Published on Jun 3, 2016 ….
THREE Carole McGlanahan: review article: ” Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia,” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 11(1) · January 2010
Most U.S. citizens have never heard of Diego Garcia, a small island that is part of the Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean. David Vine’s book Island of Shame seeks to change that by providing a detailed history of the island, of the some two thousand Chagossian people who lived there, and of the U.S.-U.K. governmental collusion in forcibly removing the Chagossians from Diego Garcia in order to build a U.S. Navy base over a five-year period from 1968-1973. As anthropologist Vine argues, there are two reasons this story is unknown: first, the U.S. delegated political and economic responsibility regarding population relocation to the British, and second, the military base built on Diego Garcia is not a minor one, but one which anchors U.S. military action from a highly strategic position between Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The Diego Garcia base is the site from which the ongoing Iraq and Afghanistan Wars were launched. It is thus representative of a “global network of extraterritorial U.S. military installations that allow the control of territory vastly disproportionate to the land actually occupied” (187). As such, Vine argues, Diego Garcia is one of the centre pieces of U.S. empire: a secret in need of exposure and a home to which the Chagossian people deserve the right to return. Written as a history of the expulsion of the Chagossian people and of their dire struggles since in both Mauritius and the Seychelles, as well as an ethnography of empire, that is, of the strategic development of U.S. empire in the era of decolonization, Vine successfully captures both the tenor of the era in U.S. foreign policy and the trials of the Chagossians. Published by an academic press, but clearly written for a public audience—i.e., free of jargon, long sentences, and with theoretical discussions in the footnotes rather than main text—Island of Shame deserves a wide readership as much for Vine’s scholarship as for the topic itself. Research for the book was wide ranging: ethnographic research with Chagossian refugees, oral history interviews with U.S. officials involved with the Diego Garcia project, and much mining of available Foreign Relations of the United States documents, and secondary sources from journalistic accounts and court records to autobiographies and personal correspondence. Interspersed powerfully throughout are first-hand accounts from Chagossians testifying to their eviction from Diego Garcia, the lack of any resettlement project for them in Mauritius (where many were literally dropped off at a dock to fend for themselves), and their persistent one-step forward-two-steps-back efforts in U.K. courts to have their grievances addressed. Contrasted with persistent U.S. government testimony that “for all practical purposes” the islands were uninhabited (102), Vine shows clearly how U.S. national interest in building military empire deeply impacted human lives, leaving a group of people without not only their homes or island, but also without legal recourse against the U.S. government. In terms of the literature on contemporary U.S. empire, Vine’s work is a major contribution. Island of Shame provides the first academic study of Diego Garcia as well as one of the very first ethnographic histories of U.S. military bases around the world. As such, it is part of an invaluable and growing literature on contemporary empire, that is, empires of the post-World War II, post-decolonization period. In assessing U.S. empire in the present, Vine follows anthropologist Engseng Ho in considering this new imperial formation as one that embraces “invisibility” and “remote control” style operation (190). The hubris of empire appears again and again in the documentation Vine presents: from detailed portrayals of individuals involved such as Paul Nitze who held positions as Secretary of the Navy and Deputy Secretary of Defense in the late 1960s, to the 2007 verdict by the U.S. Supreme Court that the Chagossian people could not hold the U.S. government legally responsible for acts committed against them. For the Chagossian people, theirs is a story of sagren, or deep sorrow. The loss of home, the discrimination Chagossians experience in Mauritius, the profound poverty…