‘Act of War’ Response

Act of War tells the story of Hawaii’s overthrow by a league of private actors supported by the United States government. The first clips are perhaps the most powerful in the entire film; Hawaiian protesters march through the streets of Honolulu calling for sovereignty and responding to the tragic events of the past. They make concrete the historical abstraction that is an “overthrow”—the faces shown are the ones affected by the actions of greedy men more than a century previous, and their voices express the pain and anger of generations. It is an interesting choice to put these clips at the beginning, which puts the effects of the overthrow at the forefront of the viewer’s minds, in order to lend meaning to the historical explanations that follow.

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The story of Hawaii’s history as part of the United States is a tragic one, especially so because it was achieved by relatively few people, and in the face of much anger, opposition, and resentment from both the Hawaiian people and the American citizenry. By tracing the lives and decisions of particular individuals and groups, such as Queen Liliuokalani and the Calvinist missionaries, the film achieves both concise explanations of the cultural and social forces that influenced their reactions, as well as their characters as human beings. The characteristics of Calvinism are important in understanding Hawaii’s colonization, though I wish more time had been given to an explanation of Hawaiian cultural values and practices prior to the arrival of Europeans. Outside of the crowd shots at the beginning, the film fails to convey the attitudes of Hawaiians towards the overthrow, as well as the effects, both positive and negative it had on Hawaiian society. 

38 Minutes in Hawaii

What do you do when you wake up to a text informing you of an incoming ballistic missile?

First of all, you surprise yourself.

It wasn’t so much panic or fear that gripped me, but a melancholic sort of clarity. The morning sky seemed all the bluer, and every joke that passed from the mouths of me and my friends seemed all the funnier.

My breakfast tasted far better than it ever had before.

It just so happened that I was with my closest friends, in a beautiful place, and so my mind didn’t provide much in the way of a plan of action. Rather, I seemed rooted to where I stood. Very little was in question; a missile might well be on its way, and well, there wasn’t much we could do about that.

“Keep Calm and Carry On” entered into my internal dialogue and stuck around there as a mantra.

One simple fact stood out as self-evident; if something terrible was going to happen, I preferred to suffer my fate as myself, my best self, surrounded by people I cared about and without having been taken over by terror or despair.

It may say something about the culture of Hawaii itself, and the character of the people who live here, that chaos was not nearly as widespread as you would think.

We like to imagine that many social norms would collapse in the moments leading up to annihilation, but that wasn’t what I witnessed at all. Suicide, drugs, sex were as far from my mind as they ever have been. The fear did not catalyze a desperate bout of hedonism, but something more akin to a flow state. Every sliver of experience received the attention and appreciation it deserves at all times, but that it is so often denied as we go about our daily lives.

For a brief span of time, that modern complacency was eradicated, and the real value of the various components of my life made itself known.

Though it was the result of gross incompetence, I will not remember this scare as a point of frustration or terror in my life. Rather it seems a point of extreme clarity when all that was unessential dropped from view and all that mattered came to matter more than it ever had previously.