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A student assigned to comment on a particular image from an essay, poem, story, or whatever, should read, and reread the assigned material until one particular section or image presents itself as worthy of contemplation. One image from Joan Didion’s Letter from Paradise, her lamentation of the militarization of paradise and the social and cultural costs that followed, could be the following:
“War is viewed with a curious ambivalence in Hawaii because the largest part of its population interprets war, however unconsciously, as a force for good, an instrument of social progress.
“- That was Hawaii. And then World War II came. Island boys went to war, and came home with new ideas. Mainland money came in, against all Island opposition.”
“- The extent of the change, of course, has often been overstated, for reasons sometimes sentimental and sometimes strategic, but it is true that Hawaii is no more what it once was.”
To have visited Hawaii during the 1960s, when it was a vital logistical link in the growing American presence in Southeast Asia (which it largely remains) but before residential and, more prominently, tourism-related development drastically altered the island chain’s natural beauty, would have been to experience nirvana, especially when one was accustomed to the large metropolises of Mainland America. Since its annexation by the United States, however, Hawaii has served as a military bastion for the projection of American military power across the Pacific. Its vital role in the American war effort during World War II resulted in a major expansion of U.S. Navy activities there, and those activities remained a part of the local environment. As usually occurs, the major American military presence militarized the economy – the financial welfare of the islands became inextricably linked to the sizable military presence there – and radically transformed much of the culture. What was once paradise, Didion argued, was now an extension of the Pax Americana so many derided as symbolic of the imperialism that had colonized much of the so-called Third World.
The militarization of paradise was accompanied by the moral degradation of paradise, as U.S. sailors, Marines, soldiers and airmen frequented dive bars and brothels that preyed on financially-destitute indigenous women – much as what occurred around the former U.S. naval base in the Philippines. The military dollars that fueled Hawaii’s growth also cost it its virtue and, to a certain extent, its physical beauty.
If one had to select one passage or image from Letter from Paradise, the above would be a viable option.
Letter from Paradise is a fantastic essay by Joan Didion. This essay shows just how difficult life was during the war, even if you lived in a supposed paradise. I definitely believe one of the best images that stays with me throughout the essay and even afterwards would be the confused emotions she feels about being in Hawaii, the place where people are supposed to go to relax, have fun, etc, and about her father and the war, which was imposing upon the haze of fun that surrounded Hawaii.
Hope this helps!
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