Review: “Blood on their Banner: Nationalist Struggles in the South Pacific” – David Robie

David Robie’s “Blood on their Banner: Nationalist Struggles in the South Pacific” is a comprehensive and outstanding work on the struggles of the peoples of the South Pacific against colonialism and for the right to self-determination. No other work on the South Pacific compares in the amount detail and information contained in Robie’s book, not even Andre Vltchek’s “Oceania: Neocolonialism, Nukes and Bones”. “Although most Western news coverage of the Pacific islands continues to give an impression of the region as a tourist dream world of sun-drenched atolls, sandy beaches and coconut economies where the biggest events are the occasional cyclone or hurricane,” Robie writes, “the reality is quite different. “The ugly side of Oceania involves genocide, assassination, guerilla warfare, and, most recently, a military takeover and an abortive constitutional coup” (pp. 14-15).

Robie’s book covers a wide range of issues: U.S. and French nuclear tests on Bikini and Moruroa, respectively, and the struggle to make the South Pacific nuclear free; Indonesia’s occupation and genocide in East Timor and West Papua; the 1987 military coup d’état in Fiji; the assassination of Palau’s first president Haruo Remeliik; Vanuatu’s struggle with French backed separatists in Espiritu Santo (known as the “Coconut War”); New Zealand and Australian neocolonialism; guerilla warfare and apartheid in New Caledonia; etc.

I have read some books but not a lot on this region of the world, including Michael C. Howard’s “Fiji: Race and Politics in an Island State” and Andre Vltchek’s “Oceania: Neocolonialism, Nukes and Bones”. Honestly, besides the military coups and tensions between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians in Fiji, nuclear weapons testing and radioactive fallout, and the wars in East Timor and West Papua, I was totally unaware of everything else in this book. Apartheid and guerrilla warfare in New Caledonia!? Katanga-like, French-supported secession in Vanuatu?! The assassination of Palau’s first president? French spies sabotaging anti-nuclear vessels and protests?! None of this should have come as a surprise to me, but I suppose I was taken in by the sun-drenched atolls and sandy beaches more than I expected.

Great book. It really opened my eyes and has made me want to learn more about the Pacific region.

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