Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Saddest Thing...

Yes, we're back from Nikumaroro, and a very successful trip it was. Reports will be forthcoming as analyses are completed, and I'll put together a summary report shortly to publish here.

But while we were gone, there was much sturm und drang about the "Japanese Capture Hypothesis" (presented by some of its adherents as the Manifest Truth). The History Channel put out a show about it -- now withdrawn after a key piece of evidence got authoritatively debunked -- and apparently got the ratings it sought, since people continue to ask me about it. I've watched the show, and don't think it's entirely without merit, though it's breathless, credulous, one-sided, and strikes me as a bit silly.

But it's all made me ponder what I think is one of the saddest features of the Japanese Capture Hypothesis -- that its adherents have thrown up such a bunch of fluff that they've buried some real stories, about real people in places like the Marshall and Mariana Islands. These people's stories deserve to be remembered just as much as do Earhart's and Noonan's, but they're forgotten, and I find that very sad.

Consider the "woman on the dock" who figures prominently in the History Channel show. Apparently a woman of European ethnicity, with shortish, maybe curly hair, sitting on a dock in (it's said) Jaluit in the Marshall Islands, with a tallish man of similar ethnicity standing nearby. These HAVE TO BE Earhart and Noonan, trumpet the Japanese Capture aficionados, some of them even after the image was revealed to have been published in 1935. Why? Well, because who ELSE could they be?

Well, they could be lots of people. The Marshalls were held as a colonial possession by Germany from the late 1890s until 1917, when they were mandated to Japan by the League of Nations. Jaluit was the colonial center. There were lots of German traders, government people, medical personnel, missionaries, and probably beach bums, not all of whom simply evaporated when the Japanese Empire took over.

I look a the woman on the dock and I wonder if she was, say, a doctor working in the local hospital, taking a bit of time off from her duties to watch the highly decorated schooners, each representing a village, preparing for their scheduled race. And I wonder what happened to her. Did she get sent home in 1937 or 38? Was she Jewish? Did she wind up in a camp? How sad that her story has been lost in the rush to turn her into Earhart.

Or consider the well-dressed maybe American woman that eyewitnesses have said they saw in captivity on Saipan -- who in the eyes of the Japanese Capture aficionados just must have been Earhart. No matter that she was described by one eyewitness as "a little bit mestiza" -- i.e. of mixed race. The interviewer -- busily trying to establish that the witness had seen Earhart -- rushed right past that bit of intelligence. Which fits with stories told by some who worked with the Japanese authorities (but who can trust THEM, right?) about a Japanese-American woman who was imprisoned and maybe executed as a spy on Saipan.

I wonder about her. Was she maybe a teacher, or again a medical worker, or a missionary, or perhaps just an adventurous young Nisei woman from, say, San Francisco who got a job on Saipan -- which too had been substantially developed by the Germans and then by the Japanese; it was no Bali Hai -- and got crosswise with the authorities when war came? Was she perhaps a US spy? Did she do great service to her country?

We'll probably never know, because the rush to turn her into Earhart has destroyed her identity. As in the case of the woman on the dock in Jaluit.

Archaeologists are story tellers. I hate to see a story lost. So losing the stories of the woman on the dock, and the woman in the Saipan jail, makes me very sad.