Forgotten History, Losing Our Edge

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - December 28, 2005

I don’t know how they do it - authors, that is - to be more precise, authors of book-length manuscripts.

In my storied academic career I have written one book. I exaggerate. I wrote half a book eventually titled John A. Burns: The Man and His Times. It took me more than a dozen years to write half a book. Then I had to bring in a finisher - historian T. Michael Holmes - to write the second half of the damned thing.

I just haven’t got it for the long form. (Some of “Mostly Politics” critics would argue that I don’t have it for the short form either.) I have trouble getting a column out each week, a student’s letter of recommendation, a long e-mail - just about anything these days.

Thus my appreciation of the authorial long-distance skills of David Heenan and Rich Budnick. Heenan recently came out with his sixth book, Flight Capital, and Budnick just published his third.

Literally. Budnick self-publishes, something we high-toned academics look down on. Our scholarly products, often dry as bones and of interest to no one save the most perversely specialized like ourselves, must be peer-approved and be published by academic presses.

But I promise you that Budnick’s Hawaii’s Forgotten History 1900-1999 will be used by professors, students and all who love Hawaii’s history for a long time to come. It is a chronology of Hawaii in the 20th century. Writes Budnick in his forward, “I researched this book by reading 300 books and 8,000 newspapers, so you don’t have to.”

“So you don’t have to,” Budnick includes, for example, 138 chronological entries for the decade 1930 to 1939, including “April 1, 1930: Federal census begins. Hawaii has 368,300 population, a 44 percent increase since 1920 - 14 percent Hawaiian, 14 percent Caucasian, 7 percent Chinese, 38 percent Japanese, 17 percent Filipino, 8 percent Portuguese, 2 percent Korean. For the first time, there are more part-Hawaiians than full-blooded native Hawaiians.”

And “February 1, 1933: Schofield Barracks, with 14,000 soldiers, is America’s largest Army base.”

And “March 3, 1933: Police shoot and kill ‘Miss Daisy,’ the popular Kapiolani Zoo elephant, after the elephant kills her keeper.” (Didn’t know we had a long history of elephant problems in Honolulu, did you?)

And, “October 8, 1937: The first Joint Committee on Hawaii of the U.S. House and Senate holds statehood hearings in Hawaii until October 22 ...” The Committee will conclude that “‘Hawaii has fulfilled every requirement for state-hood.’” And that annexation to the United States was by “‘voluntary action of the people and government of Hawaii.’”

At least the committee got the first part right.

Hawaii’s Forgotten History 1900-1999 has something to fascinate and inform on every page. It’ll cost you $14.95, and it’s worth every penny.

Don’t trust me on Heenan’s Flight Capital: The Alarming Exodus of America’s Best and Brightest. Heenan is a friend of 35 years, and my judgment is clouded in regard to anything he writes.

But his thesis in Flight Capital is as clear as the explosive economies of China, India, Ireland and any number of other rapidly developing nations: “For centuries, immigration was America’s secret weapon ... Undergirding the country’s ascendancy was the belief that the United States was so powerful, its allure so magnetic, that it would remain the unquestioned destination of those seeking a better life. Simply put, coming to America meant staying in America. Not so today.

“In the current rough-and-tumble world of international talent grabbing, immigrants of all stripes are discovering that there is no place like home. Thousands of New Americans have begun boomeranging back to their native countries. What’s more, although the exodus is taking place across a wide spectrum, it is especially strong in leading-edge professions in science, technology and business - the ‘high-end’ sectors so much in demand in today’s Innovation Economy.”

University towns and technology centers like Ann Arbor, Austin, Seattle and Boston all boast large populations of skilled immigrant scientists, engineers and mathematicians. Several dialects of Chinese and Indian can be heard at the Starbucks and bookstores of such cities - and have been heard for the past three decades or so.

But Heenan argues that “technology and globalization, the two most powerful forces of our age, are recharting the landscape. New age technology is obliterating geography. By redistributing power around the globe, it is creating a more footloose economy that permits modern-day adventurers to explore a variety of venues.”

Dramatic economic changes in the two largest national populations in the world have fueled the change. Both India and China have moved from socialist economies to “more open, free-market” economies - and that has meant opportunities for the development of high-tech industries all their own.

So the skilled scientists of the developing world are going home. And why not? If the economic opportunity is equal, there’s also family, values, neighborhood, cuisine. It’s great to make a living, but it’s best to do it where you’re most comfortable.

Dave Heenan’s book, in hard-back, will cost you $24.95 from Davies-Black Publishing.

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