The Contemporary Pacific 14.1 (2002) 255-257
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The Typhoon of War: Micronesian Experiences of the Pacific War
The Typhoon of War: Micronesian Experiences of the Pacific War, by Lin Poyer, Suzanne Falgout, and Laurence Marshall Carucci. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8248-2168-8, xiii + 493 pages, maps, photographs, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. US$54.
Featuring a rich array of Micronesian voices, anthropologists Lin Poyer, Suzanne Falgout, and Laurence Carucci offer readers a fine historical resource that testifies to the resilience and agency of diverse Islanders in challenging times. Typhoon of War culminates from more than three hundred interviews conducted by the authors in the early 1990 s in Chuuk, Kosrae, the Marshall Islands, Pohnpei, and Yap in an oral history project funded primarily by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The use of individual memories and experiences, as well as collective community songs and dances, significantly enriches knowledge of the Second World War from the eloquent and poignant perspectives of those Islanders who directly suffered its consequences, but who are typically unrepresented in the plethora of military histories of Micronesia in World War II. Although the broad spatial focus is on the entire Micronesian region, the authors devote most of their attention to those islands on which they conducted their interviews. Additional secondary-source materials have been incorporated for Palau and the Mariana Islands, and a few references are made to events affecting Kiribati and Nauru.
The authors rightly note that "little is known of the local view of the conflict, largely because Pacific Islander representations of history have been primarily oral and performative, recorded in narrative, dance, drama, and song" (3). This absence of Micronesian voices in the canonical American and Japanese histories does a disservice to those peoples whose lives were so transformed in the years before, during, and after the war. The authors locate the many ways in which diverse groups of Micronesians uniformly mark the Second World War as a turning point in their personal and national histories. As Poyer, Falgout, and Carucci write, "World War II in Micronesia meant, in short, both terrible suffering and momentous change. Nothing would ever be the same again" (14).
Although the book's temporal scope explicitly centers on the war years of 1941 to 1945, the authors extend their analysis to a much broader time frame, beginning with an important contextualization of daily life in the early period of Japanese colonial rule from 1914 and ending with contemporary Micronesian relations with the United States. Relying primarily on secondary sources, the authors map out the general contours of prewar Micronesian island economics, education, labor, religion, and interpersonal relations with Japanese immigrants under the Nan'yo-cho, Japan's civil administrative body. According to their sources, including Micronesian interviewees, despite the realities of racism and discrimination under the Nan'yo-cho, Islanders integrated into the Japanese economy, creating "regional and global connections, while [remaining] rooted in familiar life at home" (17).
In their treatment of the war, Poyer, Falgout, and Carucci attempt to avoid [End Page 255] a simple and single story of victimization, instead focusing on the ways in which Micronesians actively responded to the exigencies of critical food shortages, extreme labor demands, poor living conditions, separation from families and home islands, harsh disciplinary demands of Japanese military leaders, and incessant bombings of their islands. Additionally, they demonstrate well the diversity of Micronesian experiences along trajectories of island, rank, gender, and age, as well as degree and type of involvement in the war. Poyer, Falgout, and Carucci assert, "While memories of war work throughout Micronesia are predominantly those of hardship and suffering, it must be repeated that no experience is uniform--not even that of suffering" (104). Just as the authors exercise caution in demonstrating the variety and variability of Micronesian experiences and opinions of the war, so too do they point to differences in Islander experiences with Japanese persons. Despite the preponderance of traumatic experiences, for example, the authors note that Micronesians are generally reluctant to condemn Japan...