An American expatriate pops a cold beer and discourses on the pleasures of easy sex and indolence amid the social rot of the late 20th century.
He is intrigued by the contradictions of life in the islands.
The ingredients for paradise are all around-the sun, white sand, quiet lagoons and damp jungle paths overhung with coconut palms, breadfruit, bananas and bougainvillea.
But the pathologies seem to worsen each year-more and more crime, alcoholism and suicide, which is now the leading cause of death among the young men.
The ocean teems with fish, the land is lush and fertile. But most of the fishing boats are beached and canned tuna has become a popular import. The production of fruits and vegetables in Micronesia declined in one decade from 30 million to 1 million pounds a year. So there are now food stamps and food handouts from the American government.
The road into the Majuro district center is littered with beer cans and supermarket trash. An open dump, piled high with junked cars and garbage, smolders and stinks. In the village, sweltering in tin shacks, are immigrants from the outer islands, fresh recruits for the new welfare class. The local newspaper editor calls it "one of the most wretched shack kingdoms in the world."
The production of copra-died coconut meat-was once a main-stay of the economy. Today the crop doesn't bring in enough dollars to pay the liquor bill of the islands.
Thing are out of kilter.
There is this surface impression of modernity, prosperity-of Little America. Jets glide into the new airports. There are supermarkets and banks. Thousands of children are learning English and sociology in American-style schools. Government-sponsored radio stations deliver the Top 40 tunes. Cables television brings in "Love Boat" and "Hollywood Squares." There is a revolving restaurant-the only one between San Francisco and Sydney - perched atop an empty 127-foot office building on Saipan.
And there are the impressive structures of government. In the Northern Marianas, with a population of about 15,000, Gov. Carlos Camacho presides over a bureaucratic apparatus that includes 22 cabinet departments and employs about 10 percent of all the men, women and children in the islands. There is a full-time legislature meeting six days a week. Its 23 members are served by press secretaries, consultants and speech writers. The well-staffed judicial branch is headed by a chief commonwealth judge whose jurisdiction is equivalent to that of an American justice of the peace. He is paid $43,000 a year . . .
Throughout the islands it is much the same. Handsome hotels have arisen, selling $100 bottles of cognac to heavy spending tourists from Japan. There are planning agencies and development agencies and boards of election and port authorities. Of 17,000 paid jobs in all of Micronesia, more than 11,000 are in government. Of $44.5 million in 1977 wage and salary payments, ,32.3 million went to government workers.
The institutions of the mordern state are in place. There are few highways and thousands of cars.
And it is all an illusion.
The people of Micronesia are wards of the American state, as dependent as reservations Indians on Washington's largesse.
It started with the war and flowed out of the philosophy Franklin Roosevelt enunciated in a 1944 campaign speech:
"The American people are prepared to meet the problems of peace in the same bold way that they have met the problems of war."
The American way of war was the way of abundance. You put 16 million men in uniform. You pushed the industrial button and produced 300,000 aircraft, 100,000 tanks, 87,000 ships, 370,000 artillery pieces, billions of rounds of ammunition. You threw these people and things at targets until they yielded.
Micronesia got a taste of it. One day in January 1944, an American armada of 200 ships showed up in the Marshalls. Within 72 hours, Kwajalein, Roi and Namur were naked wastelands. The ordnance dumped on Kwajalein alone was equivalent to 20,000 tons of TNT. Not a tree was left standing.
In June, 600 ships carrying 127,000 troops and 100,000 sailors moved into the Marianas. Fires from the Saipan cane fields lit up the night and that was the last cane ever seen there. Dead Marines sloshed in the surf off the beaches at Susape and Charon Karoa. Dead water bufalo and dead Japanese swelled up and split open in the heat. We collected gold teeth as souvenirs. Some of the boys collected heads, mounted them on bamboo poles and posed for snapshots to send home. A Japanese nurse recalled after the war her horror at seeing black Gls for the first time. She thought they were not human and tried to kill herself. The black Gls saved her life.
There was a lot of that at the end. Japanese soldiers and civilians began mass suicides, holding hands and holding babies as they stepped off the cliffs at Marpi Point for the plunge to the rocks below. Search parties from Japan still seek out their bones.
Guam, just to the south, became the textbook case for the proper use of naval gunfire. The preparatory fires included 1,1178 rounds from 16-inch guns, 6,574 rounds of 14-inch, 5,194 rounds of 8-inch, 29,355 rounds of 5-inch from the destroyers and 9,000 rounds of 4.5-inch rockets. For cosmetic reasons, the Air Force later seeded the island with tangantangan, the gangling castor oil plant that grows like kudzu. It covered up the scars.
Eniwetok, Peleliu, Ulithi and Angaur islands got the same treatment. Truk was bypassed but its great harbor became an underwater junk-yard for Japanese ships and is now one of the favorite scuba diving spots in all the Pacific.
Thus Micronesia came under American control 35 years ago. The human cost was 75,000 Japanese and 7,500 American lives, which is approximately the annual body count of tourists these days.
The islands will be remembered in the history books for other military firsts. The first atomic bombs used in war were flown out of Tinian in B29s. The first hydrogen bomb test was conducted at Bikini atoll. The bomb was called "Mike," the diminutive of Micronesia.
It is not entirely unfair to equate the American way of peace in Micronesia with the American way of war. The plan of attack simply substituted dollars for ordance. The long-range effect of the dollars will be far more profound.
For several thousands years before the war, the brown-skinned people of the islands lived in a subsistence economy. There was no money. They fished and harvested fruits, vegetables and copra. There was an ecological balance between the people and the land; disease and typhoons prevented overpopulation.
This way of life was left in place in the first few years after the war. The Navy administered Micronesia according to the doctrine of benign neglect, observing accurately that "the natural resources of the islands are meager, though they will sustain the local island peoples reasonably well. There are limited opportunities for future expansion and development. Furthermore [the]islands cannot be expected to be self-supporting . . . they are a liability and an inevitable charge on the public purse."
The money bombardment began in the 1960s when the Kennedy administration decided that Micronesia must become a model of how colonial powers deal with their subjects. This policy, as described in a study by David Nevin, grew out of both strategic and humanitarian concerns: By winning the hearts and minds of the 100,000 Micronesians, American military control would forever be assured even if the islands became independent.
The whole array of New Frontier and Great Society programs was exported to Micronesia. U.S. appropriations for the territory rose from less than $10 million in 1960 to about $150 million last year. Another $50 million goes into the islands through 166 independently administered federal programs. The local bureaucracy grew from fewer than 2,000 to nearly 12,000 people. Armies of American technicians and administrators and consultants flew out from the states. At one point in the '60s, there were 1,100 Peace Corps volunteers in the islands, raising consciousness and calling for social revolution.
A vast educational system, on the American model, was put in place to process thousands of children from villages barely out of the Stone Age. It was never clear what they were being educated for, since the economy of Micronesia is not on the American model. So the bureaucracy was expanded to absorb thousands of them.
"It's a monster, this government," says Carlos Camacho, the governor on Saipan. "We picked it up from 34 years of U.S. rule . . . We don't want to give the impression that government is the primary employer. But it is. It is a big monster. Politically, however, you can't lay people off. We have to provide jobs until there are jobs in the private sector."
As this process continues, the social and economic imbalances grow worse. Government jobs cost money and there is virtually no privately generated money in the islands. Truk, Yap, Kosrae and Ponape, for example, are now operating on government budgets that collectively total $52 million a year. They get $50 million from the American government and $2 million from local sources.
Even with those subsidies, island governments can't hire everyone. Unemployment in the new urban centers is running at 20 to 25 percent as job seekers flock in from the outer islands. Its impact is especially felt by the newly educated young. They are turning to alcohol, crime and suicide.
Joe Murphy, a journalist in the Marshalls tells of the emergence of youth gangs that fight over turf in Majuro.
A Paiauan, Francisco Uludong, talks of growing up in a village in which the families and clans functioned as a cooperative. If a road needed fixing or a house needed repair, the whole village did the work.
"Now it's different," he says. people who worked on village projects should be paid by CETA [the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act]. Now they won't work unless they get paid."
Almos every aspect of the old culture had been eroded by the Americanization of the islands. There has been, for example, a considerable effort by some U.S. agencies to put free food into the islands. Truk, with a population of 36,000 gets food for 40,000 people. As the food poured in, food production dropped to negligible levels. Simultaneously, imports have risen astronomically, creating still another imbalance. The Micronesian trade deficit is now$28 million a year.
All this, presumably, is manageable so long as the United States keeps the dollars flowing. But that is not a certainty, at least at present levels, and under the new rules that are now being negotiated.
The American trusteeship of Micronesia, granted in 1947 by the United Nations, is to end in 1981. The islands will achieve political independence and there will be no turning back to the subsistence society to the pre-American days.
An islander has written that obituary:
"The traditional society's demise began as soon as the first child learned to read and write and when the first dollar bill was earned and exchanged for goods and services. It has been terminally infected by the disease of modernity.
"The day is soon coming when the only chiefs in the world will be on a football team in Kansas City or in various police and fire departments around the world. 'Traditional dances' will be a high school elective and traditional customs and culture will be covered in Anthropology 102.
"Some farsighted and realistic planning for the future is necessary now unless we are to compound heartache with new heartache. I mean, who wants to sit around forever on a reservation with their finger in their ear."
The "farsighted and realistic planning" now underway consists largely of a protracted negotiation with the United States over financial subsidies after 1981. The Palauans are aided in this effort by two Harvard luminaries, John Kenneth Galbraith and Mark Roberts. They reportedly are proposing an annual American payment of $128 million, which is equivalent to something over $9,000 a year for each man, woman and child. The payments would continue for 15 years. The Marshall Islands have retained the Washington law firm of Covington and Burling. Truk, Yap, Ponape and Kosrae have retained Clark Clifford's law firm and a Washington economic consultant, Dan Perrin. They want something over $1 billion during the next 15 years
That would keep things going as they are. But what happens after economy? Ambassador Peter Rosenblatt, who is negotiating for the American government, is not at all sure. The proposals he has seen thus far are vaue and insubstantial.
One fond hope is that the American military might come to the rescue with new bases. The islanders have seen what a large military apparatus had topped 100,000 people and 60,000 cars, the highest ration of cars to people outside Los Angeles.
Gov. Camacho on Saipan speaks wistfully of agricultural possibilities cane and ginger: "You could net $1 million on 30 acres of ginger."
But who would do the farming in the new Micronesia?
"It would be hard," Camacho replies. "We have been shown the imported luxury and comfort. I think we might have to bring in some labor." CAPTION: Picture, Japanese cars and a U.S. gas station line Truk's main road. By Richard Harwood-The Washington Post