The First Strange Place

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Stephanie Seal Walters, Spring 2016

In _The First Strange Place: Race and Sex in World War II Hawaii, Beth Bailey and David Farber explore life in Hawaii during World War II. According to Bailey and Farber, for troops making their way to fight in the Pacific Theater of World War II usually found themselves in Hawaii as their last stop before the war. To the troops who were stationed in Hawaii before heading to fight in the Pacific, many of these soldiers, Marines, airmen, and sailors had never left their homes in the continental United States--which was still under segregation by Jim Crow (5). Hawaii was the first "strange" place that these men had ever encountered, with large populations of native Hawaiians living, dining, shopping, etc. in the same places as whites.

The book grapples with three historiographical questions that Bailey and Farber seek to answer. The first seeks to understand American identity for American troops and Hawaiians. Even though Hawaiians had United States citizenship, as a US territory, many Hawaiians did not feel as though they had many of the rights of citizenship--and for good reason. With American bases on Hawaii and many troops coming in and out of the area, Hawaiians felt like they were treated as foreigners in their own homes. Additionally, black men who joined the military to fight in World War II also faced problems with identity. Even though they were fighting the same war as white troops for the same country, they were often treated unfairly and were housed in barracks much more underwhelming than those of white troops.

The second theme of the book surrounded sex and cultural racism. According to Bailey and Farber, prostitution was one of the biggest money makers in Hawaii. With young men heading for the dangerous Pacific and unsure whether or not they were going to make it back to the continent, troops had large tendencies to seek out prostitutes. However, the biggest problem with prostitution on the island had little to do with morality, but more so with who had access to which women. Few prostitutes were native Hawaiian and more were from the continental United States. While men on American bases were allowed to seek out prostitutes as they pleased, native Hawaiian men were not allowed to have sex with these prostitutes. This ultimately perpetuated the notion that white women "belonged" to white men and allowed racist ideas of sex to be pushed further.

The third theme of the book surrounded social and cultural constructs perpetuated by the era. These included similar themes to those above, including sexism and racism. However, troops and locals did find common ground often, allowing them to interact with one another unlike how they would in the United States due to segregation.

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