“WHERE SMALLNESS CAN MEAN TO STRUGGLE BEAUTIFULLY”
Roland G. Simbulan
(A book review of Blood on Their Banner: Nationalist Struggles in the South Pacific. Read during the book launching, National Press Club, Manila. Feb. 2, 1991 )
For hundreds of years, the indigenous (native) peoples of the small islands of the Pacific Ocean were victims of various forms of domination by one or other greater, outside power. Often, their lands were taken over and used by the foreign intruders for profit, which did not benefit the islanders, while their traditional cultures, lifestyles and customs were trampled upon or destroyed.
The combination of cultural, economic, political and military control imposed on the indigenous people from outside meant the loss of control over their land and the right to run their own lives in their own way.
What Schumacher had said that “Small is beautiful” may no longer apply to the once beautiful islands of the South Pacific which had been poisoned with disposed chemical weapons, nuclear waste, and with radioactivity from nuclear weapons testing; or virtually converted into a cemetery as a result of the integrated net of foreign military facilities, telecommunication and space relays, ad military air passages. But small as their islands are, the people of the South Pacific are showing us, and the rest of the world, that they can resist and struggle against Western colonialism in the South Pacific.
Today, the peoples of the Pacific region as elsewhere in the developing world, are striving for independence and self-determination. In recent years, new nations have been emerging, such as Vanuatu (formerly the British New Hebrides and Papua New Guinea (formerly an Australian trust territory). Struggles for independence are continuing in French New Caledonia, and in Indonesian-occupied East Timor. Micronesia and Polynesia struggle against the constant military presence by the United States and France, respectively.
David Robie in his book, Blood on their Banner, takes as his own the perspective of the Pacific peoples where the issue of militarism is intimately connected to that of self-determination, as the colonial status of many areas, according to this book, depends on a powerful foreign military presence. In Tahiti (French Polynesia), he emphasizes the links between French nuclear interests and the colonial presence. In Belau (Palau), he describes the deadlock in the conflict between U.S. nuclear interests and Palauan resistance while the protests of the victis of U.S nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands have drawn international sympathy for these small islands.
Robie nails this message across and rightly: that no peace iin the Pacific is possible without independence and the self-determination of peoples. Thus, the popular movements and the newly independent governments in the area have taken a stance in favor of nuclear-free, non-alignment and the rights of indigenous peoples. With this realization, the 4th Nuclear Free Pacific Conference in 1982 held in Vanuatu added “INDEPENDENT” to its title. This historic conference which brought together 160 delegates fro 33 countries in the Pacific region, rim countries, central and north America, Indian Ocean and Europe declared:
” The Pacific peoples’ struggle for self-determination and
independence are inseparable from the struggle to attain
a nuclear-free Pacific.”
This historic declaration finds validity in the fact that the French colonialists have long suppressed the peace and nuclear-free movements in Tahiti and New Caledonia. The French should not be able to conduct nuclear tests in an independent Tahiti and no one can separate these two issues. The Compact of Free Association and the military build-ups in Micronesia, U.S. strategic territory, and military bases in Guam and the Philippines as well as Hawaii also show us that neo-colonialism and military blocks are one and the same thing, and that they are in fact integrated to suppress liberation struggles and movements in the Third World. One cannot underestimate for instance, the role of Pacific islands and territories in the present U.S. military intervention in the Middle East and in U.S. war war strategies — such as the replenishment and “combat support” role of the facilities and weapons systems in the Pacific against the struggle of peoples for
self-determination in other regions.
These can only mean that the peoples of the Pacific islands and the Pacific Rim countries must continue to strengthen and integrate their movements for Pacific independence and for a nuclear-free and demilitarized Pacific. For a truly PACIFIC region.
Separately, small countries may seem unimportant. But when they link up and unite, they create a force in international relations with the weight that far exceeds the sum of their individual power. This is where little fishes can talk like big whales.
What is common among third world countries today whether Asian, Pacific islanders, African, Latin American, or Arab, whether from big or small countries, is that all of them now feel that their time — our time — has come. All of them agree on the need for change. They want to change world economic, political, social and military relations and patterns which were built up at a time when they could not participate because they were colonies. They are asking for a fairer allocation of resources and a fairer return.
Unfortunately, the United States is still seen by the small nations of the Third World as the status quo power, fighting change, trying to hang on to everything it has. This image of America in the Third World is not entirely misplaced. The United States and other Western powers like the United Kingdom and France are indeed trying to preserve their economic and political interests in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
David Robie vividly shows that the peoples of the tiny South Pacific islands are beautifully mobilizing for independence in this part of the world which is still chequered and dominated by the bane of colonialism by the United States, U.K. and France that are still frantically trying to preserve their military and economic interests in the Pacific. Let us not forget that that long-overdue process of self-determination is still being mercilessly repressed wherever colonial powers launch pacification campaigns against Pacific freedom fighters by murdering independence militants, imprisoning their sympathizers and devastating if not wiping out their villagers. The militarization imposed on the peoples of this region injure deeply, violently and devastatingly, the life conditions and the ecology of this part of the world.
The struggle of the independence movements in Micronesia, French Polynesia, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and East Timor for their choice of sociiety is closely linked with the mobilization of the South Pacific Forum for a nuclear-free zone. The struggle is also a struggle for peace; no peace is possible in the Pacific without independence of peoples of the region.
For the people directly affected, the goal of a nuclear-free and independent Pacific is one and the same. It would mean being able to control their own land and lives and to prevent any further nuclear contamination of their lands and waters. Self-determination is the key for achieving a demilitarized and nuclear-free Pacific.
In ending, let me quote from the Vietnamese patriot Ho Chi Minh in his tribute to the “little people” :
Neither high, nor very far,
Neither emperor, nor king.
You are only a small milestone,
Which stands at the edge of the highway.
To people passing by
You point the right direction,
And stop them from getting lost.
You tell the of the distance
For which they still must journey.
Your service is not a small one.
And people will always remember you.
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip on Aug 28th 2008