- Memories of War: Micronesians in the Pacific War
This welcome volume joins what is by now a venerable list of anthropological analyses of the effects of World War II on Pacific Islanders (The Pacific Theater: Island Representations of World War II, edited by Geoffrey M White and Lamont Lindstrom ; Island Encounters: Black and White Memories of the Pacific War, by Lindstrom and White ; and The Typhoon of War: Micronesian Experiences of the Pacific War, by Lin Poyer, Suzanne Falgout, and Laurence Carucci ), and it represents the culmination of a project begun by the latter authors in 1990–1991.
The book's focus is on Micronesian cultural memories of the war as they have been preserved in songs, dances, stories, and chants. Much of the text is devoted to extensive quotations from interviews with individuals who lived through the war years and recounted their recollections for the authors. Also provided are numerous song texts from different island areas, with a lengthy song from Fais (Yap, FSM) occupying nearly nine pages of the concluding chapter. Most of the cultural memories presented in the book are of fear, suffering, and hardship, but a few are of romance, sadness, and separation. World War II intruded into the lives of Micronesians through no fault of their own; it was someone else's fight in which they, unfortunately, happened to occupy a major battleground. While some Micronesian islands were more or less razed to the ground (eg, Enewetak, RMI; and Peleliu, Republic of Palau), others were bombed and shelled but spared an amphibious assault (eg, Chuuk and Pohnpei, FSM). Still others, notably some of the smaller outer-island atolls, were barely touched directly by combat activities. But since many Micronesians were located away from their home islands at the war's outbreak, cultural memories of separation and hardship are widespread throughout the region.
The book is divided into five sections. Part I begins with a chapter outlining Micronesia as a region, after which the authors provide a succinct [End Page 205] discussion of memory in general and cultural memory in particular in chapter 2. Part II contains four chapters offering "Micronesian Understandings of the Pacific War," and part III likewise consists of four chapters representing "Micronesian Vantage Points." These two sections of the book contain the bulk of the data presented from interviews and songs. Two chapters constitute part IV, "Cultural Themes in Micronesian Wartime Narratives," and the two chapters in the final part, "Conclusions," seek to place wartime memories in a contemporary context. Such a context includes a continued and growing US military presence in the islands. That preparation for possible war remains a lively issue in Micronesia at present is evidenced by the ongoing US missile testing at Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, and by the recent military buildup on Guam in the Mariana Islands (see "Tip of the Spear: Guam is on Point for U.S. in Asia," Pacific Magazine, March /April 2008).
A virtue of the authors' mode of presentation is that the reader gains a good understanding of and appreciation for Micronesians' wartime experiences in their own words, and wherever possible the authors attribute interviews and song texts to specific named individuals. Having carried out their questioning exclusively in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), the authors had to rely on the work of other scholars (notably Wakako Higuchi) for data on Palau. They essentially exclude the Mariana Islands from consideration, even though some of the war's more memorable battles occurred there (especially on Guam and Saipan), and the few brief references they make to the war's impact in Kiribati seem somewhat tacked onto their central concern with Chuuk, the Marshalls, Pohnpei, and the Outer Islands of Yap State, FSM.
Perhaps because they wrote a more extensive volume on the topic in 2001, it was probably inevitable that the authors' present book...