National Geographic : 1942 Jun
Hidden Key to the Pacific Piercing the Web of Secrecy Which Long Has Veiled Japanese Bases in the Mandated Islands BY WILLARD PRICE With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author WAS three months before Pearl Harbor. A young Australian was speaking of his country's fear of Japan. "But I think it's foolish," he said. "Why, Japan is thousands of miles from Australia!" "I think you are mistaken," I said. "Japan is closer to Australia than I am to you." He smiled at what he took for an effort to be facetious. "I'll go further than that," I added. "The Japanese world and the Australian world are as close together as the drops in that glass of water." I got a map and showed him the Australian islands extending to the Equator. He knew about them, but he was puzzled by the swarm of islands north of the Equator. "Are they really there?" he asked. "Most maps don't show them." They bore such names as the Carolines, Mar shalls, Marianas, and over the mass of them was lettered "Micronesia-Japanese Man date." The southern limit of the Japanese Mandate was shown to be the Equator-and the north ern limit of the Australian Mandate was also the Equator. Along that line, for some 1,400 miles, Australian and Japanese sovereignty met (map, pages 764-5). Island Springboards of Aggression Even the most detailed map of the Pacific could hardly show all of Japan's Micronesian islands, for there are 623 of fair size and more than 860 additional islets and reefs. The ordinary map contents itself with in dicating only the largest. But the largest are not necessarily the most important in the strategy of the Pacific. The young Australian pored over the island labyrinth with growing excitement. "Why," he said, "they're in the middle of everything, aren't they? Close to Hawaii, just a jump from Japan, slap up against Aus tralian waters, right next to the Dutch In dies-and look at your Philippines, smothered by them!" The peculiar position of Japanese Microne sia makes the group strategically the key to the Pacific. And it is a hidden key, almost unknown, for not only is it hardly noticeable on the usual map or globe, but travelers have rarely penetrated it. From bases in Micronesia, Japan has at tacked Hawaii, the Philippines, the Nether lands Indies, and the island possessions of Australia. But how did this invaluable stronghold, which so largely controls the destinies of the world's largest ocean, fall into the hands of Nippon? Races Mingle in Micronesia The story begins before there was a Nippon. The ancient stone buildings, pedestals, and images found on Tinian, Ponape, Kusaie, and, outside of Micronesia, on Easter and other islands, suggest to some students that a pre historic race of considerable culture once lived in the Pacific (page 768). The earliest peoples of this region, though they left their achievements in stone, left no written records.* And the Polynesians who came after them also wrote nothing down. Their descendants do not know when or how they came. But research shows that it was about the beginning of the Christian Era when they began to pack up and move from their old home, the Malay Archipelago. They were pushed out by the incoming Malays advanc ing from Asia. It was the eternal story of force-of better machines of war triumphing over inferior ma chines. The Malays had weapons of metal; the old-timers, weapons of stone. The Stone Age gave way before the Iron Age. Fleets of canoes sailed eastward to the multitudinous islands of the Pacific. That was the great Polynesian migration. During the centuries that followed, the peo ple of certain islands remained as pure as when they had first arrived, untouched by other races. Their islands were too remote from the Asiatic mainland to be easily affected. * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Mysterious Micronesia," by Willard Price, April, 1936; "Mystery of Easter Island," by Mrs. Scoresby Routledge, December, 1921; and "Westward Bound in the Yankee," by Irving and Electa Johnson, January, 1942.