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Natives and Exotics

Natives and Exotics: World War II and Environment in the Southern Pacific

Judith A. Bennett
Copyright Date: 2009
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    Natives and Exotics
    Book Description:

    Ambitious in its scope and scale, this environmental history of World War II ranges over rear bases and operational fronts from Bora Bora to New Guinea, providing a lucid analysis of resource exploitation, entangled wartime politics, and human perceptions of the vast Oceanic environment. Although the war’s physical impact proved significant and oftentimes enduring, this study shows that the tropical environment offered its own challenges: Unfamiliar tides left landing craft stranded; unseen microbes carrying endemic diseases disabled thousands of troops. Weather, terrain, plants, animals—all played an active role as enemy or ally. At the heart of Natives and Exotics is the author’s analysis of the changing visions and perceptions of the environment, not only among the millions of combatants, but also among the Islands’ peoples and their colonial administrations in wartime and beyond. Judith Bennett reveals how prewar notions of a paradisiacal Pacific set up millions of Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, and Japanese for grave disappointment when they encountered the reality. She shows that objects usually considered distinct from environmental concerns (souvenirs, cemeteries, war memorials) warrant further examination as the emotional quintessence of events in a particular place. Among native people, wartime experiences and resource utilization induced a shift in environmental perceptions just as the postwar colonial agenda demanded increased diversification of the resource base. Bennett’s ability to reappraise such human perceptions and productions with an environmental lens is one of the unique qualities of this study. Impeccably researched, Natives and Exotics is essential reading for those interested in environmental history, Pacific studies, and a different kind of war story that has surprising relevance for today’s concerns with global warming.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6371-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Currency, Measurement, and Place-Names
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Preface: Was the Environment a Stage or an Actor?
    (pp. xix-xxvi)
  7. Prologue The Great Ocean: How Others Tried to Ride Its Waves
    (pp. 1-8)

    Before Japan came into World War II by attacking the naval base at Pearl Harbor in the U.S. territory of the Hawaiian Islands on 7 December 1941, the actions of the future Allies in relation to the Pacific islands revealed one aspect of their perception of the islands that was to remain constant during and after the war. Although defended, lost, fought over, and regained, relatively few of the islands of the southern Pacific had been coveted by the United States, Australia, New Zealand, or even Japan as ends in themselves or even for their known resources, as useful to...

  8. Part I Encountering Pacific Environments

    • CHAPTER 1 Imagining Landscapes
      (pp. 11-27)

      Most Pacific islands were little-known to their wartime invaders. In films and fiction, the South Seas had been fantasized paradoxically as both free from and in need of the constraints of “civilized” societies, not only socially, but also environmentally. The Pacific islands largely lacked the physical structures and transformed landscapes that the invaders believed were technological markers of their own civilizations, but they were little prepared for this. An alien environment and the exigencies of war forced the invaders to recalibrate their mental pictures of imagined landscapes.

      For most in the Pacific War, the battleground was unfamiliar. Unfamiliarity left spaces...

    • CHAPTER 2 Peopling the Southern Pacific
      (pp. 28-48)

      For the invaders, another means of coming to terms with their new environment was to find a shared humanity among its peoples. Hollywood ideas about natives rested on a foundation of the newcomers’ racial attitudes and limited knowledge. South of the equator, battles were fought in Melanesia, with Polynesia’s islands behind the operational area. Melanesia, Polynesia, and Micronesia were names given by outsiders to areas that to them had some kind of racial uniformity. Though there are some common cultural characteristics within these locales, their boundaries are porous and many societies defy these foreign normative labels. For all their imperfections,...

    • CHAPTER 3 Diseased Environments
      (pp. 49-72)

      For more than a century to about 1920, most of Oceania had suffered depopulation as a consequence of introduced continental diseases.¹ Ironically, this took indigenous population pressure off land and coastal maritime resources, but in some areas Europeans, their animals, and crops soon filled some of the vacated niches. Western Melanesia, however, though vulnerable to introduced disease, had remained a bulwark against European settlement because the people had their own stealthy allies: endemic diseases that were not readily susceptible to Western medicine. European settlers were rarely more than 7,300 amid more than 1.5 million Melanesians.² Here, from New Guinea to...

  9. Part II Using Indigenous Resources

    • CHAPTER 4 Local Resources: Living off Land and Sea
      (pp. 75-96)

      Allied logistics for medical supplies saved thousands of lives. To provide these and other necessities, one ton of shipping space (seventy cubic feet) per month was needed to supply one soldier.² So, to save space on the extraordinarily long hauls across the Pacific, protagonists needed to utilize as many local supplies—food, timber, and labor—as they could, as near as possible to concentrations of troops. In terms of the prior experience of most natives, the military marshaled and utilized all three in novel ways. The Allies had to negotiate for them with both metropolitan governments and administrators while not...

    • CHAPTER 5 Taking Stock: Building for Battle
      (pp. 97-114)

      Food was essential for all combatants, but so too was shelter. In the Pacific theaters, most shelter and infrastructure had to be built from scratch. Allied engineers reconnoitered the environment and found resources at hand, often learning their characteristics as they went along. Aggregates—gravel, sand, and coral—were needed for roading, runways, in-fill, and foundations. Timber too was a necessity, not only for building and dunnage, but also for containers to ship materiel forward. Since both aggregates and timber were bulky and took up shipping space, the more supplied from the local environment, the better.

      Engineers with geological expertise...

    • CHAPTER 6 Resources for the Metropole: Trade for the Periphery
      (pp. 115-132)

      While before the war, the southern Pacific Islands were rarely major global primary producers, the loss of production and access elsewhere during the conflict gave increased significance to what their environments could offer. Islanders, the human resource, needed recompense for their labor, and so the goods they valued had to be supplied. Wartime colonial administrations thus had a double mission: to assist the military to obtain resources such as timber, fresh food, and labor while looking to the future. Wary of American ambitions in the region, they strove to protect the interests of their people and their metropolitan governments to...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Human Resource
      (pp. 133-154)

      Labor was essential to the war effort. The Americans calculated that to keep one man at the front, whether employed “combatantly or logistically,” ten more were behind, servicing his needs.¹ Local substitutes reduced expenditure for transport, training, upkeep, and pensions. Though colonial governments understood the military’s need for labor, this did not constrain their long view of sustaining the islands’ populations, many just recovering from considerable loss to introduced diseases in the previous 80 to 150 years. Thus, they sometimes competed with the military for directing labor though usually retaining responsibility for them. Several administrations perforce became recruiters, a role...

  10. Part III Exiting Environment, Leaving Residues

    • CHAPTER 8 Paying for the Damages
      (pp. 157-178)

      To survive in their environment, human beings need food and shelter. In war, these necessities, the resources to provide them, and humans themselves often are damaged or destroyed. Victims look for compensation to assist recovery. The concept of compensation is embedded in Pacific island societies, perhaps most clamorously in Melanesia. In Western jurisdictions, the law of torts enables victims to seek a remedy. To keep the continued goodwill of islanders, the Allies took compensation seriously, and colonial administrations generally tried to facilitate compensation to assist rehabilitation. The process was often tortuous, but it injected considerable cash or goods into the...

    • CHAPTER 9 Close Out: Quitting the Islands
      (pp. 179-197)

      More of the industrialized world’s goods came into Melanesia, Micronesia, and southern tropical Polynesia in the four years from 1942 to 1945 than in the preceding one hundred.¹ Except for some local resources such as timber and food, every item needed for warfare had to be brought in. The protagonists drew on the economies of home, colonies, and allies to supply these from distant lands. In perilous times few questioned the necessity of this long ecological shadow. To homeland populations and their economies making their sacrifices, however, intimations of waste of resources at the front could be demoralizing. While American...

    • CHAPTER 10 Leavings on Landscape
      (pp. 198-218)

      While damage to the built environment and the human species received attention during and after the war, damage to the wider ecology largely went unnoticed. Where it was, it was tolerated as a normal by-product of war, not especially problematic. In some cases, the scale of damage is elusive because colonial administrations were not able to immediately assess this, so it did not become manifest until the war was long over. Often allies were secretive about possible damage, lest they be held to account after the war or simply because they wanted to leave as quickly as possible. Moreover, there...

    • CHAPTER 11 Legacies and Visions
      (pp. 219-240)

      Historical interpretations of the impact of the war on the Pacific Islands center on the sociopolitical. They range between the extremes, on the one hand, of indigenous resistance and rejection of colonialism¹ and, on the other, relief and return to acceptance of the old certainties of colonial control—albeit with regional variations.² Much of the impetus for change in fact came from the colonial powers.³ Both the process of war and the altered global geopolitical balance brought ideological shifts that motivated colonial governments to look more closely at the islands’ environment in the search for resources to underwrite new development...

  11. Part IV Embodying War’s Environment

    • CHAPTER 12 Remembering Place: The Use of Souvenirs
      (pp. 243-267)

      The postwar fate of the islands’ environment and people little concerned most servicemen. Their orientation was homewards, but they sought mementos of their experiences in these distant places on their journey to the future. On battlefields, collecting such things signaled hopes for a postwar existence. Men collected three types of souvenirs. One was the trophy, an item associated with the enemy: a water bottle or a body part. Another kind of souvenir was even more grounded in place: curios or native artifacts. The third bridged the gap between war and place. Starting at one end of the range were objects...

    • CHAPTER 13 Places of Memory, Sites of Forgetting
      (pp. 268-290)

      Souvenirs embody place, but for comrades and those who have lost a loved one, two places in the geography of wartime memories evoke far more intense feelings. Like iron filings to a magnet, emotions adhere to where young men died and to where they are interred. Sudden and violent death magnifies the significance of the place where life left the body. Graves are visible inscriptions on landscape, a more permanent locus of grief and memory, marking where human remains lay in their individuality. But many are the war dead still far from their home soil, some with no known grave....

    • Conclusion
      (pp. 291-306)

      Only death could reveal if those who perished in the islands found themselves in a true paradise, but during the war, a few brief months were usually enough to convince the naive servicemen that their imagined hedonistic, earthly paradise was a figment of Hollywood. Both sides faced the reality of geography, terrain, climate, and the inhabitants, which for the Allies was not unpleasing in much of Polynesia, but generally challenging, if not repugnant, to most who fought in the western Melanesian islands. A totally alien landscape such as the swampy wilderness of south New Georgia exposed the psychological vulnerability of...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 307-392)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 393-424)
  14. Index
    (pp. 425-440)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 441-446)