Uniting or Dividing? Christianity and its Role for Relationships between Enemies during the Pacific War Christine Winter

Christine Winter

Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia

This paper analyses accounts by New Guinean villagers written during and shortly after the Pacific war. It explores New Guinean perceptions of the religious belonging of soldiers occupying their land. It asks if and to what extent religion provided meeting points across cultural and national divides. During the Pacific War, the Huon Peninsula, between the Bismarck Sea and the Markham and Ramu Valleys in New Guinea, was a borderland—a contested space not firmly controlled by Australian, American or Japanese armed forces. Complex relationships developed from 1942 to 1944 between New Guineans, occupying Japanese, Australian coast watchers operating behind enemy lines, and a small number of remaining German missionaries. Thus members of all three nations that had claimed formal colonial control were present throughout these eventful years, imposing on New Guineans for assistance and cooperation. Historians have argued that during the Pacific War, Christianity created a bond with the Allies, and a barrier to acceptance of the Japanese. I propose to complicate this assessment. The New Guinean men from the Huon Peninsula in their accounts and diaries placed themselves firmly on the side of Christianity. I argue that Christianity influenced relationships with Australians and Japanese.


Christine Winter, Matthew Flinders Fellow at Flinders University, is a historian whose work connects Australia, the Pacific and German-speaking Europe. She has published widely on colonialism, diasporas and identity transformation, and race science and ‘mixedness’. Her most recent publications explore the impact of WWI and WWII on New Guineans.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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