Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tales of the South Pacific. James Michener. (1)

New York: Fawcett
1946 (1974)

Why read it? Series of short stories based on incidents experienced by the author when he served in the South Pacific during WWII. The theme is waiting, the endless waiting, to see action. The waiting occurred because the islands leading toward the Japanese mainland had to be staffed and prepared for the string of attacks on islands nearer the Japanese mainland. In fact, the planning, including the medical planning in anticipation of certain types of wounds, is absolutely amazing. It made me think that what won WWII was superior planning and organizing--and waiting (or patience).

The author describes the beauty of the South Seas, the characters, the interaction between the military and the natives, the courage of people like the British "remittance man," who reported on Japanese troop and ship movements to the U.S. military until he was tracked down and butchered by the Japanese. The battle scenes are vivid and memorable and so are the actions of soldiers, sailors and airmen doing the job they were asked to do.

And then there was the Japanese honor graduate of Cal Tech who planned the Japanese defense of the island of Kuralei and the mad Japanese soldier who held a hand grenade to his chest and blew not only himself but Commander Hoag, a leader whom his men respected, into the next world. And the Christmas Eve service where the men were told that they were going to be the group to hit the next beach and the men cheered.

The experience of WWII in the Pacific is best summed up by Michener on page 12: "They will live a long time, these men of the South Pacific.... They, like their victories, will be remembered as long as our generation lives. After that, like the men of the Confederacy, they will become strangers. Longer and longer shadows will obscure them until their Guadalcanal sounds distant on the ear like Shiloh and Valley Forge."

But this book will keep these men and women who served in the South Pacific and the environment in which they lived alive as long as people will read it.

Next: Ideas and Quotes for Discussion.

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