Creating an American Lake: United States Imperialism and Strategic Security in the Pacific Basin, 1945-1947

By Hal M. Friedman | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

‘‘As a Forward Bulwark of the American Way of Life’’: Americanization as a Strategic Security Measure

While US cultural security in the postwar Pacific entailed the exclusion of east Asians, selected Europeans, and even African-Americans from areas such as Micronesia, US strategic security also meant that Pacific Islanders needed to accept American ideas about institutions and lifestyles. In effect, the Pacific Islanders were perceived by strategic policymakers, planners, and thinkers as a potential bulwark of democracy for the United States in its relations with east Asia if they could be made to adopt a mainstream American lifestyle and become carbon copies of mainland Americans. The very idea of ‘‘Americanization’’ was thought to be the best means by which to guarantee strategic security in the region. By spreading ‘‘democracy’’ into the Pacific Basin, it was thought that the United States could show the rest of the world that it could be a ‘‘benevolent’’ presence in the international arena. This demonstrated goodwill toward other nations would, it was hoped, translate into the spread of American influence and a subsequent improvement in the republic’s security in an uncertain postwar world.

Many officials believed, however, that the Pacific Islanders had a long way to go before they could be Americanized. Reflective of this cultural paternalism was Navy Captain Harry Pence. Pence was a retired officer recalled to active duty in World War Two because of his alleged expertise in administering conquered territory and people, an expertise which came about as a result of duty with US occupation forces in Trieste after the First World War. He expressed his attitudes toward Pacific Islanders most clearly in April 1943 while planning for the postwar naval control over Micronesia. Assigned in December 1942 as O-in-C of OP-11X, the Navy’s Office for Occupied Areas, Pence cited allegedly ‘‘limited’’ political maturity among the Micronesians as a reason for maintaining strong naval government in the islands after the Pacific War. 1

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