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Reviewed by:
  • Pathways to the Present: U.S. Development and Its Consequences in the Pacific
  • James P. Kraft
Pathways to the Present: U.S. Development and Its Consequences in the Pacific. By Mansel G. Blackford. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2007. 28 pp. $48.00 (cloth).

In this well-researched and tightly organized study, Mansel G. Blackford considers the importance of economic developments and environmental issues in areas of the Pacific owned or controlled by the United States after World War II. The Hawaiian Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Philippines, and parts of Japan fall within its purview. So, too, do the coastlines of Alaska, California, and Washington. In all of these areas, the presence of the American military loomed large. Military spending created jobs and higher standards of living, but also threatened traditional lifestyles and natural resources. Individuals and groups opposed military and business initiatives on environmental grounds, and in doing so blazed new “pathways to the present.”

The book’s opening chapter explains that World War II was a major turning point in the Pacific world. The war not only broke up colonial forms of government but also affected the way people understood and dealt with environmental issues. Environmental concerns accompanied many postwar developments in the Pacific, and prompted many local [End Page 121] residents to interact with civic leaders and government agencies in ways that affected the environment. In places like Hawai‘i and Guam, the rise of postwar environmental movements merged with sovereignty issues. Indigenous groups who had long opposed American military and economic policies in their communities played a major role in creating new environmental protection measures.

These and related themes come to light in an early chapter on the evolution of Kaho‘olawe, the smallest of the eight major islands in the Hawaiian archipelago. Throughout the postwar years, the U.S. Navy used Kaho‘olawe as a bombing range. Native Hawaiians waged a long and bitter struggle to “heal” the island, and ultimately accomplished many of their goals. One of the book’s later chapters considers how land-use issues shaped the history of Guam. Many Guamanians, including Chamorros, successfully resisted the military’s effort to construct a new ammunition wharf at scenic Sella Bay. They also struggled to protect other picturesque spots and natural resources. Another chapter shows how Alaskans worked to stop nuclear tests in the Bering Strait, and to regulate fishing, oil production, and other commercial activities along the Aleutian Islands.

This work is not limited to questions of how military and capitalist developments impacted flora and fauna. One of its chapters traces the rise of Silicon Valley and other “high-tech” districts along the Pacific Rim. The postwar rush to develop microchip technology in those places created a host of environmental and urban problems, from water pollution and traffic congestion to skyrocketing home prices. The problems in turn spawned grassroots environmentalist movements that shaped economic developments. Yet another chapter explains how residents of Hiroshima worked to rebuild their city after the war and considers how their efforts paralleled those of environmentalists in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay area.

Pathways to the Present could easily be used in classrooms. The book focuses on areas of the world not normally covered in textbooks and provides a rich background into the cultural and geographic conditions that made each of those areas unique. It offers many colorful stories and controversies that would no doubt interest students, such as the impact of brown tree snakes on Guam and the evolution of Alaska’s king crab industry. It also shows how fragile ecosystems can be and how individuals and groups can protect those systems. More important, it shows that “progress” is difficult to define and usually benefits some groups at the expense of others. [End Page 122]

James P. Kraft
University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa