Papua New Guinea demands apology from Joe Biden over cannibalism remarks

Biden at War Memorial

US President Joe Biden visits a World War II memorial bearing the name of his uncle, Second Lieutenant Ambrose J. Finnegan, who died in Papua New Guinea. Screenshot from YouTube video on Associated Press channel. Fair use.

Several Papua New Guinea leaders and institutions are demanding an apology from United States President Joe Biden, who mentioned in two public speeches that his uncle was killed by cannibals during World War II.

While visiting a war memorial in Pennsylvania on April 17, Biden remarked that his uncle, Second Lieutenant Ambrose J. Finnegan, was killed by cannibals after his plane was shot down by Japanese forces in Papua New Guinea.

He got shot down in an area where there were a lot of cannibals at the time.

They never recovered his body, but the government went back when I went down there and they checked and found some parts of the plane.

He repeated the same story during an assembly of union workers in Pittsburgh.

He got shot down in New Guinea and they never found the body because there used to be — there were a lot of cannibals, for real, in that part of New Guinea.

His narrative is different from the official account of the US military:

For unknown reasons, this plane was forced to ditch in the ocean off the north coast of New Guinea. Both engines failed at low altitude, and the aircraft's nose hit the water hard. Three men failed to emerge from the sinking wreck and were lost in the crash. One crew member survived and was rescued by a passing barge. An aerial search the next day found no trace of the missing aircraft or the lost crew members.

Based on this account, the plane crashed in the ocean, and there was no evidence that cannibals killed Biden’s uncle.

Responding to Biden’s remarks, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape rejected the insinuation that cannibals killed US soldiers during the war.

President Biden’s remarks may have been a slip of the tongue; however, my country does not deserve to be labeled as such.

World War II was not the doing of my people; however, they were needlessly dragged into a conflict that was not their doing.

He has a proposal for the US government.

The theaters of war in PNG and Solomon Islands are many, and littered with the remains of WWII including human remains, plane wrecks, ship wrecks, tunnels and bombs. Our people daily live with the fear of being killed by detonated bombs of WWII.

I urge President Biden to get the White House to look into cleaning up these remains of WWII so the truth about missing servicemen like Ambrose Finnegan can be put to rest.

In a statement, Foreign Affairs Minister Justin Tkatchenko said that Biden’s statement marks “a low point in our bilateral relations” and that it “has the potential to hurt our cordial relations” if the White House will not correct it.

Opposition Deputy Leader Douglas Tomuriesa said the White House should apologize to Papua New Guineans.

President Biden’s comments contribute and are a testament to the broader misunderstanding and this fantasization from the West about cannibalism in PNG.

It is bemusing and sad that all President Biden could say in reference about PNG to his crowd was [about] a very isolated practice in a small number of villages in the country. This has since died out and no longer accepted in our society.

Post-Courier newspaper published an editorial reiterating the demand for Biden to apologize.

What is so hard about apologizing? Is the five-letter word SORRY so hard to utter? You might be the most powerful man in the world but President Joe Biden, your supremacy is nothing compared to the might of saying sorry.

We lost soldiers and war carriers, many innocent people were killed by your bombs and the Japanese army, and many of your old bombs left behind in New Guinea, still maim or kill people to this day.

So Uncle Joe, if your utterance was an unintentional blunder, just humble yourself and say sorry. That's all we beg of you. If you don't say sorry, the Chinese are more than willing to say sorry on your behalf.

The last line alludes to the rivalry between the US and China as both countries vie for influence in the Pacific. In fact, China’s foreign minister was in Papua New Guinea after Biden made his controversial remarks.

GT Bustin of PNG Tribal Foundation said Biden’s “misstatement is an insult to brave” citizens who assisted US troops during World War II.

I believe President Biden's remarks were embellished as a poor attempt to bring more honor to his fallen uncle and not in an attempt to offend the people of Papua New Guinea. As a leader, the President ought to do the right thing which is to acknowledge the false statement, apologize to the people of PNG, and move on.

Responding to the social media uproar, the US embassy in Papua New Guinea affirmed the Biden government’s commitment to foster closer relations between the two countries.

We have seen statements from President Biden regarding his uncle in WWII. President Biden highlighted his uncle's story as he made the case for honoring our sacred commitment to equip those we send to war.

The U.S. respects the people and culture of Papua New Guinea and remains committed to furthering respectful relations between our democracies.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.