This week, I published a piece in Guernica magazine about a recent visit Rick Perry made to Palau. I’m sharing it here, and hope it offers some insight into the current state of what I call a kind of “new Pacific Theater,” emphasis on the theatrical: island stages for dramatic performances, political and strategic and largely international. It’s been seventy years since World War II raged through the Pacific, but the effects are still felt in the islands — how far and wide run the ripples of war?
You can find the essay here: “Don’t Mess With the Other Texas.”
After I wrote the Guernica piece, I read two books that I found immensely good reads, and quite by accident, very thematically relevant: The Master Blaster, by P.F. Kluge, which is set in Saipan but shares many Palau parallels, and entertains as much as it sharply depicts the reality of the post-WWII U.S. Commonwealth; and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, one of the 70 books that made the excruciating final cut for shipment to Palau (thank god my sister was there to talk me down).
In Cat’s Cradle, published in 1963, we’re given the fictional island nation of the Republic of San Lorenzo, which has been “reorganized” by foreign nations over the years, most recently the U.S., and which every year celebrates the national holiday The Day of the Hundred Martyrs to Democracy: “San Lorenzo conscripted a hundred men to fight on the side of democracy. These hundred men were put on a ship bound for the Untied States, where they were to be armed and trained. The ship was sunk by a German submarine right outside of [San Lorenzo’s] harbor.”
Vonnegut illuminates the futility and the ironies of war and colonization, and the ripple effects of the atom bomb–critically, satirically, but not hopelessly. I remember Vonnegut giving a presentation at Tufts when I was an undergrad. He was a humanist; he believed we were capable of more than this. And so I’ll sign off with an excerpt from this fictional speech commemorating the Hundred Martyrs:
“My soul insists that I mourn not a man but a child. I do not say that children at war do not die like men, if they have to die. To their everlasting honor and our everlasting shame they do die like men, thus making possible the manly jubilation of patriotic holidays. But they are murdered children all the same. And I propose to you that if we are to pay our sincere respects to the hundred lost children of San Lorenzo, that we might best spend the day despising what killed them; which is to say, the stupidity and viciousness of all mankind. Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns.”
Incidentally, in Rick Perry’s speech commemorating the Battle of Peleliu, the American flag was conspicuously missing. Instead, two flags waved side by side: Palau, and the great state of Texas.