Battle of the Home Front

Inclusion Versus Exclusion

As I research the homefront history of Hawaii before and during World War II, I increasingly think of it as a struggle between the impulse to include people versus the impulse to exclude people. It’s an oversimplification, but it’s illuminating: inclusion versus exclusion.

Inclusion has to do with respect, fair play, trust, treating people as equals, and engaging in two-way communication. Exclusion has to do with suspicion, mistrust, deception, treating people as unequal, and coercing rather than persuading. Both of these impulses were at work in Hawaii well before the actual bombs fell on December 7, 1941.

Representing inclusion was a group of individuals called the Council for Interracial Unity: YMCA executive Hung Wai Ching, educator Shigeo Yoshida, University of Hawaii regent Charles Hemenway, McKinley High Principal Miles Cary, FBI agent Robert L. Shivers, insurance executive Masa Katagiri, attorney Masaji Marumoto, and others. They were the champions of including everyone in the war effort, pointedly meaning Americans of Japanese Ancestry. They began meeting and laying plans in August 1939, sixteen months before the war.

On the other side were a Colonel Thomas Green and several like-minded collaborators. Green was assigned to Hawaii in August 1940, thinking he would enjoy himself in the warmth of the Army’s loveliest outpost. Instead, he came face to face with a society that was two thirds of Asian descent. Preparation for a Pacific War was going on everywhere around him. He was off balance and frightened. In his words, he could not tell the Japanese from the Chinese and the Chinese from the Koreans. Instead of cultivating acquaintances and making his own inquiry, as did several key individuals in his shoes, he began devising a system of controls in the event of war.

Power Without Constraint

Green was a lawyer in charge of the legal section of the Hawaiian Army command and as such advised General Charles Herron, the first of four district Army commanders who fell under Green’s sway. He searched for a definition of martial law but found none. He wrote, “I concluded that martial law is not a law nor are the limitations or the responsibilities well defined anywhere.” In other words, martial law was a set of powers potentially without constraint.

Green worked long hours at Fort Shafter, drafting not only declarations of martial law but an initial set of one hundred eighty-one General Orders that would form a new system of controls. At the root of this was the consolidation of the three functions of government into a single military authority, the commander of the Hawaiian Army, who was to become the military governor. In his name, Green was to write laws (General Orders), administer laws, and punish people who were deemed to break those laws.

The commanding general, Walter Short, forced Green’s draft declaration of martial law onto the Territorial governor on December 7. The result was a blend of pervasive control and lawlessness. I use the word lawlessness advisedly. The military governor was the law, with the power to jail anyone and also the power to mold people’s thinking through a system of press censorship. Safeguards of constitutional rights were suspended. The military, along with the rest of society, felt their way forward in the dark of war, defining life under martial law as they went.

Under the General Orders, people were pronounced guilty in the Provost Courts by the tens of thousands. The average trial was five minutes. The accused did not plead innocent nor bring lawyers, knowing it would provoke a harsher penalty. No records were kept of the proceedings. Contrary to the impression that it was mostly imported war workers who were brought before the Provost Court, I have found lists in the Archives of Hawaii filled with names of Hawaii’s people, including many of Japanese ancestry, usually for the crime of missing a day of work.

Intrusion and Profiling

In the absence of the rule of law, policing was ubiquitous. Soldiers, Federal agents and Honolulu police broke into people’s houses, ransacking dwellings for evidence of communication devices or foreign influences. Block wardens constantly monitored and critiqued people, often for that crack of light around the blackout dressing.

It was for such reasons that a Washington Post editorial predicted, “When the victory is won and the excitement of war subsides we are going to be very much ashamed of two policies … the mistreatment of loyal American citizens of Japanese origin and the prolongation of military government in Hawaii. In both instances the constitutional rights of citizens have been flagrantly violated.”

With regard to martial law in Hawaii, no such thing occurred. So the questions are: Why not? What happened instead?

A Stronger Community Than Met the Eye

It is not the most obvious answer, but I think the most important answer is the overall showing of strength by the community in Hawaii, which tended to offset the ill effects of martial law. By strength I mean the high quality of community leadership, a general agreement about the value of American democracy, and the influence of institutions that brought people together across racial and ethnic lines. This is not well known history, and many people today would argue against this description. I came to this view slowly myself, being a political liberal who is preoccupied with instances of injustice, of which there had been numerous examples between 1919 and 1941 (such as the Hanapepe Massacre, the Fukunaga case, the Massie case and the shootout on the docks of Hilo).

Despite discrimination, the Japanese community was becoming well developed between World War I and World War II. Issei ran well-established businesses, figured prominently in early-day labor organizing, and had attained a modest level of representation in the Territorial legislature through the dominant Republican Party. Importantly for the crisis of war to come, a system of early-born Nisei leadership also had been developed.

The public school brought people of varying races together, notwithstanding the de facto segregation resulting from the publicly-supported English Standard schools (which were made up mostly but not exclusively of white students, who tended to pass the language test). The University of Hawaii played an important role in welcoming individuals of all races. Significantly, the UH ROTC program was open to Japanese Americans. As of mid-1940, Japanese Americans were draft-eligible as a result of an amendment to the U.S. Selective Service law.

Through such public policies, the various ethnic groups had made useful linkages from group to group and also between Hawaii and influential figures in the U.S. War Department, the U.S. Interior Department, and elsewhere in Washington D.C. Although many high-level policy-makers remained ignorant of, and suspicious of, the social situation in Hawaii, almost everyone who had contact with Hawaii was favorably impressed by Hawaii’s people.

The words assimilation, acculturation and Americanization are not now in fashion, but they were dominant themes in the Hawaii community between the end of World War I and 1941. Over and over in archival records, I have found enthusiastic references to democracy and “the democratic way of life,” even though Hawaii was nowhere near being genuinely self-governing. People also referred unselfconsciously to the “aloha spirit,” which was defined as people of differing races getting along better in Hawaii than in most other places in the world. People invoked the words “aloha spirit” as if those two words were widely understood. Paradoxically, there was a simultaneous understanding that life was ordered by a racial hierarchy in which kamaaina haoles remained on top of the heap.

Community Leaders and Their Institutional Roots

If the names of the far-sighted individuals who served on the Council for Interracial Unity are no longer recognizable to many people, everyone can appreciate their institutional affiliations. The godfather of this group quite clearly was the corporate attorney Charles Hemenway, as in Hemenway Hall at the University of Hawaii. Hemenway had written the articles of incorporation for the university, sat for decades on the board of regents, stayed in close touch with student activities, and invited students into his family’s home and cultivated their personal acquaintance. This was a part of the university becoming a major force in community development between 1919 and 1941.

The primary organizer of the Council for Interracial Unity was a YMCA executive, Hung Wai Ching. He had grown up almost literally in the back yard of the Nuuanu YMCA, and also in the Chinese Congregational Christian Church which, in tandem with the Nuuanu YMCA, had attracted the most celebrated youth workers of the day, names now largely forgotten such as Lloyd Killam, Leigh Hooley, K.Y. Lum and John Young.

Hung Wai Ching started his work life as an organizer of youth groups: Hi-Y, Pioneers, Friendly Indians, Boys’ Clubs, Sunday School classes, etc. This was shortly after the Nuuanu YMCA became central to the social and eventually military and political history of Hawaii. Its board became interracial in 1921, including such figures as Dr. Iga Mori, C.K. Ai (founder of City Mill), Syngman Rhee (the future president of the Republic of Korea) and Frank Atherton, the most influential businessmen of the day.

Boys flocked to the Y’s clubs, campouts, swimming pools and free showers by the thousands. In 1921, the Nuuanu Y was guided by a 90/10 rule – 90% Asian kids, 10% haole kids. The Central Y was the reverse: 90% haole and Hawaiian, 10% Asian. By the end of the decade, the quotas were abolished by decision-makers who were influenced by what was called the Americanization campaign and by a surge of internationalism inspired by President Woodrow Wilson.

When the YMCA opened Atherton House next to the University (where it sits to this day), Hung Wai Ching was made the executive secretary. He agreed to take the job after consulting Charles Hemenway.

The person who recorded the history of the Interracial Council was Shigeo Yoshida, one of many early-born Nisei who had been active in the Hawaiian-Japanese Civic Association, a leadership development group spawned by the internationalist Pan Pacific Union. At the age of thirty in 1937, Yoshida testified for statehood to a committee of visiting U.S. congressmen. Prophetically, he said that while abhorring war, if it were to come he would welcome the opportunity for Japanese Americans to prove their loyalty. He was a teacher trainer and a school principal. Like Ching, he was a protégé of “Pop” Hemenway.

Ching, Yoshida, Hemenway and other members of the Council for Interracial Unity went on a speaking tour in 1940 and 1941 proposing guidelines in the event of war. I believe it was Yoshida who propagated the phrase, “How we get along during this war will determine how we get along when the war is over.” This idea was repeated over and over. It was a subtle wording that was at once visionary and a veiled threat, in that it could be paraphrased as, “Mistreat us and you will poison the community well.”

Rallying for Loyalty and Democracy

In concert with a group led by the historian Dr. Shunzo Sakamaki, their campaign went public in June 1941 with the patriotic rally of two thousand people at McKinley High School, where Dr. Miles Carey – another member of the Council of Interracial Unity – served as a much-admired progressive principal. The crux of the McKinley rally was a statement by the then chief of Army intelligence, Lieutenant Colonel M. W. Marston, who said, in sum, “If war comes, follow our lead, support the war effort, and we will treat you fairly,” which was taken to mean, “We will not round you up and lock you up.” Marston actually was in no position to speak for the U.S. government, but his statement suggested a kind of compact in the making between the Army and the local community, particularly the Japanese community.