Nation: Wind Shifts in the Pacific

America's neglected South Sea empire struggles for change

To most Americans, the South Sea islands far beyond Hawaii are no more than idyllic images. To Washington, they are an extraterritorial headache. The U.S. has responsibility for more than 2,200 of them, sweeping in a 4,000-mile arc from American Samoa to Guam, with a 2,000-mile lurch northward to include the naval battleground of Midway. Many were the sites of bitter, bloody victories in World War II: Saipan, Tinian, Kwajalein, Truk.

The problem, in this anticolonial age, is what to do with them and the 260,000...

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