National Geographic : 1942 Oct
Life on the Hawaii "Front" All-out Defense and Belt Tightening of Pacific Outpost Foreshadow the Things to Come on Mainland BY LIEUT. FREDERICK SIMPICH, JR. F LOWER leis have been rare in Hawaii since fateful December 7. The nimble fingers of the lei women have been turned to weaving camouflage nets for gun emplace ments (page 552). So, too, war has changed much else in the islands' way of life.* Waikiki Beach, as a possible enemy land ing point, is laced with barbed wire which persistent sunbathers use for a towel rack! Few surfboards or outriggers ride the off shore rollers. Submerged barbed wire and sporadic practice firing by mortars from the hills are hazards to discourage all but the most venturesome beach boys (page 546). Travel continues. Now more than ever, Hawaii is the crossroads of the Pacific. But it is a grim kind of travel, contrasting sharply with the gay tourism Hawaii used to know. Diplomats, plane crews of the Ferry Com mand, survivors of torpedoed merchantmen, and mainland-bound evacuees have replaced visitors' names on hotel registers. "They Say," and "I Just Heard" Conversations no longer turn on suntan and curios. Talk is of the latest act of heroism or the latest invasion rumor. War stories, true or false, which, because of censorship or lack of official confirmation never reach the mainland, gain rapid circulation. One hears how the Marines at Midway manned their guns and started shelling a marauding sub within 30 seconds after its periscope broke water. Or how the master of one sunken freighter became so accustomed to rationing his surviving boat crew that he can tell from memory just how many cherries are packed to a tin. Beach hotels are background for such night life as survives the complete blackout. To find relief from the dark and the curfew, many island residents take a room overnight, then dance or play cards in the blacked-out lobbies, returning home in the morning. Behind these vignettes of life in our Pacific outpost is a typically American community struggling to continue to work, go to school, and keep house under the constant threat of attack. All business, from the great pineapple and sugar plantations which form the backbone of Hawaiian economy, to the drive-in restaurants and beauty parlors which dot palm-lined Kalakaua Avenue, faces a battle for survival. Fancy the effect of a blackout on the opera tions of the world's largest fruit cannery. It must run 24 hours a day in some seasons, else pineapple will rot in the fields. Visualize what a 7:45 curfew means to the proprietor of a drive-in accustomed to doing most of his business after midnight. Pity the schoolteacher who must compete for the attention of a class of ten-year-olds with destroyers depth-charging right outside the window. Ships Are Life Lines of Island Life The islands' big problem is, however, sup ply. Hawaii is more dependent on ships for its existence than any other community of equal size. Virtually everything the islanders use, eat, or wear must come by ship. The fertile soil, best suited to pineapple and sugar, will not grow certain crops. Others die from insects, or, surviving, cost more because of high rents and wages than California grown imports. So, traditionally, food for Hawaii comes from the mainland in the very ships which carry its sugar and pineapples back. Likewise, lacking power and minerals in paying quantities, the islands depend on the mainland for everything manufactured, from toothbrushes to tin plate. Annually, Hawaii spends a hundred million dollars or more with mainland States on food, clothes, and the things men use. This is divided about equally between east- and west coast ports. Were Hawaii a foreign nation, this trade would put it ahead of any South American country, Cuba, Mexico, or China as one of the United States' best customers in normal times. This lack of self-sufficiency has long been hotly debated between those who look at the islands as a fortress for the defense of the American west coast, and no more, and those who, led by the sugar and pineapple planters, * See "Hawaiian Islands: America's Strongest Out post of Defense," by Gilbert Grosvenor, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, February, 1924; "Hawaii, Then and Now," by William R. Castle, October, 1938; and "Bird Life Among Lava Rock and Coral Sand: The Chronicle of a Scientific Expedition to Little Known Islands of Hawaii," by Alexander Wetmore, July, 1925.