President Obama has reiterated that the United States is a Pacific power. This is a geographic reality, and -- as I was recently reminded while standing at the U.S. memorial to the Battle of Guadalcanal -- a historic fact. Embassy Port Moresby covers three countries: Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Solomon Islands. For that reason, I found myself in late October standing on a picturesque hill overlooking Honiara, the capital of Solomon Islands, admiring the U.S. battle memorial and its impeccable view of the waters where the Battle of Guadalcanal was fought during World War II. It was a gorgeous day, a beautiful monument, and a touching moment for me to remember Marines like my grandfather, and soldiers like our Consular Agent Keithie Saunders’ father, who fought for freedom at Guadalcanal and across the Pacific during World War II.
The U.S. war legacy is evident in many places across the Pacific. On October 27, I traveled with New Zealand, Solomon Island, and Japanese officials to Mono, Solomon Islands. In 1943, the Battle of Mono pitted our forefathers against each other as enemies. Twelve Americans, 40 New Zealanders, and 205 Japanese soldiers died in the battle, where allied forces retook the island from Japanese occupation. Seventy years later to the day, I stood alongside those same nationalities in a solemn commemoration amongst those nations, who are now friends and allies, to remember the sacrifices of the past.
In addition to remembrance and commemorations, the past also remains palpably present in the Pacific in less benign ways. The U.S. Government has -- for two and a half years -- trained Solomon Island police to dispose of unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over from World War II. In the first ten months of 2013, the Solomon Islands police -- using U.S. training and equipment donated from Australia, New Zealand, and the United States -- responded to civilian reports of UXO to diffuse 10,200 WWII-era explosives. This November and December, bomb disposal experts from those same countries – the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Solomon Islands -- will come together for Operation Render Safe -- a joint effort to clear large UXO fields in Solomon Islands to prevent civilian deaths.
It is through these efforts -- diplomatic, development, and defense -- that we reaffirm our position with partners and allies in the Asia-Pacific region. And in doing so, I believe that we offer respect for the sacrifices of our forefathers… and pay homage to a U.S. legacy in the Pacific that goes back decades.
About the Author: Melanie Higgins serves as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.