Power Geopolitics in the Pacific Age
C. D. Bay-Hansen
Inkwater Press, 2011
It doesn’t take much effort to come to the realization that over then few years our nation’s cultural and economic relationship with Pacific and Pacific Rim nations will be of paramount importance. Yet, it is supremely difficult for many and most in the United States to truly get a handle on what the imperatives are. Broad strokes in the news media and political slogans from the elected and non-elected tend to the extent of our exposure prompting a myriad of responses from apathy to fear, inclusion and cooperativeness to isolationism and mean-spirited competition. Easy answers are usually violent and nationalist to the point of jingoism.
Thus it is a boon to come upon a work taking the Pacific Rim seriously. S.D. Bay-Hansen’s Power Geopolitics in the Pacific Age: East Asia, the United Nations, the United States and Micronesia at the Edge of the 21st Century, 1991-2001 (an unfortunately turgid title) turns us from the rim to the sea contending to understand the major players in the region we must first understand the seascape from which its power arises.
Ultimately, Power Geopolitics in the Pacific Age is too grounded in the recent past (the 1990s) to be entirely relevant today. The opening of the book involves a reminiscence of the Y2K panic presented un-ironically. The simple fact is our contemporary moment has leapt and been thrust so far beyond what anyone in 1999 could imagine that to ponder that moment now is to provoke a sense of dismissive quaintness.
But don’t believe that Bay-Hansen’s work lacks utility, it is simply dated. If readers can overlook or get passed this, then one will be able to see the outlines or, perhaps, nascent fault lines characterizing our contemporary moment’s political climate. This is where Bay-Hansen’s work is its most useful and engaging. However, to get at this one does have to slog through what feels like a plethora of quixotic stricture for what is too often a dearth of insight.
While Bay-Hansen has done genuinely deep research and does a good job of providing citation, much of his work is undercut by his constant tendency to pepper his prose with needless ad hominem attacks. There is also a general tone of broad hostility in the prose, yet at no point it is clear just why such sourness exists. That is, it would far too easy to ascribe Bay-Hansen’s tone to partisanship for it is clear he is vehemently adverse to the Democratic liberalism that rose to prominence in the early 90s. However, his consistent contempt is more akin to the broad populism we’ve seen take hold of US culture over the last year or so.
Bay-Hansen might think of himself as a “contrarian writer” and “a cultural determinist and political realist as well as a serious student of history,” but he is more akin to the media consumer who buttressed Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, then Breitbart, and now that quizzical mix of the American Freedom Caucus and Trumpism. What this does is make Power Geopolitics in the Pacific Age more of a personal screed than a serious critical study, which is unfortunate given just how vital a deeper, more nuance understanding of the Pacific will be for the future.
C.D. Bay-Hansen was born in Norway and raised in England, New England and New York. He earned his B.A. at Seattle Pacific University in 1978 and his M.A. (in Pacific history) at the University of Hawai’i in 1981. Bay- Hansen presently lives in Port Angeles, Washington.