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Political and External Affairs

CHAPTER 23 — Trusteeship in Action

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Trusteeship in Action

THAT humane, democratic idealism to which the New Zealand Labour Government was dedicated, that belief in the essential soundness of the common man and in the creative power of good will, was grievously battered during the years 1935–45. The assessment of its comparative validity as a principle in political morals is not the task of this history; yet it must be recorded how realism, fear and hate, cupidity, folly and ignorance frustrated those who thought that by good will allied to justice it should be possible to prevent war, to define worthy war aims, and to lay down the basic pattern of a world without war. True, the drive towards social welfare remained perhaps the most universally accepted principle of public policy; but this was represented mainly by general and innocuous terms in preparatory work for the post-war world. The desirability of the freest possible flow of international trade as an element in world prosperity had been recognised in principle in the Atlantic Charter and afterwards, but was hedged about by reservations by everyone from the Americans downwards. It was all rather frustrating for the hopeful idealist. On the positive side, however, there was widespread and probably growing recognition of the duty of the wealthier and more ‘civilised’ countries to help those that were undeveloped. This was a line of thought allied to that which insisted that there should be an end to ‘colonialism’, and at its best could be summed up in the concept of ‘trusteeship’. It has already been noted that this concept had a long and somewhat chequered career in the attempts by the United Nations to define their war aims, and it had been expressed prominently in the Canberra Pact of 1944 between Australia and New Zealand. For New Zealand, trusteeship still seemed to give scope for frustrated idealism, and even to offer a field in which it could be demonstrated that her oft-stressed love of principle was not merely a matter of words. For her, moreover, trusteeship was no matter of mere theorising or of new experiment. She had in this field a long-established traditional interest, and prolonged experience which gave to her—or at least to her officials and spokesmen—a more than usually intimate acquaintance with the evolution of a major international problem.

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This experience was in part related to the fact that for a century New Zealand has been a country of two races. In 1919 this fact was cited as showing that she was particularly well equipped to administer native peoples. In 1945 the facts of her racial history were better known and less complacently regarded. For good or ill, however, and often quite unknowingly, every New Zealander had as part of his national heritage an enrichment of personal experience which was relevant to the problems of relationship between different races. More directly, when it came to matters of international trusteeship, New Zealand had twenty-five years of experience in Western Samoa, experience which had been dearly bought whether the price be reckoned in terms of money,1 of disappointment, or of the effort involved in effecting a fundamental change of policy.

In the peace conference of 1919 New Zealand's relations with Western Samoa forced her to take an active part in a major decision, the disposition of the colonial territories captured from Germany. It was a New Zealand force which had occupied—and still held—Western Samoa: the fact that it had sailed under Australian and French naval escort was not stressed. New Zealand troops were in charge and New Zealand administration had controlled the territory for five years. Behind these facts lay an established tradition of national interest, partly strategic and partly economic. Samoa had from time to time been regarded by many New Zealanders as a key point in their hopes of expanding influence among the Pacific islands, and it had often been urged on their behalf that potential enemies should be excluded from this part of the Pacific area. In 1919 that meant expressly that German rule should not be restored and, indeed, that the territory should not be among those islands entrusted to our then ally Japan.2 For most New Zealanders who gave thought to the subject, the solution was probably annexation to the Empire, with Britain in charge and paying the bill.3 For a small but influential minority, however, there was profit to be made in Samoa as well as political fulfilment, if it should pass permanently into New Zealand hands: those thinking this way, wrote H. E. Holland, were ‘numerically weak but financially strong4.’

The problem was handled at Versailles by W. F. Massey, who was confronted by a sudden thrust of idealist sentiment voiced more especially by President Wilson. On the one hand, there was

1 Subsidies from the beginning of the mandate to 1931 totalled nearly £270,000. Since then the Samoan Government has approximately paid its way.—Year-Book, 1946, p. 774; Keesing, p. 489; NZ Institute of International Affairs, Western Samoa, p. 5.

2 Wall, Massey and the Peace Conference, unpublished thesis, p. 55, quoting Round Table, Vol. IX, p. 819.

3 Round Table, December 1919, p. 818.

4 Samoa, A Story that Teems with Tragedy, 1918.

page 329 a firm Allied pledge against annexation of enemy territories; and on the other, the argument that self-determination (if not self-government) was a life-giving principle, valid for colonial territories as well as for the more sophisticated people of the old world. Massey was downright and realistic. He wanted Samoa to be annexed to New Zealand, not in his thinking as an ‘imperialist’ move, nor as an allocation of the spoils of victory. Even if Samoa had some economic value, this was negligible in relation to New Zealand's war expenses. The object was security, not profit. He rejected with sensible arguments any suggestion of divided control, and thought it would be a quite unreal proceeding to ask the natives whether they preferred British or German rule. Moreover, the Samoans were not the only people concerned in the matter: New Zealand had clearly an intimate interest in the future government of the territory.1 He would probably have approved of administration by Britain on behalf of the Empire; but in the existing circumstances annexation to New Zealand was the honest and sensible course.

Massey argued this case at Versailles with some persistence, if with less audacity than that shown by his colleague W. M. Hughes in making parallel demands for Australia; while his critics back in New Zealand were soothingly assured that the territory would require no garrison, that its trade was in fact valuable, and that the British authorities had spoken kindly of New Zealand's administration of the Cook Islands.2 The upshot was a compromise, accepted a little reluctantly by dominion spokesmen at Versailles. The mandate system avoided annexation and established altruistic objectives of government, but provided that a C class mandate could be administered in much the same way as if it had been annexed.

When Massey brought back this solution from Versailles, he met with some criticism. Sir Joseph Ward in particular spoke feelingly of problems likely to arise with ‘coloured races’, particularly through the presence of indentured Chinese labour on the plantations. He doubted whether New Zealand was capable of dealing with ‘internal differences in Samoa’, and altogether wished that this batch of problems could have been left in the experienced hands of the Imperial government.3 There were, moreover, those who thought that Massey had been presumptuous in behaving as if New Zealand were an independent nation, as well as those who regarded the territory as an unwanted responsibility. Indeed, New Zealand had not made up her mind about the matter.

One extreme judgment was expressed, rather surprisingly, in an official pamphlet. Western Samoa, it was blatantly claimed in

1 Wall, p. 38.

2 Ibid., p. 55, quoting Dominion, 10 Apr 1919.

3 Ibid., p. 54, quoting NZPD, Vol. 184, p. 59.

page 330 November 1919, was ‘New Zealand's share of the fruits of victory.’ The territory, it seemed, could grow all tropical produce ‘to perfection’ granted only that adequate labour was available. This would, of course, be provided by native Samoans, though they, unfortunately, ‘will have to be educated up to the necessity to work.’ Meantime, while the educational process was being accomplished, the necessary workers would be imported.1 This cavalier approach to one of the most difficult problems of Pacific island development underlines the cautious judgment expressed by Lord Liverpool, Governor-General of New Zealand. On 4 December 1918 he took the interesting course of addressing the Secretary of State for Colonies on this general subject, noting that his views did not coincide with those of his Prime Minister, Massey. The Dominion, wrote Lord Liverpool, was ‘hardly ready to possess detached dependencies of its own.’ He went on to stress the problem of labour supply. Precedent seemed to show, on the one hand, that development of such a territory could only be accompanied by cheap native labour and, on the other, that this problem opened up immense difficulties. In his view, it would be likely to cause particularly awkward reactions in New Zealand, where the powerful Labour Party had already adopted what he called extreme views in such matters, and where, from a small population, it would be extremely difficult to find an Administrator entirely free from political bias. He pointed out, moreover, that it was only since 1914 that anything significant had been done for the development of the Cook Islands.2 Indeed, so far as the administration of native affairs went, New Zealand's principal asset at this time was a vague and rather sentimental feeling that she had done well by the Maoris rather than any concrete experience.
Nevertheless, from the beginning, the sceptical views of the Governor-General and the quite unwarranted financial optimism of some merchants did far less than justice to the mainsprings of New Zealand's policy. Humanitarianism, though often obscured, was a force of fundamental importance in these attempts to achieve a sympathetic understanding of the Samoan viewpoint. ‘In the first instance,’ said New Zealand's first Minister of External Affairs, ‘the duty of this country is to the Samoan people.’ He went on to emphasise that Samoans were not lazy, that they worked as hard as was necessary to maintain their own standards, and that New Zealand's policy was to ‘allow the Samoans to go on in the same way as they are doing now’, aided mainly by public works, hospitals and kindred benefits.3 The Minister did, indeed, contemplate the

1 The Truth About Samoa, Government Printer, November 1919.

2 GGNZ to Secretary of State for Colonies, 4 Dec 1918.

3 E. P. Lee, NZPD, Vol. 186, p. 798.

page 331 importation of further Chinese labour to develop plantation agriculture, an idea strongly criticised by Apirana Ngata. The Samoans, said Ngata, were happy: ‘Why do you not leave them alone and let them enjoy themselves in their own way? Is yours the only way in which a human being can enjoy himself?1

In New Zealand in 1920, then, there were a few who hoped to make money out of Samoan trade, and there were many who thought that it would be good for the Samoans to work harder than they were accustomed to do; but those concerned with Samoan administration seem to have viewed the new problem with hazy, benevolent optimism. The idea that the Samoans should be exploited was, to most, repugnant. New Zealand's wish was to do good for the Samoans, not to make money out of them; but, not understanding very well her own experience in race relations, she only too often learnt the basic facts of Samoan life by the hard way of benevolent trial and tragic error.

In 1925, towards the end of General Richardson's first term as Administrator, New Zealand seemed to be the model mandatory power, promoting native welfare by public works, social services, and reform of land tenure and native administration. In such progress, it appeared, the foundations for ultimate self-government were being soundly laid. Nevertheless, the basic patterns of Samoan life held firmly, but quietly and at first unobtrusively, beyond the ken of New Zealand officials. In 1926 they emerged in the Mau, an ‘opinion movement’, which represented a strong—indeed a national—reaction against the administration. Its leadership was provided initially from the local European and mixed-blood sections of the community, whose position seemed to be threatened by New Zealand's firm preference for strictly native Samoan interests, but who worked in and through disaffected elements in traditional Samoa. The Mau thus built up a genuinely Samoan movement which was based upon traditional social and political organisation, and which confronted the Government with systematic and disciplined non-cooperation. If it began as a movement to remedy both local European and Samoan grievances, partly caused and partly accentuated by New Zealand administration, it developed into a movement to preserve the old Samoan ways against Europeanisation, and into a movement for national autonomy. With its roots deep in the past, and aspiring to a social and political order that was complex, and to European logic contradictory, it was baffling and intangible to an administration which had never established real contact with Samoan life.

The Mau's main objective was easy to define in very general

1 NZPD, Vol. 186, pp. 935-6.

page 332 terms: it favoured the principle of Samoa for the Samoans. Practical detail as to the form that a future Samoan government should take was not called for, so its energies could be consumed in the straightforward, negative task of obstructing the New Zealand administration. The Government, for its part, disappointed, well-meaning, and suddenly confronted by new, unexpected aspects of Samoan life, reacted neither with sustained repression nor patient conciliation. Tolerance in the early stages, which assisted the movement to develop, was followed by ill-conceived ‘police action’, including the exile of leaders and a small but spectacular clash with bloodshed on 28 December 1929. Thereafter, as the police arrived, the men took to the bush and the hills. In 1930 there was a truce, but non-cooperation continued, and many of the Mau activities were carried out, without interference, by a women's Mau.1 But order was maintained, and political quiescence gradually reasserted itself. Meantime New Zealand was plunged in the depression; and the advent of a Labour government at the end of 1935 gave a new turn to relations between New Zealand and Western Samoa. The time had come for different personal attitudes and for a new formulation of objectives.
All through the preceding troubled period Labour spokesmen had severely criticised New Zealand policy in Samoa, so that the leaders of the new government could fairly expect a fund of good will among the members of the Mau. They were also deeply committed to the principles embodied in the League of Nations and its mandate system: principles which extinguished the last vestiges of the notion that Western Samoa was permanent property, acquired as spoils of war. Previous governments had said firmly that ‘nothing but the defeat of the British Empire in war can ever sever [the Samoans] from the Crown of England’,2 and that New Zealand ‘has no intention whatever of surrendering, either now or in the future, any rights it possesses at present’ under the Samoan mandate.3 By contrast, Savage, as Prime Minister in 1937, regarded the status of Samoa as a matter which could properly be discussed: New Zealand, he said, could contemplate the possibility of returning its former colonies to Germany as part of a world settlement. Perhaps an element in this change of front was the recurrent notion that the mandate was a burden which in 1919 some thought should have been rejected, and which in later years many New Zealanders felt should be resigned at the first convenient opportunity. In the last few years before the war there was in New Zealand a widely held opinion that there were no economic and few strategic reasons

1 Keesing, p. 185.

2 Sir Francis Bell, 20 Dec 1924.

3 J. G. Coates in East Africa, 16 Dec 1926.

page 333 why the mandate should be retained.1 Yet official policy remained clear that the interests of the natives were paramount. Savage told the Imperial Conference of 1937 that no transfer of the territory to Germany could be considered without adequate safeguards for the welfare of the Samoans. He added, in words that could have been honestly used by any preceding government, that ‘in any case New Zealand would regard the interests of the inhabitants as the first and primary consideration’.

In official policy, then, Samoa was a trust to be administered in the interests of world peace and of the natives themselves; while at cabinet level there was a change of emphasis arising from personal attitudes rather than from hard thinking. The new ministers had minds full of general friendliness towards subject peoples, as indeed towards everyone else, and an underlying faith in the possibility of such friendliness being translated into practical politics. Soon after taking office, the Government agreed to the return to Samoa of O. F. Nelson, exiled for his connections with the Mau, and sent to the islands a ‘good will’ mission, headed by a cabinet minister. The result was some minor change in legislation and constitutional arrangements. In particular, a large number of public offices, mainly of course concerned with native government and administration, were made elective. According to one experienced official this move was highly effective. It ‘was the device by which the Mau lost its character of active opposition’, as its officials became office holders. The changes amounted in practical terms to the restoration of local self-government to the Samoan village communities. Tension had died down so far that normal relationships between the New Zealand administration and the Samoan community were re-established. Nevertheless, beneath the relatively peaceful and friendly external appearance there is little evidence that rebellion had been replaced by genuine warmth of co-operation.

When war threatened, the Samoan chiefs said that ‘in spite of differences of opinion we support the government and the Union Jack over us’,2 and with ‘strong expressions of loyalty to the Empire’ they offered a ‘force of 9,200 Samoans for general service and defence of Apia3.’ The Administrator's comment was that while this offer was a fine and welcome gesture the ‘action must not be misunderstood as to mean any loyalty towards us or, indeed, any wish to assist us in case of peril’,4 and he recounted

1 NZ Institute of International Affairs, Western Samoa, 1937.

2 Minutes of Fono of Faipule, 29 Sep 1938.

3 Administrator to External Affairs (cable), 29 Sep 1938. A. C. Turnbull was for some years technically acting Administrator. It seems convenient to refer to him as Administrator throughout. It should be recalled that until 1943 the Department of External Affairs administered New Zealand's island territories. Relations with foreign and Commonwealth countries were handled by the Prime Minister's Department.

4 Turnbull to Berendsen, 2 Mar 1939.

page 334 the story of how in 1914 the Samoan chiefs welcomed the invading New Zealanders with almost the same breath that had bidden a sorrowful farewell to Dr Schultz.1 For many Samoans, of course, possible participation in war was less of a political issue than a matter of potential excitement and profitable jobs. Moreover, reactions must have been to some extent influenced by the fact that Western Samoa was after all a mandate, in contrast with Eastern Samoa, which was a long-established American naval base. There is evidence enough that the Western Samoans viewed the coming struggle with an understandable detachment.

This may have been to some small extent accentuated by the residuary influence of the German period. About a tenth of the white population was German and more than a sixth of the mixed population nominally so. From 1933 Nazi ideas had a certain vogue and a Stutzpunkt of the party was established in Apia. There seems to have been some debate as to whether Samoans were Aryans and, if not, ‘how great a percentage of miscegenation with Samoan blood can still be regarded as equivalent to Aryan blood.’ On 30 May 1937 Dr Hellenthal, first career German consul in Wellington, wrote to the German Consulate-General in Sydney asking for a ruling on this point and gravely reporting that ‘the racial origins of the Samoans have not yet been precisely determined.’ Dr Hellenthal had high hopes of what might be achieved in Samoa. When visiting Samoa in April 1937 he had realised that the Samoan Germans ‘needed only some great common experience to weld them together again’, and had provided this by a patriotic ceremony after which ‘those who had been the bitterest enemies shook hands with one another’. Nor did he anticipate much opposition from New Zealand, which was ‘the only mandatory power that might be expected to surrender its mandate without overmuch persuasion; indeed my opinion is that the country would be relieved to be rid once more of the responsibility for Samoa.’

Attempts to organise Nazi activity in Western Samoa, which were stimulated from the German consulate in Wellington, had some practical consequences. Suspicions at the time of the Munich crisis that the local Nazis might be planning an armed coup seem to have been mainly responsible for the formation of a small Samoan local defence force early in 1939, and a number of suspected Nazis were interned on the outbreak of war.

More important, however, than such superficial manifestations was the disposition on the part of the Samoans to regard the war as something external to their interests. ‘We prayed for God's help, but whether it is the will of God or the stubbornness of Europeans,

1 Administrator to External Affairs, 22 Sep 1939.

page 335 war has begun,’ said the spokesman of the Fono of Faipule to the Administrator on 13 September 1939. ‘We still pray to God to end it. We thank your Excellency for your clear exposition of what has occurred. We consider such affairs should be left as the responsibility of the nations who have been unable to prevent war.’ In this phase, for more reasons than one, it was the policy of the Government to keep Samoans out of the war.

The outbreak of war against Japan inevitably marked a revolution in Samoan life. In the first place, it raised acutely the problem of Pacific fighting. As things stood, Samoa was virtually defenceless. There were in fact in the territory at the time 44 men serving on a permanent basis and 106 part-time Territorials. Moreover, the principle was accepted that Samoans should not be armed. The Administrator and the Samoan chiefs themselves drew the deduction that in case of an invasion resistance would be futile and costly. ‘Our people would suffer less if they remain quiet,’ said a Samoan leader. ‘We think, also, the fleets of Britain and U.S.A. will keep the enemy away from Samoa and we put our trust in God1.’ The Government's decision, however, was that any attack should be resisted so far as was physically possible. Accordingly, such preparations for defence as could be made locally were pushed ahead. Far more important, however, than anything that New Zealand could do was the prospect of American intervention, which arose naturally from the proximity of the naval harbour of Pago Pago. As early as 7 January 1942 the Administrator was told that American Samoa was about to be strongly reinforced, and that if the Americans wished also to make use of the New Zealand islands they should be given every facility.2 On 20 March following a full agreement was negotiated between the representatives of the two countries, and five days later an advance party of marines arrived. Their strength was rapidly built up, and till the end of 1943 there were, on the average, 10,000 American servicemen, chiefly marines, stationed in Western Samoa.

After the first shock, therefore, the Pacific war meant for the Samoans not so much the fear of attack as the presence on their soil of an American army of occupation. This, as elsewhere, had a strong social and economic impact. The Americans needed a large labour force and hired it direct from the villages. Minimum rates of pay were agreed upon between the Americans and the Administrator, who remarked that ‘as far as can be ascertained’ actual payments were ‘reasonable although probably higher than would be paid by the Administration.’ Behind this cautious phrase lay the

1 Administrator to External Affairs, 7 Feb 1942.

2 PM to Administrator, 7 Jan 1942.

page 336 fact that the number of Samoans working for wages was very greatly increased, and that wage rates throughout the Territory were forced up by American standards. Moreover, the spending of the marines put a great deal of money into circulation,1 while American road-building and other public works gave startling examples of what could be done quickly. On any reckoning there was widespread change in the community. In economic terms this may have been of an ephemeral character. Samoans who were unaccustomedly handling money spent it apparently in Samoan style rather than in equipping themselves to live the European-style life. The social effect of such spending is, indeed, impossible to assess accurately. Yet available facts and plentiful analogies from other Pacific areas suggest that the American impact on Samoa's exceptionally conservative society must have been substantial.

It is not surprising, accordingly, that the same period was marked by a revival of political restlessness. No causal relation between wartime social change and renewed interest in self-government has been proved. The underlying rhythm of Samoan life might well at this time have produced such developments independently of specifically wartime experiences. Under war conditions, however, indications of a continued preoccupation with local politics multiplied and there was nothing in the wartime situation, or even in the wartime prosperity, to divert the attention of politically minded people from their own internal problems. The presence of American forces could even sharpen the problem by reminding Western Samoans of the difference in conditions in neighbouring islands, with an implicit suggestion that those under American administration were better off. In 1947, for example, it was reported that thinking along these lines was noticeable in those areas where ‘free-spending American forces were encamped during the war period’,2 and in 1943 there was some feeling among New Zealand administrators that the Americans on their side were ‘covetous of Western Samoa.’ Though there is no evidence that New Zealand and the United States were seriously played off against each other, some alert individuals did see a tactical advantage in the possibility that ‘another Power would treat them better.’ There may also have been some revival of the old idea that Samoan dignity would be better served by attachment to a great power than to a small one.

There was, then, in Western Samoa from 1942 onwards a growing and audible demand for self-government, a demand by no means silenced by New Zealand paternalism. In 1944 that which had long been familiar to experts was made explicit. In June of that year the

1 Imports into Western Samoa increased thus: £154,000 (1941), £300,000 (1942), £606,000 (1943).—A to J, 1945, A4, p. 16.

2 Report of United Nations Mission, 1947, p. 18.

page 337 Governor-General, Sir Cyril Newall, paid his third visit to the territory, and Samoan spokesmen, while welcoming him on behalf of the Fono of Faipule, expressed solid criticism of New Zealand policy. The Samoans, said Fonoti, had been denied even that element of self-government which had been established in Tonga and Fiji and in Eastern Samoa. ‘The terms of the mandate have imposed on New Zealand the solemn duty of educating the Samoans to self-government and the terms of the Atlantic Charter express the same aim for the small nations of the world. Thirty years have passed since New Zealand took over Western Samoa and we are appreciably no nearer this goal. We wish to assure your Excellency that the Samoan people are loyal to the Union Jack, His Majesty the King and the British Empire, but after thirty years of New Zealand administration during which our justified aspirations were ignored and our requests for improvements were rejected, we have lost confidence in the trusteeship of New Zealand which has shown a lack of interest in the territory and treated its people as stepchildren.’ In the Governor's phrase, ‘a nettle is appearing.’

In the month that followed, political activity continued, and the Faipule formed a standing committee to keep in touch with the workings of the administration: a move with sinister precedents. In the view of an experienced observer it was ‘not far removed from the formation of another Mau.’ By this time, however, it was known that the Prime Minister himself was about to visit the mandated territory. He was known to have a keen personal interest in its administration, of which since 1940 he had been the ministerial head; but the tremendous pressure of war issues during the ensuing years had kept his main attention elsewhere. In 1944, as the war situation eased and as politics in Western Samoa grew more tense, he carried out a long-deferred intention to discuss the matter on the spot with those most concerned. This visit of Peter Fraser to Western Samoa and his discussions with a special Fono of Faipule in December proved a crucial event in New Zealand's relations with the Samoans and in the evolution of New Zealand's conception of trusteeship.

In the first place, the Samoans formulated their political demands for themselves, as well as for the New Zealand Government, with unmistakable clarity. The Faipule presented to the Prime Minister a list of remits, most of which were detailed and aimed at progressive displacement of Europeans by Samoans in administration, but which was headed by a firm request for self-government after the war.

The Samoan spokesman, Fonoti, told Fraser frankly that he was ‘quite convinced that the Samoans are able to have their own government at the present time. The only obstacle that we think is in page 338 the way is the communication with other countries. We are quite able to run our own affairs in Samoa’; but obstacles had always been put in the way of such overseas contacts. ‘As regards the government of the people and preservation of the peace, many years ago the Samoans had their own forms of government before the Europeans set up government in this country,’ he said. ‘These governments functioned very successfully’—except when Europeans interfered. Moreover, ‘at that time the Samoans had no education whatever, nowadays they have a fair amount of education, they have a very good understanding of affairs and they are quite able to control their own government.’

Such demands were part of a political evolution which involved a re-assessment by the Samoans of the recent past—New Zealand was now criticised for dropping the progressive policies of General Richardson—and was none the less important because its professed haste was unrealistic, or because the New Zealand administration doubted whether the Faipule were genuinely representing the considered wishes of the Samoan community. Right or wrong, there was dangerous material about, of the kind which in the past had produced disastrous political explosions. The resurgent crisis was handled, however, by a government whose attitude was benevolent, and which was committed deeply, if vaguely, to the principles of trusteeship. When he met the Fono in December, the Prime Minister was conciliatory. ‘New Zealand,’ he said, ‘had laid upon her after the Great War of 1914–18 the mission, the trusteeship, of Samoa and its people and it was understood that Samoa would be administered not for the benefit of New Zealand or anyone else but for the benefit of Samoa….I regret that in the years that have gone serious mistakes were made and enormities were raised and the people were divided through lack of understanding or appreciation of the difficulties peculiar to the country….I want you to feel that the New Zealand Government wants to administer this trusteeship along with you as co-trustees for the future of this country.’ At a later stage, he was somewhat more explicit. He took up a Samoan reference to the right of self-government endorsed in the Atlantic Charter for nations big and small—‘We have learnt about this, and it has been confirmed by you, Sir, in the Parliament of New Zealand’—and added to it the obligations written into other international documents. ‘Under the mandate and our New Zealand Australia Agreement we are pledged to promote the training and education of Samoans so that they can take an increasing part in the Administration and finally be able to assume self-government.’ He said frankly that, in the past, ‘more could have been done to train Samoans for official responsibility.’ As for the future, he hammered home the point that progress depended on friendship and co-opera- page 339 tion between New Zealand and the Samoan people, and more precisely on education. ‘The New Zealand Government will be pleased,’ he said, ‘when it is possible for all the important Administration offices to be filled by fully trained, educated and efficient Samoans but in administering our trust we must ask for and insist upon equal training and efficiency, otherwise we will be betraying the Samoan people as a whole.’ There is no evidence that his words pacified those Samoans who were demanding political power or that it diminished their pressure. The impression of his personal sincerity, however, may well have been a factor in preventing opposition from reverting to non-cooperation.

In general terms New Zealand's programme was defined as closely as was possible on the occasion of the Prime Minister's visit. In fact, however, its essential elements remained good will rather than detailed planning. ‘The new Government in 1936 adopted a new policy, which it always believed in when it was not the Government, a policy of reconciliation, friendship, progress and promotion of the economic social welfare of Samoa.’ So Fraser summarised the position to the Samoans in December 1944. Welfare, in other words, remained a vital consideration; and the Prime Minister was not concerned on this occasion to deal with the possible incompatibility between welfare and the then so-publicised aim of self-government. He was very probably only feeling his own way towards a judgment on the matter.

New Zealand did not and could not claim that her policy over thirty years had done much to prepare the Samoans to govern or administer themselves along western lines. She could, however, have claimed quite fairly that the Samoans had, in the upshot, been treated as Sir Apirana Ngata in 1920 had wished—they had been allowed to live their own life without exploitation and without being ‘improved’ against their will: a result that was important even if derived not from basic principles of colonial administration, but from a desire to promote quiet, and to avoid a recurrence of that disagreeable situation when Samoan affairs were both an intensely awkward problem at home and a source of embarrassing publicity abroad. As it was, Samoan life, the Trusteeship Committee was told, ‘is still lived as Samoan life (not as labourers, waiters or in menial work) and this despite the fact that population had doubled under New Zealand rule.’ And again: ‘In Western Samoa…the indigenous social organization is so well preserved that every village is completely autonomous, supported not by law but by the force of social sanction.’

The converse of this situation was that central government scarcely existed, and gave no training to budding politicians. The islands had for ten years existed, not unhappily, outside the stream page 340 of world politics. This position could not continue. The Samoans, it could well be argued, were enjoying self-government in the only sense that mattered to them, but this was no longer the point. The Samoan leaders, whether as a development in traditional Samoan politics or whether in response to the spirit of the times, had demanded autonomy; and the Labour Government, which was both generally sympathetic to such aspirations and determined, in particular, to avoid a recurrence of the Mau, was bound to do something about it.

The task of definition was in the first instance handled on an international scale at the San Francisco Conference to which Peter Fraser voyaged shortly after his visit to Apia. By this time not only was New Zealand known for forthright and fairly extreme views on trusteeship, but her Prime Minister had taken into his own hands the application of general principles to New Zealand's particular problem in Samoa. Her position, and Fraser's personal qualities, were recognised in his election to the chairmanship of the United Nations Committee dealing with the whole matter of trusteeship. New Zealand thus found herself in an unaccustomed position, presiding over deliberations instead of endeavouring to exert a small power's influence from the perimeter. In much of the trusteeship discussion, therefore, her characteristic views, though well known, were pressed by others—notably Australia1—rather than directly by her own spokesmen. Nevertheless, on the warm testimony of E. R. Stettinius, then Secretary of State, Fraser personally found opportunity to play an influential part in proceedings. ‘No one at the Conference,’ he wrote to Fraser, ‘has brought higher ideals to our work nor more persistence in seeking to give effect to them. The Chapter on Trusteeship, which owes so much to your guidance, will, I am confident, prove to be one of the most historic of our achievements. You have contributed much to making it a sure basis for the advancement and welfare of untold millions.

‘I sincerely trust that the many improvements in the Charter for which your efforts have been responsible will be a source of enduring satisfaction to you. It has been an honour and a privilege to be associated with you in this work2.’

Australian pressure was, in fact, partly responsible for the width and generosity of Articles 73 and 74, which applied to all non-self-governing territories; but on one significant point Australian initiative was unsuccessful. The proposal that all powers administering such territories should make reports to the United Nations on their general development was whittled down to a request for technical

1 Cf. address by Fraser on 28 Oct 1948.—International Conciliation, 1948, p. 651.

2 Stettinius to Fraser, 23 Jun 1945.

page 341 and statistical information. On the broader issue, the Australians were by no means satisfied with the procedure which merely made it possible for powers holding territories which were neither League mandates nor former enemy property voluntarily to place them under trusteeship. In spite of Australian pressure, however, the Charter as finally drafted did not even lay it down that all mandated or ex-enemy territories must be brought under the new system. On these issues New Zealand was in general accord with Australia; for at this time the two dominions had a common attitude, and took pains to co-ordinate their thinking.

In the formative discussion on trusteeship, then, New Zealand was, in part, muzzled by her chairmanship of the relevant committee, but her ideas were not unexpressed, and the documents in this field represented the kind of compromise that might have been expected between small power and great power attitudes. The effort to get all colonial territories brought within the scope of trusteeship was signally defeated; yet all members of the United Nations holding such territories subscribed to a statement of principles with a solid humanitarian core. Under Article 73, the interests of the inhabitants of all non-self-governing territories is declared to be paramount. Subject only to the need to maintain international peace and security, all administering powers promise to promote the ‘political, economic, social and educational advancement’ of such territories, and specifically to guide them towards self-government. Article 74 lays down that, in respect of colonial no less than of metropolitan territories, the policy of members of the United Nations ‘must be based on the general principle of good-neighbour-liness, due account being taken of the interests and well-being of the rest of the world, in social, economic and commercial matters.’ Benevolence and international co-operation were, then, the keynotes, and they were sounded even more strongly in Chapter XII of the Charter, which defined the manner of dealing with those territories which any nation should place under the International Trusteeship system. The basic objectives of the system were declared to be:


To further international peace and security;


To promote the political, economic, social, and educational advancement of the inhabitants of the trust territories, and their progressive development towards self-government or independence as may be appropriate to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned, and as may be provided by the terms of each trusteeship agreement;


To encourage respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion, and to encourage recognition of the interdependence of the peoples of the world; and

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To ensure equal treatment in social, economic, and commercial matters for all members of the United Nations and their nationals, and also equal treatment for the latter in the administration of justice.

The ideals were generous, though imprecise; but it was made very clear that there was no binding obligation on any power to place any territory under the system; that if any territory should be so placed, this would be done by individual agreement; and that any colonial territory could be classed as a strategic area and thus lifted into the ken of the Security Council and out of that of the Trusteeship Council. Moreover, in contrast with the mandates system, trust territories were expressly included in the military provisions of the new security system.

In short, trusteeship was not ungenerously defined, but it would exist only if countries with colonial territories invoked it, and expressly negotiated agreements to bring it into being. The force behind it, so Fraser characteristically hoped, would be the realisation on the part of administering powers ‘that it is their moral responsibility to promote the well being of the peoples under their care, and this applies to the treatment of all non-self-governing peoples, whether they are within or without the confines of the metropolitan state1.’ So far as New Zealand was concerned, it was clear that she intended to bring Western Samoa into the new system. Fraser's attitude was plainly that New Zealand should not only do the decent thing in that territory but be recognised as so doing by world opinion as now mobilised in the United Nations Organisation: a course of action, incidentally, which appeared to be right in principle, and at the same time offer the most practicable means of dealing with the existing situation in Western Samoa.2 The formal decision was taken by cabinet on 18 December 1945, and the offer conveyed to the first meeting of the General Assembly on the 31st of the same month; this being the first offer made by any country to operate the new trusteeship system.3 New Zealand made it clear that, while the trusteeship agreement was being negotiated, she would ‘continue to administer Western Samoa in accordance with the terms of the Mandate’ in the interests of the inhabitants.4

The drafting of the agreement raised problems, and threw light on some of New Zealand's fundamental attitudes. There was a current of opinion, for example, that New Zealand, having pushed the notion of trusteeship so hard, should go more than the minimum

1 International Conciliation, 1948, p. 660.

2 ‘Only a dramatic movement towards self-government can satisfy the aspirations of the people.’—Report of United Nations Mission, 1947, p. 26.

3 New York Times, 1 Jan 1946.

4 Minister of External Affairs to NZHC, London, 13 Apr 1946.

page 343 distance in dealings with her own territories. Cabinet turned down the suggestion that the Cook Islands should be brought under the new system: legally they were an integral part of New Zealand territory, and, apart from Western Samoa itself, the only islands regarded as being possibly suitable for trusteeship were the Tokelaus. In discussions on the draft Samoan agreement, some embarrassment was caused by American policy. The Charter laid down that ‘other powers directly concerned’ must be consulted, and agree to the terms of every trusteeship agreement. The United States was clearly involved, both under this general provision, and because of those dealing with strategic areas. The United States did, in fact, propose in February a bilateral agreement with New Zealand involving the declaration of Upolu as a strategic area, the construction of bases for use by American, New Zealand, British and Australian forces, and the recognition of the American Government's right to take control of all defence facilities in Western Samoa ‘if in its judgment conditions at any time make such action necessary.’ This request was part of a plan to strengthen America's line of strategic bases in the Pacific by obtaining rights over a number of islands, including seven under New Zealand sovereignty; and it revived an aspect of American policy which had disturbed New Zealand on the eve of the war. The United States, it was felt by some influential New Zealanders, was combining a ‘traditional approach to problems of colonial administration’ which was ‘highly idealistic’ and ‘in some respects unreal’ with a request for ‘military base rights on terms…not in the best interests of the Samoans.’ Further, New Zealand was inclined to think that the problem had wider interest than did the United States. The Americans at first suggested that only they together with New Zealand were directly concerned, though they readily conceded an interest to Australia and, with hesitation, to Britain.

New Zealand had a realistic appreciation of the reasons against resisting a course on which the American Government was determined. Accordingly, her representatives told the United States frankly that she could have the bases she required, whether or not a bilateral agreement was negotiated, but that they meant to resist strongly the proposed procedure. They felt that it would be wrong in principle to push ahead with such an agreement. ‘The utmost significance was attached by New Zealand,’ they said, ‘to the “moral” considerations regarding this and every other international problem.’ They accordingly urged that American requirements could be met under a normal Trusteeship Agreement, and that any bilateral understanding should be deferred until the Trusteeship Agreement had been submitted to the United Nations Organisation. In particular, they strongly opposed the suggestion page 344 that any part of Western Samoa should become a strategic area, an idea popular with the American service chiefs precisely on the ground that it would enable American interests to be better protected through the United States' ‘special rights and privileges’ in the Security Council. New Zealand's attitude was explained to American officials in February and reiterated in July, when the draft Trusteeship Agreement for Western Samoa was formally submitted to ‘the states directly concerned.’ By this time, however, the United States Government had sharply changed its view on the need for bases in Pacific islands. Pressure for a strategic area in Samoa ceased, and it was agreed that negotiations for military rights should be postponed till the Trusteeship Agreement had been approved.

Meanwhile, the Trusteeship Agreement had been drafted. The New Zealand cabinet approached the problem with customary idealism. A Trusteeship Agreement, it remarked, ‘should be a message to the inhabitants as well as…to the administering authority.’ It should be ‘in effect a self-contained Bill of Rights for the inhabitants of the territories and should be capable of being understood by them as such…. The inhabitants of a trust territory should feel that a Trusteeship Agreement is the Charter of conditions under which they will live and an advance on the…terms of the Mandates1.’ As drafting proceeded it was influenced, said those concerned, by four major considerations: the interests of the Samoans; the provisions of the United Nations Charter relating to trusteeship; the desirability of following as closely as possible the form of the mandate; and the need for the agreement to be acceptable to the ‘states directly concerned.’ New Zealand regarded these states as being Australia, France, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, but in accordance with the Canberra Pact submitted the draft to Australia some time before the others. As regards Britain, the New Zealand Government had before it a draft agreement prepared by the British Government for Tanganyika and other territories, and it knew well enough the general attitude of the United States.

Its plan, adopted in early June, was that the draft, when approved by the ‘states directly concerned’, should be submitted to the New Zealand Parliament, and thereafter to the Legislative Council of Western Samoa. This timetable, however, proved impossible. A terminal date was fixed by the need to have the agreement approved by the forthcoming Assembly of the United Nations Organisation, lest there be insufficient agreements concluded to enable the trusteeship procedure to be launched. Discussion with the ‘states directly concerned’ took so long that Parliament adjourned before it was

1 Minister of External Affairs to NZHC, London, 13 Jan 1946.

page 345 completed, and the final draft could not be placed before the Samoan Legislative Council and the Fautua until the end of October, virtually simultaneously with its submission to the United Nations. This was a development naturally much resented by the Samoans.

The length of the discussions which produced this delay, and the thoroughness with which the draft was examined by the United Nations Organisation, were due, not to local conditions in Western Samoa or to the territory's relations with New Zealand, but to the international implications of this first attempt to define the character of trusteeship. For example, at one time the Americans attached great importance to the general principle of ‘the open door’, which some New Zealanders feared might lay the Samoans open to commercial exploitation, and the destruction of their particular way of life in favour of the doubtful blessings of a money economy. In 1945, it seemed, less than 2000 of a potential labour force of 25,000 were working for wages. American officials even claimed that the best interests of the Samoan people ‘can only be served adequately if the principles of free enterprise are adopted in the area.’ On the other hand, the clause in the draft agreement enabling New Zealand to give the United States the bases which she desired caused some uneasiness both to the British and the French governments. New Zealand for her part seemingly strove to keep the interests—if not the immediate wishes—of the Samoans at the centre of the discussion; though she was fully aware of the enormous weight that the United States could exert both in the framing and in the operation of international agreements.

The Trusteeship Agreement for Western Samoa was approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 13 December 1946. Its details belong to the history of self-government in Samoa, of trusteeship and ‘anti-colonialism’, not of New Zealand at war. So does the action taken in the post-war period to translate its generous and ambitious principles into practice. Strictly speaking, the end of hostilities found New Zealand's Samoan policy still undefined. The mere decision to adopt trusteeship did not carry with it the two important political decisions: the speed and strategy of progress towards self-government, and the balance to be held between economic and political evolution. Yet in a real sense the principles which must in the last resort control further developments had been firmly established by the end of 1945. What followed was the working out of trends which ran back not only into the wartime period but far beyond that into New Zealand's fundamental attitudes. Moreover, not only had general principle been reaffirmed, it had to some extent been embodied in practical details.

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In the first place, by 1945 the New Zealand Government, with Fraser as its driving force, was convinced that action of some kind was necessary. This conviction showed in Fraser's visit to Samoa in 1944, and in the appointment in October 1945 of Colonel F. W. Voelcker to succeed Sir Alfred Turnbull, who had administered Western Samoa for ten years. A man who soon reached the conclusion that the state of affairs in Samoa was ‘a mess’ and that ‘something will have to be done and done quickly’ had been chosen to succeed an Administrator whose policy, at least in later years, had been one of allowing the Samoans to run their local affairs with a minimum of interference from Apia. True, Fraser, it seemed, had not yet made up his mind finally as to the ‘something’ that should be done. When Voelcker asked for instructions, he was told, he said later, that ‘other than allowing the Samoans to live the life they wished in the manner they wished, I was to form my own conclusions about local problems’. Nevertheless, in the setting of 1945, it seemed clear that Samoan affairs could imperatively claim the Prime Minister's attention. The period of drift and of attempted casual and temporary solutions was closing.

In the second place, for all Fraser's reluctance to define a policy till forced to act by external pressures, the basis of his ultimate decision was already established. It lay not only in actions taken but in his general attitude—and in the general attitude of his cabinet and his party and probably of New Zealand as a whole—towards human and political problems. If the dilemma should arise of choice between efficient government and self-government, or between economic and political progress, Fraser could not have opted to impose benevolent rule by force. He said so in almost so many words a few months after Voelcker's appointment. As it soon appeared, Voelcker thought that the Samoans needed firm, considerate government and a vigorous policy of education and public works, not the appeasement of political leaders who were demanding a degree of self-government for which the community was not prepared. Faced with the expression of these opinions, Fraser made it clear that in his view good will was more important than efficiency, and that ‘progress’ could only be made if the government had the confidence of the governed.

Self-government, in short, must if necessary have precedence over good government, and the chief regulative factor in policy-making was to be the maintenance of good will between the two races, rather than the principle of material efficiency in public administration. Thus far the basis of future action was clear. One other fact, however, was made clear by New Zealand's whole wartime experience: the time-lag between acceptance of principle and the achievement of definitive action. In general terms, New Zealand governments page 347 normally proceed by tackling day-to-day problems, and are fortunate if out of such activity a broad strategy emerges. In particular, problems of dependent territories ranked low in government preoccupations and notably below external affairs. Planned and sustained effort to apply promptly to Western Samoa the ideals which had been accepted and the general policy which had been adopted by 1945 would have been out of character. At the end of the war, accordingly, it was clear enough what New Zealand proposed to do about Western Samoa, and it was clear what principles would guide her decisions. What was still obscure was the pace at which she proposed to move towards the accepted goal of Samoan self-government, and by what detailed means. Wartime developments, however, gave reasonable ground for the claim that, in her dealings with this major dependent territory, New Zealand took seriously, whether or not she applied effectively, those ideals of trusteeship which she had so strenuously advocated in the forum of the United Nations.