The expansionist Japanese empire annexed the inhabited archipelago of Palau in 1914. The airbase built on Peleliu Island became a target for attack by the United States in World War II. The Battle over Peleliu: Islander, Japanese, and American Memories of War covers an ethnographic study of how Palau and Peleliu were transformed by warring great powers and further explores how their conflict is remembered differently by the three peoples who shared that experience.

Stephen C. Murray uses oral histories from Peleliu’s elders to reconstruct the island’s prewar way of life, offering a fascinating explanation of the role of land and place in island culture. To Palauans, history is conceived geographically, not chronologically. Land and landmarks are both the substance of history and the mnemonic triggers that recall the past. Murray then offers a detailed account of the 1944 US invasion against entrenched Japanese forces on Peleliu, a seventy-four-day campaign that razed villages, farms, ancestral cemeteries, beaches, and forests, and with them also damaged many of the key nodes of memory and identity.

Murray also explores how islanders’ memories of the battle as shattering their way of life differ radically from the ways Japanese and Americans remember the engagement in their histories, memoirs, fiction, monuments, and tours of Peleliu. Determination to retrieve the remains of 11,000 Japanese soldiers from the caves of Peleliu has driven high-profile civic groups from across the Japanese political spectrum to the island. Contemporary Japan continues to debate pacifist, right-wing apologist, and other interpretations of its aggression in Asia and the Pacific. These disputes are exported to Peleliu, and subtly frame how Japanese commemoration portrays the battle in stone and ritual. Americans, victors in the battle, return to the archipelago in far fewer numbers. For them, the conflict remains controversial but is most often submerged into the narrative of “the good war.”

The Battle over Peleliu is a study of public memory and the ways three peoples swept up in conflict struggle to create a common understanding of the tragedy they share.

Stephen C. Murray
received his PhD in anthropology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2006. He and his wife currently operate a historic preservation consulting firm, Murray & Murray Associates, in Goleta, California.

“In the field of Pacific Island ethnography, and more particularly studies of Palauan society, culture, and history, this book has no equal. Murray’s focus on the people of the island of Peleliu and their relationship to the bloody battle which took place there in 1944 is particularly illuminating. Also noteworthy are his very lucid sketch of Palauan social structure and his astute analysis of the differential impact of Japanese and US colonialism on that social structure.”
—Peter W. Black, coeditor of Conflict Resolution: Cross-Cultural Perspective

“Among the book manuscripts I have had the honor to review, no other has impressed, inspired, and touched me as deeply as this one. For those of us trying hard to expand world history to include a focus on the Pacific, this book will be a welcome aid to refocus students’ geographical perceptions of history and challenge received wisdom. Murray’s story is at once academically grounded, intellectually integral, practically informed, and personally engaged-a combination that cannot fail to attract considerable attention.”
—Franziska Seraphim, author of War, Memory, and Social Politics in Japan, 1945-2005

War, Memory, and Culture
Steven Trout, series editor

296 pages / 22 B&W figures / 6 maps
ISBN: 978-0-8173-1884-0 Cloth
ISBN: 978-0-8173-8889-8 Ebook