Memories of War
Micronesians in the Pacific War
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: University of Hawai'i Press
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We are very grateful to the Micronesians who granted us interviews during our oral history project in 1990–1991, which was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Neither our earlier book, The Typhoon of War, nor this one could have been written without their help. Those participants who wished to be named are listed in the Appendix. In direct quotations...
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Pacific Island names and their spellings have varied throughout the historic period. Even today, Islanders often prefer different spellings from those recognized as “official” by their national governments. This table lists names and spellings of islands and island groups mentioned in the text. The first column is the spelling used in this book. The second column is the spelling...
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Some sixty years after the end of World War II, Micronesians still speak about their wartime experiences, and those of their parents and grandparents, as a time of profound transition, “the greatest hardship” that they and their societies have endured. These islands, ruled by Japan for decades before the war, contested in the bloody Central Pacific campaigns of 1943–1945, then...
Part I. Backgrounds
Chapter 1. “Micronesia”
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The attempt to portray Micronesian cultural memories of the war is a more ambitious task than it may at first seem. Micronesia—which includes the Marshall, Caroline, Marianas, and Kiribati islands and Nauru—is a vast area of the world and one that embraces much geographic, cultural, linguistic, and historical complexity.1...
Chapter 2. Cultural Memories and the Pacific War
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Scholars have written volumes on the importance of memory. They point out that our experience of the present is largely based on, or even embedded within, our knowledge of the past. While knowledge of the past is not unchanging, they argue, it nevertheless helps to keep us oriented. But what is a memory? Our commonsense notion of memory is an individual’s experience...
Part II. Micronesian Understandings of the Pacific War
The brief review of the events of the Pacific War in Micronesia contained in chapter 1 represents a standard narrative of the conflict from the viewpoint of military historians. It also displays the power of the historical narratives of the two major combatant powers, the United States and Japan, to define those events. In actuality, no single overarching narrative of “the war” can represent...
Chapter 3. The Meaning of War
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Micronesian societies maintain highly valued warrior traditions, pasts in which chiefs and military action hold central significance. In stories of ancient times, warriors waged important battles both at home and against other islands. The actions and events of these battles hold value in the present (just as Americans refer to past military victories for modern inspiration), and well-known...
Chapter 4. The Shock of War
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When asked to recall the start of the war, many, perhaps most, Micronesians describe it as a surprise, a shock. People recalled that in the late 1930s the Islands were prosperous, with plentiful opportunities for wage labor, with young people, especially, busy making money, traveling, enjoying imported goods, learning the Japanese language and customs. The work and bustle simply...
Chapter 5. Hardship and Suffering
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An important factor shaping individual and cultural memories is how people identify events or conditions that contrast with the day-to-day course of life. Elderly people measure their wartime experiences against recollections of peaceful (though not uneventful) times before and after the war years. Just how different those war years were from the ordinary experiences of life varied...
Chapter 6. Combat Experiences
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At the start of the war, most Micronesians had been impressed with Japanese military preparations, and after nearly three decades of acculturation, they supported Japanese predictions of victory and willingly joined in patriotic activities for the emperor. As we will see in chapter 7, Japanese law did not allow Micronesians to enlist in the military (though a few sons of Japanese...
Part III. Micronesian Vantage Points
Narrators tell their tales from particular vantage points and with particular psychological tones. The nature of the war being waged, the roles of participants, and the variety of individual experiences combine to create distinctive war stories. The experience of war differs—often dramatically—depending on where one is and what is happening at the time. In a world...
Chapter 7. “It Was Not Our War”
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The Japanese began the Pacific War confidently, with a strong offensive against U.S. and British possessions in the region. For the Allies, the Pacific theater was a secondary front: they decided to defeat Hitler in Europe before focusing their forces against Japan. Once engaged, though, they mounted a two-pronged drive, along with attacks on shipping, to dominate the region...
Chapter 8. The Typhoon of War
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Given the remoteness of the islands, the effective Allied blockade, and laws prohibiting travel and the spread of war-related information, it is hardly surprising that most Micronesians knew little about how their experiences compared with those of others in distant locales. And in fact, we have seen that there is little reference to the wider view in wartime narratives. Instead, stories...
Chapter 9. Questions of Loyalty
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Layered over accounts depicting Islanders’ relative powerlessness, lack of knowledge, and shock are themes speaking to the challenge of coming to terms with two sets of foreigners, the war’s major combatants: Who were these warriors? Why were they here? What would be the fate of local people as a result?...
Chapter 10. Micronesian Responses to Wartime Pressures
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Micronesian memories recall not only the hardships of war, but also the strategies used to endure it. They depict themselves as survivors, drawing on a wide array of resources to make the best of tough times. Coping stories constitute deliberate efforts to pass on what elders learned, to teach important lessons about mutual dependence and aid, risk taking, and the importance of...
Part IV. Cultural Themes in Micronesian Wartime Narratives
People in every culture share a distinctive set of interests. Whether we think of these as key symbols, cultural themes that run through many aspects of life, or structures of consciousness and agency, anthropologists spend much of their time seeking to understand the unique congeries of ideas, values, and symbols that make each culture a separate and to a certain extent integrated...
Chapter 11. Some Micronesian Preoccupations
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Happiness is an important value in Micronesian cultures, most often taking a form perhaps best translated as psychological and physical contentment.1 Contentment comes from an individual’s social standing—that is, the possession of a certain rank (or position) in the community, which brings acknowledgment of one’s worth and respect. It also comes from social harmony...
Chapter 12. Greetings and Farewells
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Anyone who has lived on a Pacific Island treasures memories of poignant welcomes and leave-takings. Small islands, by their nature, make vivid settings for ceremonies of arrival and departure. Ships or planes are sighted at a distance and watched into port; songs, dances, and feasts often mark the start and finish of visits. Even the ordinary comings and goings of travel off-island to...
Part V. Conclusions
Chapter 13. Wartime Memories in the Modern World
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War shatters communities. Much of history recounts how military conflict transforms the political, economic, social, and physical landscape of contending powers. But wars continue to affect a society long after the obvious damage has been repaired. In this book we have considered one aspect of the long-term significance of war: that is, how the cultural memories of the...
Chapter 14. “The Great Airplane”
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We end this book with the full text of a dance song composed on Fais Island shortly after the war. The song is revealing because it represents the maintenance of an acutely local, but also an increasingly globalized, Micronesian identity. This dance song covers the entire span of Fais Islanders’ wartime experiences, both on their home island and on nearby Yap, where they were...
Appendix. List of Participants in Oral History Interviews
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Publication Year: 2008