Pearls of Remembrance


POSTED: Monday, December 01, 2008

History is rarely neat. Everything is so interconnected to everything else—both sideways as well as frontward and backwise in time—that history books tend either to focus on some tiny minutia of a factoid, or they grow, like the Blob, into sprawling encyclopedias. To the enthusiastic researcher, everything is cool and interesting.





”;Hawai'i Homefront: Life in the Islands During World War II”;

        By MacKinnon Simpson


(Bess Press)







        Book signings with MacKinnon Simpson, author of “;Hawai'i Homefront”; and “;USS Arizona: Warship, Tomb, Monument”;:


» Saturday: 2 to 3 p.m., Borders Ward Centre


» Dec. 13: 1 to 2 p.m., Borders Windward Mall



Which is why we have editors to beat things down to a workable load. When the subject is as charged and multidimensional as the Pearl Harbor attack and the effect it had on Hawaii during the war—not to mention the effect Hawaii had on the war!—a project can take on a life of its own.

Hawaii historian, writer and typography wrangler MacKinnon “;Mac”; Simpson got so interested in the visual aspects of wartime Hawaii that his 144-page book concept ballooned up to more than 200 pages, and, you know, it still isn't enough. Pearl Harbor is such a rich vein that the only subject to which more books have been devoted is the Kennedy assassination.

By nature, Simpson's book is a scrapbooklike collection of images loosely grouped by subject, with just enough standard-issue history in the text to support the subject. The Pearl Harbor attack itself is the weakest part of the volume, as nothing here is new, but it's a necessary background to the rest of the volume.

  ;  Simpson has no brief to put across, no thesis statement other than simply sharing a terrifically assembled collection of images. He's showing rather than telling, and if the effect is rather wandersome, it's still fascinating. “;Hawai'i Homefront”; neatly fills the rather large niche between the textbooky “;Hawaii's War Years,”; by Gwenfread Allen, and DeSoto Brown's jaunty “;Hawaii Goes to War.”;

Simpson misses a lot—there is little discussion of martial law, for example, or the attacks on the neighbor islands by Japanese submarines, or of the massive encampments across the territory and the social changes wrought by them—but then, the book is only a couple of hundred pages, isn't it? Tanks, we see, are simply referred to as “;tanks”; and not M2A3s and M3A1s, which is what they are, but that's for the rivet counters. (On the other hand, halftracks aren't “;trucks.”;)

For every omission that might irk a Monday-morning historian, there are dozens of things to inform the average reader, exactly the target of this volume. These things include rare looks at civilian militias, the introduction of the “;Jeep”; to the islands, the burgeoning role of women in defense positions, and the sense of camaraderie that prevailed and helped break down social classes.

“;Hawai'i Homefront”; is a useful and entertaining addition to the library of the Pacific war, marred only by computer pixilation of some picture details.