... progress in the Pacific

SAIPAN, Tinian, Truk Islands ... they seem so far away, these island communities of the Pacific Ocean. And yet, for thousands of Americans, their history during the past half-century is indelibly interlinked with that of the United States. Many of these islands and atolls were hard-fought battlegrounds during World War II - their names becoming commonplace in the daily newspapers of the period and on the radio. Later, some of the islands were linked with the testing of US nuclear missiles. Or they were way stations for American scientists and researchers, or for far-flung fishing boats.

The island groupings - at least three of them are in the news these days - are now on the road to political self-government. They are maintaining important defense and foreign policy ties with the United States, but at the same time they are gaining greater control over their own internal affairs.

Late last month the Federated States of Micronesia, east of the Philippines and north of Papua New Guinea, achieved self-government. Nearby, the Republic of the Marshall Islands is also enjoying a somewhat similar burst of self-initiative. The US will maintain defense responsibilities for Micronesia while providing substantial foreign aid.

At the same time, the Northern Mariana Islands - north of Guam - became a US commonwealth, similar to Puerto Rico. That means their residents become US citizens.

Finally, a plebiscite has been scheduled in December for Palau, east of Mindanao in the Philippines. The pact to be voted on, as of this writing, would allow the United States to operate nuclear-armed and -propelled weapons in Palau's waters and airspace.

The island groupings - the Federated States of Micronesia and the Northern Mariana Islands - have been operating under a US trust terrority established by the United Nations back in the 1940s. Indeed, this is the last of some 11 trusteeships established by the UN at the end of World War II.

The various ways in which the thousands of peoples of these communities have taken on greater control over their own affairs - as well as forging a sense of association among far-flung neighboring islands - has to be viewed as a remarkable and unique story.

Largely hidden away from the day-to-day doings of the world community, these earnest peoples have made enormous progress in proving that no ground, no place, anywhere on this globe, is outside the pale of mankind's ability to bring about workable and responsible societies.

We wish them every success.

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