Siria's Reviews > The First Strange Place: Race and Sex in World War II Hawaii

The First Strange Place by Beth L. Bailey
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's review
Apr 07, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: american-history, history, nonfiction
Read from April 07 to 13, 2012

This is a really interesting, thoughtful book about Hawaii during the Second World War. The island chain was seen as unimaginably foreign by servicepeople, both white and black, stationed there from the U.S. mainland—its ethnic diversity and the degree to which the different populations interacted, while far from making Hawaii a bastion of racial harmony and equality, marked it out as being entirely unlike the still provincial and segregated Lower 48. Yet Hawaii was still an American territory, and seen as being on the front lines of the war.

Bailey and Farber don't attempt any radically new arguments (as far as I know; neither U.S. nor Hawaiian history are my forte) or innovative methodology here, but they write with a quiet empathy which is very pleasant to read. The use of copious primary sources—taken from letters, diaries, and interviews—really helps the reader to conjure up the claustrophobic, overcrowded nature of Hawaii, in particular Oahu, from '41 to '45. There are some very interesting and revealing anecdotes, which show both the absurdity, the cruelty, and the real world ramifications of classification by race. For example, the fact that in the pre-war census, the tiny black population on the islands was largely of Puerto Rican descent. However, Puerto Ricans were mostly of white Hispanic descent, and were classed as such on the census, so almost the entire black population of Hawaii was classified as Caucasian, according to the census—in other words, there were officially no black people!

A highly readable book, and definitely recommended if you have an interest in its subjects.

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04/07/2012 page 20
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