Archival Remains: Searching for Family in the Wake of the Pacific War

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Presbyterian SymbolThe Presbyterian Historic Network welcomed Judy Bennett and Angela Wanhalla for the final lecture of the year.  They have become known for their research and investigation for uncovering the human story of children fathered by American soldiers in the South Pacific.

The South Pacific Command Area during World War II covered the Pacific Ocean east of the South West Pacific.  It excluded Australia and the western Solomon Islands.  American bases expanded into Polynesia and east Melanesia: New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii and New Caledonia.  This area remained outside of the Japanese expansion into the Pacific, although this was not to be expected.  So there were a lot of bored Americans, with plenty of time on their hands, the hidden history of families throughout the Pacific.

This is the beginning of the American military empire, expanding from between 11 to 14 bases to 2000 bases aroudn the world.  In June 1942 the first American Marines arrived in New Zealand via Samoa, a tsunami of men.

There are not a lot of Pacific records, including in Hawaii.  The dusky people of the South Pacific are at the bottom of archival records.

In the Cook Islands the District Agents were located across the road from the army camp and commented on what they saw and dealt with.  The consular records are in the contingent United States.  In Suva, Wellington, Auckland and New Caledonia immigrants had to meet the race criteria for white identity.  Immigrants needed to prove that they were more than 51% white: representing the grandparents on at least three sides of the family.  Immigration happens at the federal level of American government, but marriage laws in the United States vary from state to state.  The children raised in America become acculturated to the society that they live in.  They cannot return to their home culture.

If the men, the soldiers were determined to get their partner into America they would be transferred.  The opinion of the Red Cross was ‘He’ll get over it’.  Some of the American fathers attempted to establish contact with families and children in the South Pacific.  It was a struggle.

Different responses happen in different societies.  We know the illegitimate children in New Zealand but not the children who born to American soldiers.  In the Solomon Islands a strong sense of family shame resisted coming forward.  It would be disrespectful to their adoptive parents.  Children were adopted by wider family.  There were lower rates of institutionalism and abandonment in the South Pacific.

The study has focused on the children of the Pacific.  The white kids born in New Zealand are still looking.  The discovery of family secrets can be accidental, an angy moment from a third person in the family who knows.  This has become part of the narrative.  If the American family can be identified an unwillingness or lack of response is typical.  Sometimes the American family wants to know.

We can add a lot to people’s live by creating connections through archival documentation.  Discovering a photo or an image of the unknown father can be enough.  The narrative continues as the American military establishes a new base in the Philippines, the promise of a new forgotten generation.

Visit the U. S. Fathers of the Pacific Children website here.


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Marlene ZukThe Alan Wilson Centre hosted visiting professor and author Marlene Zuk for a lecture tour in New Zealand.  Tonight was Dunedin’s turn.  She spoke on the topic of her recent book: Paleofantasy: What evolution tells us about modern life.  As always, I took notes.

What would a cave woman do?  Especially when it comes to dieting.  And why does the artist always focus on her cleavage?  Popular evolutionary theory tells us we learn from negative choices, mainly: Avoid the bad stuff today or you are toast!

evolution: some where something went terribly wrong

Cave Mister Man strides across the white page at the end of the book, the pinnacle of evolution. His greatest moment is getting to carry the spear. Presumably pants came in about the same time as the invention of Woman.

Adaptation works through a series of tradeoffs and compromises to be good enough.  Speech was a tradeoff that creating the space in the mouth for articulation comes with the higher risk of choking to death on food.  Evolution is not an engineer, evolution is a tinkerer working with existing parts found lying around garage of our physical bodies.  It works with tradeoffs.

We have never been in perfect harmony with the environment.  It is a continuous process of adaptation.  Several times in human history developing a gene for metabolising dairy produce through natural selection has been a survival factor in human populations.

Adaptation can happen rapidly, like the crash of a sparrow population after spring storms.  We harvest the biggest fish in our fishing industry, leaving the breeding stock open to smaller and medium sized fish only.

Have you gone looking for clipart on the internet?  Does it ever show people older than 40 years plus doing stuff?  The average age of humanity in its evolutionary history has been 37 years.  High childhood mortality, children dying in their first five years of life, up to 50%, skewers where we put the average.  It may turn out that the diseases of old age were as equally common in previous generations as a cause of death.

There is no such thing as hunter-gatherer genes.  The chimpanzee diet may not prevent Attention Deficit Disorder — how do you tell if chimps do not have ADD.  I suspect the bottled water branded as ‘paleo water’ may come from a similar tap as I have at home.  We share one third of our genes with daffodils.  I do not think any one is recommending a diet of sunlight, water and changing the fertilizer every spring.

Humanity is not the pinnacle of the evolutionary process.  We are part of a branching pattern of life where all living things are as evolved as any other part of the pattern.  We are not meant to do anything.  There is no new 2014 model of humanity being launched on the production line.

Are humans still evolving?  We are not the end-goal of evolution.  Re-phrase the question: Do all people have the same number of children?  We take partners to create new human families.  Those choices affect the genetic composition of each generation, of each community and society.  Natural selection acts to cause slow gradual evolutionary change.

Organisms are never in harmony with the environment.  Mismatches happen.  Be wary of paleofantasies.

Paleofantasy by Marlene ZukAnd support funding for the Alan Wilson Centre in 2015!

Prospects for Peace in the Middle East

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RFalkThe first lecture of the week was from visiting professor Richard Falk hosted by the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago.  I’m not sure if we got a whole lecture.  His opening comments took up the better part of half an hour.  It left him to quickly summarise his address and conclude.  Nevertheless I consider what we got was dense in information, and note-taking, and reflected a movement in international thought that I have already heard this semester.

The prospects for peace in the Middle East are limited.  They depend on overcoming the obstacles for peace in the Middle East.  Even that much is an exercise in utopian dreams, the politics of impossibility.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War there was a shift of focus in world affairs from Europe to the Middle East.  The Middle East has the oil reserves; the United States is pre-occupied with the security of its Middle Eastern ally Israel; there was the risk of unstable nuclear proliferation; and the risk of the rise of political Islam.  The revolution in Iran was the first blast of the trumpet against the West.

There is a causal connection between the turmoil in the Middle East and the First World War.  Imagine the counterfactual that could have been if the natural political communities that existed in the Ottoman Empire had transformed into sovereign states.  The vision of a broader Arabic nation encouraged the Arabs of the Middle East to rise up against their Ottoman masters.  Instead Britain wanted to secure its control of the Suez Canal and France favoured a Christian Maronite state in Lebanon.  The Middle East was partitioned into British and French mandates, a compromise between colonialism and self-determination.

The British promised a Jewish homeland (not the same thing as a Jewish state).  They knew how to play off both sides against each other, they had had plenty of practice.  The United Nations agreed to a partition.  A decision rejected by the Palestinians and the Arab countries.  The Jewish people were compensated at the expense of Arab people.  Palestine was promised 45% of the land and after conflict held 22%.  Even that has been penetrated and occupied by Israeli settlers.  Israel rejects compromise by the Palestinian Authority and the Arab League.

Cold war thinking still demands military intervention.  However since 1945 conflict is won by legitimate causes over superior military strength.  Defeat on the battle is irrelevant.  Apparently there is an Afghani saying, You have the watches, we have the time.

While conflict continues in the Middle East, climate change, water shortages, and rising sea levels to which low-lying urban populations in the region are vulnerable cannot be addressed.

The conflict in the Middle East is exceptionally complex: it’s us versus them, and both sides can be internal to groups, or external.  It intervention from outside: colonial powers, the United States, and for a while, the Soviets.  It’s regional tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran, representing the opposing poles of Sunni and Shia sects.  It’s the rise of non-state agencies who can out-govern formal state structures: the Islamic State, the Kurds.

People prefer one hundred years of tyranny to a single year of chaos.

It’s a Life of Brian moment: “What have the Romans ever done for us?”…

In Israel more needs to be done to engage diplomatically, to seek a sustainable and just peace for the equality of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples.  In the Syrian war Iran is a stake-holder in the diplomatic process, a political actor with real grievances.  Military intervention is no longer a rational option, self-determination is the most viable option.

Conversations about Conservation

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The Department of Zoology of the University of Otago held a conversazione mark the end of the year at the Hutton Theatre in the Dunedin Museum.  Four topics for discussion were introduced: Natural neighbourhoods for city children; Sea lion bycatch in New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Squid Fishery; Water worries: hot, rich, dirty and dry;  and Species restoration using reintroduction and de-extinction.

Natural neighbourhoods for City Children

Urban areas are diverse, ranging from nature rich and creating environmental awareness to nature poor.  Children tend to have a high level of access to green-space with biodiversity.  Of course, children are allowed a restricted freedom of movement.  The study looked at kids from Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin.  Gardens encourage a connection with nature and children spend 40% of their time in them, along with sports grounds.  Children avoid woodlands, such as green-belts, and  streets, spending about 10% of time in those areas.  The social and economic status of households also affects the access to biodiversity.  Density reduces biodiversity.

Sea Lion Bycatch in New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Squid Fishery

Squid fishing occurs around the Auckland Islands.  Sea Lion population has recovered to the point that a colony re-established itself on the Otago Peninsula since 1993.  Between 1992 and 2009 it is estimated there have been 1322 deaths, especially females.  The death of each sea lion female means the pup she was raising at the time would starve to death, and no replacement pup would be born.  Escape devices to allow sea lions to escape from drowning in drag nets have been introduced.  The government and the fishing industry have declared the issue resolved.  More evidence is needed to establish this as true.  We only have to kill a few adult sea lions to wipe out a population.

Water Worries: Hot, Rich, Dirty and Dry

Farmlands have gone from tussock to sheep and beef, and now to big dairy.  Important to keep sediments out of streams.  The amount of water removed from the lower river for irrigation means only 10% of the trout in that part of the river survived.  Predators such as ferrets and feral cats eat well.  The proposed minimum flow for streams is 450 litres per second.  A more realistic amount required for connection in streams is estimated to be 750 litres per second.  There is a balance between between economics and environment that needs to be discovered.

Species Restoration using Reintroduction and De-extinction

New Zealand is an extinction hot spot.  Recovery is not impossible.  264 Pateke (Brown Teal) were released into the Coromandel Peninsula have grown to a population of 800 birds.  Pockets of birds are focused within an area.

The last thylacine froze to death in a zoo.  Much of this talk was covered in the inaugural professorial address Reintroduction Biology.

After a brief break for refreshment the audience broke up into discussion groups.  I was tempted to stay and hear more, especially about urban biodiversity.  I left during the break and headed home for tea.

Bearing the Unbearable: Trauma, Gospel and Pastoral Care

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Hunsinger_van_D_DeboE75689(1)A lecture from visiting professor Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger.  She was visiting Australia and was hosted by the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Otago for a week.  She proved to be an excellent speaker and gave a rewarding lecture.

Christians are called to participate in God’s care for the world through Jesus Christ, through prayer.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an inescapable stressful event that overwhelms our stress mechanisms.  The nature of the event does not guarantee a traumatic response.  None of us have the exact same experience.  Each of us is individual and our mental structure that enables the response is individual.  Each one is a valid experience.  “Get over it” is not going to work.

Any kind of emotional or physical shock has the chance of psychological consequence.  We have a high alert to threat.  When flight or fight are not options we enter the altered reality of freeze mode: time slows down, we become immune to pain, detached; quite literally an out-of-body experience.  It interferes with our narrative and memory.  The intrusive memory is split off from our consciousness.  It comes back in obcessive ruminations, in nightmares or flashbacks.  The memory is triggered by a smell or a sound.  We are left on permanent alert.

To keep the trauma at bay we constrict our worlds to avoid encountering its triggers, take up addictive habits.

What do I get from replaying the injury?  All violence is an effort to do justice or undo injustice.  Traumatic behaviour is cyclic.  The victim relives the trauma by recreating new victims.  How do we break free from the cycle?  Whatever we are afraid of requires our attention.  We need the company of another to piece together a coherent narrative to bear healing or mourning; to create a web of meaning while remaining fully connected to the listener; to connect to feelings without being overwhelmed.  We don’t know who or how we will come out.  Talking about trauma can make matters worse without being in a safe domain, anchored in the present. The slower you go the faster you get there.

Creating a spiritual framework to post-traumatic growth takes time, choosing life over death many times: understanding the self, facing pain, reaching the next level.

Christianity wrenches us inside out.  God is in hell — the victim and the risen lord of redemption who suffers on our behalf and for our sakes.  Trauma no longer separates us from God.  Healing is set in the context of God’s salvation — both for perpetrators and for victims.  One who died for all who do harm, love stronger than death or hate.  Overcoming the world Christ saves us.  We do want to forgive, to lay aside rational payment for pardon, but we don’t know to forgive.  Go down into the pain, the wounded Christ is our healer.

Our grief will be in community, restoring hope and trust, our worship the lament.  God bears what cannot be bourne.  While the churches appear as people who have got it all together, we still have to come back each week.