The 298th and 299th Story

 With Stimson’s support, Short’s views prevailed. That Stimson was familiar with, and endorsed, Short’s positive attitudes toward Hawaii was to matter later on, because Stimson continued to be a person of great influence, while Short was soon to leave the scene. Although Short was to fare badly in many written histories of Pearl Harbor, his determined stance regarding treatment of the consular agents was a significant force of maintaining positive relationships during the crucial months of 1940 and 1941.

 In mid-1941, the Army’s Hawaiian Department supported the patriotic community rally of mainly Japanese American students at McKinley High School. The chief of Army Intelligence, Colonel Charles Marston, said a Pacific war would provide “the greatest opportunity in the history of Hawaii if not the United States itself for us to attain that unity which will enable us to truly say, ‘Out of Many, One.’

“If war or threat of war has any real advantage for a people, this chance to attain unity through striving and sacrifice in the common defense is one that may compensate for the many sacrifices that we will be called upon to make.”

 “For those of Japanese ancestry in Hawaii, this opportunity is especially great. The tradition of isolation and seclusion which existed in Japan for centuries inevitably has been carried over to some degree to the Japanese who emigrated to Hawaii, and this, together with a lack of understanding of other elements in our community and an understandable desire to retain the many virtues and culture of their ancestors, caused our Americans of Japanese extraction to retain their identity as a group and delayed their assimilation into the community.”

 Marston cited the military service of the Japanese in World War I, as well as the growing number of Nisei from Hawaii in the U.S. Army. “These men are living together in the same tents and barracks,” Marston said, “eating the same food, sharing the same training, undergoing the same hardship.” Marston said praise for Japanese Americans in the federalized National Guard units, the 298th and 299th Infantry Regiments, was unanimous. “No group of selectees is doing its work with more intelligence, enthusiasm, and efficiency than the young men of Japanese ancestry.”

In the process, he said, the Nisei soldier will be further Americanized and spread “the gospel of Americanism among their relatives and friends … the fire of this period of national emergency and any war – even a Pacific War – (can) weld our Japanese into the structure of American unity.”

Marston quoted President Roosevelt’s famous line from his first inaugural, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” He acknowledged that elements of Hawaii feared the Japanese Americans and that, in turn, they feared unfair or even violent treatment. The answer, he said, was a combination of calm and trust: “…trust breeds trust.”

He went on “Trust on the part of the citizen must be rewarded by trust on the part of the authorities, and our authorities can inspire loyalty by trusting their people. If we in authority are to expect loyalty from our citizens of Japanese ancestry we must give them our trust in turn.”9

 In a prewar briefing of President Roosevelt, his personal advisor, Curtis Munson, praised the expanded involvement of Japanese Americans in integrated units as a “great thing in strengthening the loyalty of the Japanese in the Islands. They are beginning to feel that they are going to get a square deal …”

Despite Washington’s opposition to Japanese American officers commanding white troops, Munson reported that the Army command at Schofield had experimented with racial integration at the officer level. “The army officers confessed that they held their breath.” Munson wrote. “Much to their surprise and relief there was absolutely no reaction from the white troops and they liked these officers very well … the Army is going to try more.”

 The substantial presence and participation of Japanese Americans in the Army in Hawaii may seem puzzling to the point of inexplicable in the face of national policy and attitudes. The strangest of all situations involved young men, the American born kibei whose families had sent them to Japan to study. Kibei were of the greatest concern to the intelligence agencies, but at the same time, kibei returning from Japan were being drafted into the U.S. Army and trained in the skills of warfare.

 This pattern continued, as we know. Slowly and painfully, the view in outpost Hawaii prevailed over headquarters Washington, and the Nisei in the 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate) would be the first of the Japanese American units to test Washington’s trust.

 – by Tom Coffman

Tom Coffman is an independent researcher, writer and producer. He explored American imperialism in the Pacific in his 1998 book and PBS documentary “Nation Within.” Other book credits include “Catch a Wave, A Case Study of Hawaii Politics,” and “The Island Edge of America.” He wrote, produced and directed the 2007 film, “The First Battle: The Battle for Equality in War-Time Hawaii.”

11939 Report of Territorial Adjutant General, Hawaii National Guard file, Archives of Hawaii.

2 Col. Perry Smoot to Maj. Gen. Charles D. Herron, Commanding General, Hawaiian Department, Fort Shafter, Territory of Hawaii, Oct. 6, 1939, Hawaii National Guard file, Gov, Archives of Hawaii

3Hawaii National Guard File, Archives of Hawaii

4Collier’s Magazine, 19 October 1940

5A Certain Nisei,Thomas “Taro” Higa, Hawaii 1949, 22

6 This estimate is based of the following: About 1400 Nisei troops were in the federalized Guard units, and several hundred more were in training at Schofield Barracks. Of the six hundred members of the Hawaii Territorial Guard, about three fourths were of Japanese ancestry. The adjutant general estimated that about four hundred were sufficiently trained to stand guard duty, three hundred of whom were likely Japanese.

7Brian McAllister Linn, Guardians of Empire:: The U.S. Army and the Pacific, 1902-1940, (Chapel Hill, N.C., The University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 155

8Stimson to Biddle, 22 Jul 1941. Quoted in Pearl Harbor Board, Part 24, 1414

9According to Hung WaiChing (Morale Section, martial law government), the speech was drafted by his close associate, Shigeo Yoshida. The wording is “pure Yoshida” and confirms Ching’s account in the view of the author.

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