Essays on the Marshallese Past
The Fate of World War II Sites on the
With the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on
In the late 1930s some of the islands of
Many of the Japanese military installations had been destroyed from a military point of view by the often daily bombing runs, but much of the substance of the buildings is still around. In modern terms this means that these islands are littered with war remains, ranging from runways and other parts of the air installations to piers, gun positions, bunkers and the like.
Japanese 127mm Type 96 (1936) Dual Purpose Gun for anti-aircraft and coastal defense(
The artefactual inventory includes shipwrecks, airplane wrecks, tanks, vehicles, as well as heavy guns, an abundance of unexploded ammunition and aspects of after-hours life in the form of beer bottles and the like. The concentration of such remains in
What is happening to these sites today?
Some are still in use. After having originated as fighter and bomber strips built by either side, a number of airfields and runways are still in use in original dimensions, while others have been substantially enlarged and have become hubs of modern aviation. Nadi Airport in
Secondary use of World War II artefacts, such as these oxygen bottles buried upside down to serve as a pig pen (
In several instances bunkers and the like are now utilised as sheds and pig sties, and larger structures are used for human habitation. The command building of the Japanese base on
In the late 1950s until the mid 1970s local and foreign entrepreneurs have pillaged these sites in search of scrap iron and especially non-ferrous metals. For some islands scrap metal was a major source of revenue: in the
In retrospect, the scrap metal collectors, as well as the well-intentioned clean-ups and the removal of unexploded World War II ammunition during the same period caused more structural damage to the World War II heritage than the entire war impact.
Recently a new threat has developed, caused by people collecting war remains, labelled "relics" to increase their spiritual value and thus the collector's justification for taking them in the first place. These collectors range from small time, one-off individuals, who encounter a number of artefacts and take one "for the fun of it" to fanatics driven by the desire to possess a complete collection of all Japanese infantry gear or the like. There are also a few "carpet baggers" who come to the islands to obtain war planes and other remains for eventual restoration and resale to museums. In the end-effect, if such is permitted, an island is stripped of all plane remains.
A Japanese submarine chaser off
A Grumman TBF "Avenger" torpedo bomber on the bottom of
Any removal of artefacts or any further damage and impairment of the sites and resources will lead to the depletion of that part of the Pacific Region's historic heritage to a level that the overall integrity of some resource may be gone for good and ever. People, especially collectors with a vested interested, have often been arguing that the remains are left to rot and decay and that islanders do not really care about them or at least did not care about them in the past. The question not asked is why they should have cared in the first place.
With some exceptions the Pacific Islanders were not directly involved in the war. It happened around them, it happened against them. For some, their islands were bombed and burned; their gardens burned by napalm or destroyed by tanks plowing through them; their villages shelled by naval vessels and canoe sunk by aircraft; the islanders themselves were commandeered for forced labour, experienced food shortages and starvation. Some of them were even executed because of suspicion of collaboration with the enemy.
But, in short, the Pacific War, which forms an important event in World History from a Western and Eastern point of view, is all but a very short intermission from the Pacific Islanders perspective. It is a time of painful memories and thus a time better forgotten. And it would have been largely forgotten were it not for all the war remains lying about the atolls and islands of the Pacific, which even 50 years after the event cause carnage by hidden ammunition exploding on unsuspecting villagers.
The entire period would have been repressed were it not for all those who come to see just these sites. To see them once more, as all the returning veterans (mainly of the victorious Americans) testify; to see them because their relatives died here, as the visits of the Japanese bereaved families associations document; to see them for the first time as the increasing number of tourists shows.
They come to see the sites on land, and they come to dive on the sunken ships. The sunken Japanese fleet on the bottom of
At the same time sites on land, such as the air bases on
With tourism espoused by many Pacific Islands government's as a new and major source of national revenue, if not as a panacea, these war tourists have been recognised as an economic force, and with them the sites they come to see. The World War II remains have become a national asset, and as such they are in need of proper management, now more than ever. The Tourism Council of the South Pacific has recently financed the restoration of the Japanese coastal defense guns at
The Historic Preservation Office of the Republic of the
The lagoons of several atolls are littered with wrecks of ships and aircraft, or with war surplus material discarded by the U.S. forces after the Japanese surrender.
Unexploded ammunition, such as this Japanese 127mm dual purpose shell, poses dangers to Historic Preservation staff conducting fieldwork for documentation and preservation assessments, as well as to tourists and locals alike. (Mile).
The programme, which covers the atolls of
|select from the following...|
Digital Micronesia-An Electronic Library & Archive is provided free of charge as an advertising-free information service for the world community. It is being maintained by Dirk HR Spennemann, Associate Professor in Cultural Heritage Management, Institute of Land, Water and Society and School of Environmental & Information Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Albury, Australia. The server space and technical support are provided by Charles Sturt University as part of its commitment to regional engagement. Environmental SciencesInformation Sciences
|Marshall Islands Kosrae CNMI Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Guam Wake Pohnpei FSM Federated States of Micronesia Yap Chuuk Marshall Islands politics public health environment culture WWII history literature XXX Cultural Heritage Management Micronesian Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences CNMI German Colonial Sources Mariana Islands Historic Preservation Spennemann Dirk Spennemann Dirk HR Spennemann Murray Time Louis Becke Jane Downing Downing|