It's a safe bet that most Americans have never heard of Diego Garcia, the largest island in the Chagos archipelago. Why would they—the island is in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Thanks to our time in the navy, we actually knew about the place and knew that the U.S. military had made it an important base in the region.
What we didn't know was how the U.S. and the island's ruling power, Great Britain, had established a military presence on Diego Garcia. That's the sorry subject of Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia by David Vine, just published by Princeton University Press.
We learned about the book and the ugly history of the military involvement there in a review by Jonathan Freedland in the May 28 issue of the New York Review of Books.
In a nutshell, the problem is this: neither the UK nor the US paid much, if any, heed to the rights of the native people. The Chagossian people once lived something akin to a tropic paradise. Though they were hardly rich, they enjoyed a life of "lush plenty" and "relative freedom," Freedland writes.
That all changed when the U.S. decided it needed a powerful military base on the island, the better to keep an eye on the Persian Gulf (read: Iraq and Iran). The locals were simply removed from the island. Now, years after the fact, the Chagossians are spread around the world, including a group living outside London and working at menial jobs.
According to Freedland, this story "is one of the more shocking tales of modern-day imperialism." After reading this compelling review, we agree.