Thursday, May 14, 2009

David Vine's "Island of Shame"

David Vine is assistant professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia, and reported the following:
While I’m now wishing I had included some sex on page 99 of Island of Shame, the page does reveal the book’s scandalous content. For page 99 tells part of the long hidden story of the Chagossian people exiled from their homeland by the United States during the creation of the military base on the Indian Ocean island Diego Garcia. Told from the perspective of both the exiled Chagossians and the U.S. government officials who orchestrated the expulsion, the book exposes how the United States and Britain conspired to forcibly remove the people and build what has become a major, if little known, base critical to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and home to a top-secret CIA prison.

Page 99, for the most part, reveals only half this story: that of the U.S. officials who created the base. The page describes how officials like longtime cold warrior Paul H. Nitze deliberately inflated the Soviet threat to ensure, in Fred Kaplan’s words, “the construction of a gigantic, world-wide U.S. military machine.” Beginning in the 1970s, a base as far flung as Diego Garcia, at the center of the Indian Ocean, became an increasingly important part of this machine.

The other half of the story told in Island of Shame—the treatment meted out to the Chagossians—reveals itself in the title of the chapter that begins on page 99. Taken from a three-word 1971 memo written with Kurtzian zest by former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, the chapter’s title represents the U.S. government’s final, callous verdict on the Chagossians: “Absolutely Must Go.”

The chapter and the book thus show how the military machine built by men like Zumwalt and Nitze has too often come to destroy the lives of people like the Chagossians around the globe. As I later write:

“We must face the damage that the nation has inflicted on [the Chagossians] and so many others…. We cannot continue to allow claims of ‘national interest’ to justify the destruction of the lives of others. The story of Diego Garcia is in many ways a story of just that: how we have allowed empire and militarism to trump human lives.”

Island of Shame concludes with a call for allowing the Chagossians to return to their homeland:

“For too long both [the United States and Britain] have denied and hid from their responsibility. For too long they have allowed the Chagossians to languish in exile. Now is the time for both governments to rectify the injustice they have done to the Chagossians.”
Read an excerpt from Island of Shame, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Read more about the book and author at David Vine's website.

--Marshal Zeringue