsule for the study of the war in the Pacific. The objective here is to present a short overview of the former military bases and the initiatives taken to preserve them.


THE MARSHALL ISLANDS

The Marshall Islands are located in the eastern part of Micronesia, those thousands of islands scattered north of the Equator between Hawaii and the Philippines. The 1225 islands are grouped together in twenty-nine atolls, groups of

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