Obenski: Hard to pack up history after it unfolds

We live in a world of four dimensions. Three are spatial and we can move in either direction through them.

The fourth, time, is unique in that it moves forever forward and we cannot reverse the flow. We cannot un-fire the gun. Throughout history there have been political moves that attempt this feat, but always fail. Much fiction has been published of attempts to change the past always with unexpected consequences.


At each turning point many chains of events occur. Not all are the obvious consequence of the change but everything is connected to everything else and a small change in one event can have far reaching effect.

In 1823, a French ship sent empty barrels ashore on Maui to load fresh water. There was a bit of old water in the barrels. They poured it out and left behind Hawaii’s first mosquitoes. We can’t put the skeeters back in the barrel.

Many revolutions overthrow a dictator or monarch only to deteriorate into anarchy until a new strong man arises who, with rare exceptions, becomes a different sort of dictator. Iran overthrew the Shah who, although he at first modernized the country, was getting insecure and dictatorial. The clergy seized the levers of power and the people got a theocracy that is in many ways more restrictive than the worst of the Shah.

Jews were chased out of more countries than most of us can name, that’s what half the Bible is about. It continues from Exodus to the Holocaust.

Finally, after World War II, an international agreement split Palestine into Israel and Jordan with the idea that the Jews, Israelites, could have the part where they were the majority and the Arabs the rest. Unfortunately, many Arabs in the Israel part (Now called Palestinians) felt unwelcome in either side and remain refugees 70 years later. One problem fixed is new problem for the future.

There are at least as many stories like this as there are countries. Some countries have gone through multiple conquests. Other countries have conquered multiple others and established colonies, usually brutally. England, after being conquered by the Romans, the Norse and the Norman French, organized into a colonial empire that spanned most of the world only to see that dominance deteriorate as inheritance supplanted competence in positions of power.

America expanded with the high-sounding slogan Manifest Destiny — that is, obvious future. Some colonists on the East Coast saw all this unoccupied land to the west. Sure, there were inhabitants, but not white inhabitants, so they weren’t counted. It was obvious in their white privilege point of view that that land was meant for them, so they took it, by any means possible, but usually violence.

Trickery, infection and unkept promises were also used. General Sherman proposed killing all the buffalo (bison) to force the plains Indians to give up their bison-based economy. We were taught that Jefferson purchased Louisiana from Napoleon, but France did not own it, all he purchased was France’s claim on land occupied and worked by Native Americans who mostly had no concept that land could be owned.

The closest thing to a legitimate purchase was the strip of southern Arizona known as the Gadsden Purchase. Mexico got a reasonable price (more than we paid for Alaska) for remote desert so the US could build a railroad.

How about Hawaii?

As near as we can tell, it was first settled by Marquesans (Menehune?) conquered by Tahitians, then reconquered by different Tahitians, that was before any written history.

It was united in conquest by Kamehameha I in 1795. After that, it sat a tempting target for conquest or assimilation by many other powers, including Belgium, England, France, Japan, Russia, the US and even powerful individuals.


There are many books covering that period. The probability of Hawaii remaining independent became increasingly slim, Kamehameha I and III explored the possibility of alliance with England or the US. The future became less certain when Lot, the last Kamehameha, died without a successor at the same time that foreign influence was becoming powerful. There is no way to know what could have happened, but experience worldwide shows that attempts to undo the past seldom work out as hoped, but usually much worse.

Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona who writes a biweekly column for West Hawaii Today. Send feedback to obenskik@gmail.com.