Claims on Irian

The Claims on Irian

(By a Correspondent in Australia)

[NOTE: This was written and submitted to The Economist some time prior to United Nations decisions on the issue.  In another piece, which I may find soon, advocated the creation of a “United States of Melanesia”, thinking of the islands from Irian to Vanuatu.]

The present deadlock in negotiations concerning the future of Dutch New Guinea focuses attention once again upon the rival claims and the possibility of armed conflict.

The basis of the Indonesian claim on Irian, as Dutch New Guinea is sometimes called, has received very little publicity in Australia. Holland was the first Western Power to establish an effective claim in New Guinea. Readers of Wallace and other early travellers may remember references to the weak and quarrelsome Sultanate of Ternate and Tidore in the Moluccas, the latter of whom claimed suzerainty over the coastline of New Guinea, which was then occasionally visited by traders, partic­ularly for slaves. The Dutch claim to this coastline arose when they established authority over the Sultanate and now, say the Indonesians, since the Sultanate has reverted to Indonesian control, so too should its original dominions

There has also been an ethnic claim, recently abandoned by the Indonesians themselves. There are of course linguistic and cultural affinities between the Indonesians and the peoples of Oceania; but these have become so modified over the centuries that it would take a very glib politician indeed to persuade  scientists of the validity of claims based upon them. Apart from one or two areas of close trading contact and the use of Malay as an official lingua franca they are weakest of all in Irian, where indigenous Malayo-Polynesian elements are hardly traceable.

At first sight, therefore, it would seem easy to rebut Indonesian claims. The Dutch do this principally on moral grounds. In effect they say to the Indonesians, “Your legal claim is no

stronger than ours. We can administer the country better. Therefore we have the moral duty to remain.” The question is, what grounds are there for believing that the Dutch will administer more effectively? To that question we can only give a partial answer. In Borneo and New Guinea Indonesian doctors, police, and other technical personnel have been an indispensable instrument of Dutch administration. Indonesians are now gaining experience in responsibility for indigenous peoples throughout their present territories. Meanwhile, the Dutch cannot be said to have developed New Guinea, which is commercially much more backward than the neighbouring Australian territories. Insecurity, which is likely to be permanent while Dutch and Indonesian claims conflict, prevents the attraction of Dutch capital thus placing them on the same level as the Indonesians, who are also said to lack capital. Apart from an occasional oil tanker and official plane, there is no communication with the territory. The strangest point in favour of Dutch administra­tion is that serious attempts are being planned in the field of native social development but even this owes much of its inspiration to the South Pacific Commission which presumably could inspire the Indonesians as well.

The attitudes of India and Australia to these claims are of some interest. India’s support of Indonesia is widely supposed to be based simply on friendship for a struggling neighbour. Indian writers, however, have long pointed to the huge sparsely-populated island as an outlet for Asian migrants and there is no doubt that Asian peasants, after some adaptation, could grow rice and other crops much more successfully than the present population. One wonders just what weight is given to migration in Indian and Indonesian opinion


This of course is the great fear of Australians, who see the possibility of Asians infiltrating into their own territories. bringing with them social problems and perhaps Communism. This fear has led to an intransigent attitude and the belief that Australians would take action against Indonesian control has no doubt contributed to recent softenings of Indonesian statements which at one time threatened armed invasion. Australian extremists have even advocated that Australia should administer Dutch New Guinea herself, though critics have pointed out that Australian resources are hardly adequate for the development and defence of  existing territories. The more recent Australian suggestion is that administration should be by Condominium government, with Indonesia, Australia and Holland probably leading to permanent frustration as in the New Hebrides. The Indonesians  themselves, perhaps realising their limitations when possession by Holland is nine points of the law, made the desperate suggestion that Holland should administer under Indonesian sovereignty.

 A review of these claims seems to indicate that none of them are strong enough to sway world opinion, and that the question will be decided rather in the darkness of balance of power, crowd hysteria, and the personal characters of those who sit around conference tables. Certainly the deadlock seems beyond peaceful solution except perhaps through United Nations mediation. In the meantime, despite Dutch allegations that the Papuan inhabitants of  the country would resist invasion by force , it is certain that all but the small elite are blissfully unaware of the issues as involved.  Read the rest

Origins of Canadian University Service Overseas, 1961

Let’s Amend the Peace Corps Idea and Create a Canadian Venture


[NOTE: This piece was the result of press opinion that young people in Canada were softies.  I submitted it to the magazine Maclean’s in June 1961, but it was not published because they had already run another piece – with a different message – in a recent edition.]

On June 19th, [1961] the Vancouver Sun carried an editorial commenting upon the views of Dr. John I Ross, Dean of St. Andrew’s Hall at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Ross is reported to have remarked upon the university students of to-day: “Unexcited, pessimistic, unmoved by enthusiasm for anything……committed only to be uncommitted……” For the past few months I have been having a running argument with some of my colleagues who, like Dr. Ross, see “… no hope or rebellion.…..nice people, expertly polite.” This is a distressingly frequent opinion.

As I read it, I thought of some students I have known. Of Thora Hawkey, at this moment emerging, I hope unscathed, from the isolated cloisters of the Tenri University in Japan. She had gone, knowing no sentence of Japanese, to spend two years in this centre of a strong, militant expansionist Buddhist sect, with a fellow-Canadian as the only Westerner within reach, knowing full well that every pressure would be exerted upon her for her conversion And I thought of another student, Michael Ames, carrying out fieldwork in a Ceylon village, writing half—jocularly that he was washing elephants to earn some ready cash. I remembered, too, the way my office door was besieged when I announced to my class that I was off to do research in Fiji. The enthusiasts were prepared not only for the glamour, but for the hardships and disappointments. My colleagues in the University had already shown this when we depended on students to do the basic leg-work of research, living with British Columbia Indian families while we supervisors wrote up their data as a survey of contemporary Indian life.

Don’t sell the young people of Canada short. Don’t admit that they’re a bunch of physical and intellectual softies, without the stamina to face a challenge. Of course living is soft in the present condition of Canadian life, and there are many young men and women who would draw back if presented with any other alternative. But it is we, the adults, who have created such conditions, and let us not forget it. Don’t blame youth for our own ambitions and omissions. And if we want youth to be tough—minded, we should provide the openings for them to show what they can do.

At this moment at the University of Toronto, some dozen students, screened down from a group of fifty volunteers, are preparing for service in India, Sarawak, and possibly Ceylon. They will work abroad for a year, with Government and voluntary agencies, on minimal local rates of subsistence. The most exciting thing about this scheme is that it originated with students and is carried out by students, a whole army of them who worked night and day helping organize a drive for the funds necessary to provide the travel and ancillary expenses ($2,000 for each volunteer). The originator of the group which is known as Canadian Overseas Volunteers Who was Keith Spicer, a graduate student in political science, worked out the idea and received encouragement from Asian officials while he was gathering material in South East Asia for a thesis on Canada’s Colombo Plan. Even with the enthusiasm of his group, however, he found that if he were to make progress (for example, in fund-raising), he needed support from established seniors. His search for such support was one long disappointment, until he found ready recognition and sponsorship from Mr. Fred Stinson, a Toronto Member of Parliament.

Here is the critical question. Can student enthusiasm get the backing it needs from you and me without stifling it? Can we provide the resources, the continuity, and the support, without destroying initiative?

We have failed to recognize the direction of student interest.

In the parochialism of our citizenship, we have not fully recognized that the excitement of University life is largely because it is an international life. Important though the domestic issues of Canada may be, they lack the drama and challenge of the issues which confront the peoples of Asia and Africa. Here the fight for survival is real, not hidden behind the achievement of social security. Here the concept of common humanity is put to the test as technicians of many countries and persuasions work for the benefit of others. Here new societies are in the making, examining,  accepting, and rejecting many of the basic social assumptions that we tend to take for granted. And. here is one of the major challenges (together with those others which evoke a response from youth disarmament and control of nuclear fallout) to the future of mankind.

With characteristic imagination the Americans have seized upon this challenge and have based the Peace Corps movement upon it. “Movement” is indeed the right word, for despite the dampening effects of bureaucratization, the Peace Corps floats upon a ground swell of considerable magnitude. There must be literally scores of organizations in the United States, small and large, and mostly voluntary with funds drawn from the income of interested citizens, which are engaged in the task of sending young Americans abroad. The pity of it is that the Peace Corps phrase was ever coined.

For now the notion is inseparably bound up with the idea of Peace, which is the antithesis of war, and implies that young people going abroad are saving the world from cataclysm. While this hope is by no means irrelevant, in many of the potentially host countries, the notion has political overtones. It is inextricably mixed up with the Cold War, and countries can feel that they are being singled out for treatment because somehow their loyalty to the concepts of the West are in question. The American Peace Corps is now making brave attempts to live this notion down.  Read the rest

On Leaving England 1949

On Leaving England


How easy it is for the visitor to England to record general impressions. And how false those impressions are liable to be. For perhaps the one thing that is true of England is that Gorer-like generalisations cannot be applied with truth to England as a whole. Yet despite this the temptation to make notes cannot be resisted.

 I come from a new culture that maintains a strong English tradition. Though not as much as in generations, most of us still call England “Home”. Our newspapers devote half a page or more to English news. Our interest in politics is almost as much in English politics as it is in the outcome of the local election. The history taught in our schools is primarily that of England, secondarily that of Europe and the Commonwealth, and hardly at all that of our own land. Our literature is almost exclusively that of England, the United States and France —- our own writers, those self—conscious few, are almost completely neglected.

This however does not mean that we are English.

 Indeed, the first impression of England is entirely that of a strange, bewildering, foreign mass. The houses, buses, taxis, trains, the mists and deciduous trees, the uniform 0f the City and the speech of the Cockney ——  all these have been known to us in picture or through description since we were children. But intellectual knowledge is no substitute for  direct experience, and all these different things impinging at once is exciting, refreshing, and almost always unexpected.  It takes us at least six weeks to adopt the outward demeanour of  habitués.

 It takes us much longer to feel that we are English. By this I mean to feel that we could pass in most circumstances as English, without challenge; that we know what the English are talking about, even if we do not always understand the nuances of idiom; that we can judge correctly the response of English people in given circumstances; that we can take part in the same amusements and pursuits as English people without deliberate affectation; and yet that we retain those of our own values and habits that do not seem incongruous. I would say that the period is roughly three years. If I had left this country six months ago I would not have claimed to know even those few sectors of English life that I think I do know.

 It is often said that this difficulty of “getting to know” the English is somehow a fault of the English themselves. How falsely trite is that is. There are few friendlier and no more helpful people in the world. My wife and I have lived in a working class and a middle class district in London: in both cases we have depended totally and successfully upon our immediate neighbours for security in times of trouble -—   those neighbours so often characterised as being frigidly reserved.  I doubt if any other country in the world possesses a junior civil service ——   those clerks behind the desk in the Food Office ——   of such integrity and genuine friendliness. The much maligned bus conductor is in reality almost as indispensable for his assistance as the policeman. True, there are frigid elements in English society -—   some of the gentlemen from the public schools seem to have been coached in coldness of attitude which becomes reprehensible in the higher civil service and funny in the City.  But if we don’t know the English, it is entirely our own fault. For we tend to forget that there are fifty million people in the United Kingdom, that the variety of life is such that the individual Englishman is already living in the midst of an intellectual plenty, and that therefore he has no need to turn to us for amusement. The stranger who wishes to know the English must be prepared to contribute to English life in an interesting way. He will not succeed if he is only a nosey-parker.

It is a common—place that English culture consists of a number of sub—cultures. It is indeed amazing that there is such a thing as a British nation at all, so diverse is it even within the confines of England, let alone the Commonwealth. What is it that holds the Lancashire man to a common destiny with the Cockney, and the Battersea trader to that of the Chelsea type?   Is it that each of these sub—cultures is now so definitely established that it is of a conservative character?

Is it that the members have common ground in regarding the State as the instrument for maintaining the position of the sub­culture in relation to the others —   a vested interest as it were in the aspects of civilisation?

 How else can one explain the interesting anomalies that confront the observer of the English scene? The myth of flexibility, adaptation, and compromise as essentials of the island character contrasts with the fixed habits, immobility, and sometimes lack of enterprise of most sections of the community. The approved eccentric, that justification of English freedom, lives in harmony and understanding with the prosaic shop-keeper. Shortage of manpower cannot remove the artist from the pavement, the commissionaire from the entrance to the emporium,  the flunkey from the front right—hand seat of the Rolls—Royce ——   and few if any demand that this should be so. From all middle class lips come loud complaints of loss of privilege, and difficulties of maintaining a standard of living. In some fields, such as education, this seems to be obvious, though even here the approaching tragedy seems to be nation—wide, not that of a class. For in its national aspect it has remained hidden for generations, and is now gaining publicity, one would think, because for the first time it is affecting the vocal section of the community. In other fields the proposition is only relatively true —— compared with the situation before the war. The observer who cannot make this comparison is left a  little bewildered by such complaints —— for it is still apparently the case that money can buy the best of anything, and it is certainly the case that differences in net income are fantastically greater than anything known in my own home town across the sea.  Read the rest