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Posted at 11:53 a.m., Friday, June 1, 2007

Gingrich discusses history, future during Maui visit

By TRAVIS KAYA
The Maui News

KAHULUI One might expect conservative icon and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to feel ill at ease on Maui where liberal Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich found an enthusiastic following.

But Gingrich, author of the Contract with America, slipped into laid-back island mode Wednesday, wearing an aloha shirt and lei and holding court among more than 50 admirers at Borders Books Music Movies & Cafe at the Maui Marketplace.

"I think Maui is so beautiful and the people are so nice," The Maui News reported him saying.

Now retired, the nine-term Republican congressman from Georgia was on Maui to promote his historical novel, "Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th."

"History is actually lived forward it's studied backwards, but it's lived forward," Gingrich said. "There's no finer place to teach former lessons that relate to today than Pearl Harbor."

Written by Gingrich and historian William R. Forstchen, the book is the pair's ninth collaboration and the first in a series chronicling the war in the Pacific. More than just documenting the Dec. 7 attack, the authors alter the history books, speculating on the effect that a third wave of Japanese bombers might have had on the course of the war.

"I think you can get people to open their brains up when you show them things as a novel," Gingrich said. "It gets you to think about history, not just memorize it."

Using the past to analyze the present, "Pearl Harbor" draws parallels between the lead-up to the Japanese surprise attack and a number of hot-button global issues ranging from the nuclear development of North Korea and the rise of China to Iraq and America's dependence on foreign oil.

"We frankly thought that there are an awful lot of lessons that we can learn by studying Pearl Harbor," Gingrich said. "I don't think the novel is particularly Democratic or Republican."

While out of elective politics, Gingrich works as a political analyst, author and frequent contributor for Fox News Channel. The White House criticized him last week for lambasting the Bush administration for overseeing a "collapse" of the Republican Party.

Speaking to a crowd of residents and visitors, Gingrich gave a brief overview of his novel and opened the floor to questions before signing copies of his latest work.

Gingrich criticized the Bush administration's security policy, saying, "we should have a homeland security system that's real." Speaking in favor of government and policy reform, Gingrich also said, "the number one challenge in America is to understand that this is not a game. Real change requires real change."

Gingrich received a warm reception from audience members, many of whom said they were longtime supporters.

"He's a wonderful lecturer," said Wailea resident Jon Burkhart. "I've seen him do some TV, and I've been very impressed."

"I don't know about his writing, but I do know about his politics," said Jack Thibodeau, a visitor from Annapolis, Md. "I'm hoping that he will throw his hat in the ring for president."

Gingrich even made an impression on audience members who disagreed with his political views.

"I do not support what he believes, but on the other hand he is a very intelligent speaker," said Norm Bezane of Lahaina.

"I diametrically disagree with almost everything he said," said former East Maui county council candidate Nick Nikhilananda. "But I was very appreciative that he was here."

Following a freedom rally on Oahu, Gingrich and his wife, Callista, have been enjoying a weeklong vacation on Maui. He will be returning to Washington, D.C., for the next leg of his promotional tour this weekend.

For more Maui news, visit The Maui News.