John F. Kennedy: The Promise Revisited

By Paul Harper; Joann P. Krieg | Go to book overview

6
The Promise Fulfilled: John F. Kennedy and the "New Frontier" in Guam and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, 1961-1963

Timothy P. Maga

By 1961 Guam and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands had become the forgotten "province" of the American empire. Most Americans associated the exotic tropical island chains of the Marianas, Carolines, and Marshalls with haunting memories of World War II battles. It was an area, according to the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, worth forgetting. In the 1950s the American government maintained only one consistent and successful policy in the western Pacific Islands: reducing the budget. This approach left no funds for repairing the Quonsets and vehicles inherited from the navy following World War II. Aircraft still landed in lagoons for lack of runways. The education system focused only on the needs of the dependent children of American military personnel stationed there, and local political concerns received scant recognition from Washington. In January 1961 Delmas Nucker, the U.S. high commissioner of the Pacific Trust Territory, informed the Insular Affairs Subcommittee of the House of Representatives that no changes were planned or needed for the coming year and decade. All was well in paradise. 1

The newly elected president, John F. Kennedy, disagreed with Nucker's assessment. Vowing to extend his New Frontier programs to Micronesia, Kennedy believed that his administration had both a "moral and political responsibility" to rescue what he nicknamed the "Rust Territories," as well as Guam, from further decay. 2 For over two years, he attempted to make good this promise, and with an aggressiveness that astonished even the islanders. Given the fact that Kennedy has been remembered more for his eloquent promises of progress and reform than for his actual accomplishments in those areas, the Kennedy record of success in Guam and the Trust Territory has long deserved significant treatment by historians.

Publicly, Kennedy was a staunch anti-Communist in foreign affairs and a

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