U.S Imperial Conjugations on the South Pacific Route: Port Hueneme, San Diego, New Hebrides, New Guinea

Authors: Andrew Friedman*, Haverford College
Topics: Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: Empire, transpacific, colonialism, space, race
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Grand Ballroom B, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Frameworks of colonies and metropoles have often obscured the conjunctive geographies and transits of U.S. imperial power. During World War II, many American soldiers and builders fought not on German and Japanese battlefields, but on what they knew as the “five highways,” a set of globe-spanning routes, often through colonial settings, that they experienced as forms of both imperial habitation and trans-colonial pedagogy. This paper turns to the United States’ South Pacific route, casting it as a means of transpacific world-making and as a U.S. colonial form that could be inhabited and had its own imperial cultural mores, spatial practices, racial formations and violent lessons. As a form, the South Pacific route also ingrained an enduring pathway that U.S. colonial subjects used to articulate ethical claims on delinquent American imperialists. Stressing the complexities of a geography that could be both a “transit” and a stretched-out “place” at once, the paper focuses on four sites that commonly don’t log as U.S. colonial—a California beach city with a Chumash name that housed a Navy Seabees base; a border city on stolen Mexican land that helped launch the military-industrial complex; an Anglo-French colony whose people labored in perilous conditions for the U.S. Navy after a brutal forced march; and an Australian colony, the site of a massive U.S. infrastructural campaign and exercise in managing indigenous people. The paper concludes that a more complex geographical imagination can make visible U.S. colonial places occluded by conventional spatial formulations of empire.

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