Book Review: Defending Whose Country?: Indigenous Soldiers in the Pacific War


by Noah Riseman

Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012. Pp. xiv, 304. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $50.00. ISBN: 0803237936

“Native” Peoples in the War Against Japan

Based on the author’s dissertation, Defending Whose Country? looks at the military service of three “colonial” peoples during the Pacific War, the Yolungu of Northern Australia, the Papuans and New Guineans, and the Navaho of the United States. 

With great sympathy for these “indigenous peoples,” Riseman tells a rather intricate tale.  Although the main treatment is divided into three parts, one for each group, Riseman’s introduction takes a look at some common patterns in their pre-war experiences.  He rather effectively weaves together several distinct threads, the colonial experience, racism, cultural complexities, personalities, colonial policy, and, of course, military organization and operations, though this last is sometimes given short shrift.  In addition, his last chapter deals with how the service of each group was largely neglected in post-war accounts.  Finally, his conclusions look once more at common aspects of the wartime experiences of these peoples. 

Riseman’s grasp of military institutions and practice could have been better, as thee are pesky little errors in terminology and interpretation that could easily have been corrected, and he might have paid more attention paid to operational matters.

Nevertheless, Defending Whose Country? gives us a ground-breaking look at some of the many “native” peoples (e.g., Fijians, Solomon Islanders, Tongans, and more), who took part in the struggle against Japan, and is worth reading by any student of the Pacific War.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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