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Globalization and politics

Will Kherbek
art critic
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piqer: Will Kherbek
Wednesday, 12 December 2018

It's Not The Size Of The Island, It's The Size Of The Crime: Colonialism Alive & Well In The Pacific

The joke, made by Chapo Trap House producer and presenter of this bonus episode of the podcast Chris Wade, is that Donald Trump probably couldn’t find the Northern Mariana Islands on a map. Trump, of course, would likely have difficulty finding most places where he doesn’t own a golf course, but Wade’s joke belies the fact that most Americans who regard themselves as informed would also have a hard time placing this small archipelago of 14 islands in the Pacific Ocean on a map. Their fate became intertwined with the United States in the aftermath of World War 2. Formally established by a covenant in 1978 as a Commonwealth of the United States, the islands are now the subject of a campaign by the navy to turn two of the islands, Tinian and the beautiful, spiritual centre of Pagan—sacred to the island’s dominant ethnic group, known as the Chamorro—into bombing ranges.

Less irony-heavy than the regular show, the episode consists entirely of Wade's interview with the writer and Chamorro activist Sophia Perez, who unfolds the history of the islands and their David-and-Goliath struggle with the US Navy. Perez recounts the legal efforts of the population to forestall the planned conversion of the islands. With the assistance of attorney David Henkin, the islanders have managed to halt the project momentarily. But the power differential means that, as Perez notes, hopes must “rely on a superpower keeping its word”. Not the most reassuring prospect. Citing the case of the pushback against a similar plan for the Caribbean island of Vieques, which was derailed by the intervention of high-profile Americans, Perez suggests there is something to hope for, but notes that “at the end of the day, if the navy wants to do this, who’s going to stop them?" An important question to ponder in this age of increasingly naked neo-colonialism. Over to you, American friends. 

It's Not The Size Of The Island, It's The Size Of The Crime: Colonialism Alive & Well In The Pacific
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