Battle of the Home Front

Influencing the Intelligence Agencies

Meanwhile the intelligence agencies led by the FBI and supported by the Army, Navy and Honolulu Police Department, were busy profiling thousands of people in the Japanese community. The pivotal figure was the FBI agent Robert L. Shivers. Thanks to Hemenway, Shivers was incrementally surrounded by overlapping circles of local advisors, many of them Nisei, including Yoshida and the Harvard-educated attorney Marumoto. One Sunday morning, as Shivers was preparing to meet with his advisors, the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.

December 7, 1941 – Japan Attacks Pearl Harbor

Martial law was immediately declared, as Green had planned. Charles Hemenway was named as a civilian advisor to the martial law government. Robert Shivers was put in charge of who was and was not interned, reducing what could have been an arrest list of thousands to fewer than four hundred. On the recommendations of Hemenway and Shivers, Hung Wai Ching and Shigeo Yoshida became the Morale Section of the martial law government — that is, the liaison between the ruling military figures and the community.

The third member of the Morale Section was Charles Loomis who, like Ching, was originally a YMCA executive. In 1925 Loomis had been split off from the Y to head a newly-former effort called the Institute for Pacific Relations, the core goal of which was to reverse the pattern of ever-deteriorating relationships between Japan and the United States. Loomis was a courtly, diplomatic person with attachments to Frank Atherton, the Cookes, the Richards, and so on – that is, to those kamaaina whites who supported the Y and carried forward the missionary spirit at a time when most of the missionary descendants had turned primarily to making money.

The Testimony of Col. Green

However awkward the testimony of Colonel Thomas Green as to the importance of these three men, it is testimony from the horse’s mouth. Yoshida, Green wrote, “was a clear thinker and a person of unusual intelligence. Ching (also) had an exceptionally keen mind matched by his affability.” Loomis was ”diplomatic.” He also wrote, “they formed a team whose intelligence would be difficult to match anywhere. Whenever they appeared as a group their ideas had been crystallized and they presented them succinctly and accurately.”

Green went on: “Through the Morale Section we were able to have our intentions and desires transmitted to the oriental races accurately and quickly. This was especially desirable in the case of the aliens of which there was a large number. Of equal importance was to be informed of the reactions of those of oriental ancestry. In some few instances where we were uncertain of the public reaction of the orientals to certain matters we had in contemplation, we took occasion to consult the Morale Section.”

“The Morale Section worked in cooperation with Captain (John A.) Burns of the Honolulu Police Department who was a specialist in dealing with oriental affairs …” They were also in touch with the military intelligence branches of both services, as well as the FBI. In this manner, all their efforts were coordinated.

“The activity had very little financial assistance from us and operated largely on contributions from their own people.”

The First Issue: Pressure for Mass Internment

Now for the most important part: When did this level of trust in the Morale Section matter most? Almost immediately, the military governor General Delos Emmons and Green, surrounded by their Morale Section advisers, came down on the side of maintaining all but a few of the Japanese community in place. Yoshida, in fact, was writing the radio broadcasts aiming at maintaining public calm, always including the idea that there was no plan for a mass internment.

When pressure for mass internment came from Washington DC, the Army command in Hawaii turned to the “Orientals” for reassurance. In his unpublished memoir, Green wrote, “The constant pressure … (for a mass internment) made me apprehensive as to whether my views were completely realistic. I leaned heavily on the intelligence reports given me by members of our Morale Section … This group assured me that the local Japanese were trying their level best to cooperate fully with the Office of the Military Governor … The pressure upon (General Emmons) in this matter was terrific, far greater than upon me, but in spite of everything he stood his ground and we carried on.”

Emmons and others on the ground in Hawai’i weathered high-level calls for relocating anywhere from one hundred thousand to fifteen thousand people.

Instead, General Emmons worked closely with the Assistant War Secretary, John J. McCloy, who visited Hawai’i in early spring, 1942 and was favorably impressed by observing the Nisei volunteer labor battalion, the Varsity Victory Volunteers, at Schofield Barracks.

The Second Issue: The Right to Fight

Green wrote, “At a conference in my office General Emmons convinced him (McCloy) of the correctness of our view on evacuation. At that conference also General Emmons passed on to Mr. McCloy the suggestion that a provisional battalion (of Japanese Americans) be consolidated and sent to Europe…(McCloy) agreed to take up the matter in Washington…It eventuated in the activation of the lO0th Infantry Battalion…”

Emmons pulled the fourteen hundred Japanese American troops (mostly prewar draftees and a few ROTC-commissioned officers) out of the 298th and 299th Infantry Regiments in Hawai’i and hurriedly relocated them in June 1942 – not to a concentration camp but to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, for combat training. It is one of the real ironies of American history that Emmons, who clung tenaciously to the powers of martial law, and Green, who devised the system, turned out to be so pivotal in opposing a mass evacuation and supporting formation of the Japanese American fighting units.

Formation of the 100th Battalion was the first major step toward inclusion in military combat. Probably no other military unit in World War II was so intensely watched or so avidly supported by its home community.

When the President in January 1943 called for 1500 volunteers from Hawaii for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 10,000 who actually volunteered resulted in part from the high level of community organization supporting the recruitment. On the Island of Kauai, for example, the subgroup of the Morale Section, guided by Hung Wai Ching, and run by YMCA boys who had gone to UH, met with over 1300 young men in the first six days of the mobilization.


Yes, martial law was repressive. In many instances it trampled on people’s privacy and people’s rights. Let us hope such a thing never happens again. As the war went on and as the loyalty question faded, the martial law government clung to power by manipulating the fears of policy-makers in Washington. Inappropriately, General Emmons’ successor, General Robert C. Richardson, refused to give up his hold on power, using the Japanese-ancestry population as his excuse.

Nonetheless, the inevitable (you might say abysmal) point of comparison was the West Coast solution of uprooting, relocating and interning. Although martial law was a control system that was rife with abuses, it protected over 99 per cent of the Japanese community from internment, and it facilitated the all-important right to serve in the military and bear arms.

Most people in Hawaii, with their information heavily censored, did in fact support the martial law government most of that time (1941-1944). The prewar territorial government had not really been a complete and rounded democracy to begin with. Rather, the Territory was a tightly confined island society run by a small white oligarchy, with judges and a governor appointed by the president of the United States. In this context the martial law government was widely perceived as preferable to the Big Five corporations, even though on issues of labor control the Big Five and martial law held hands.

There is a telling exchange in the minutes of the Caucasian committee that worked with the Morale Section. A prominent haole attorney argued for the committee to launch a campaign against martial law. Hung Wai Ching replied, in essence, “Tell me, where was your zeal for democracy before December 7th?”

During the first years of war, the fate of Hawaii hung on slender threads. With civilian courts shut down, with constitutional government suspended, with the military exercising unfettered power, the stage was set for a disaster on a massive scale. The democratic impulses of the Council for Interracial Unity and the controlling impulses of the Army — rather than clashing — converged under the terrible pressure of the war. The result was that a mass relocation and internment was averted, and Japanese Americans were included in all aspects of the war effort. The outcome was to the great credit and the considerable benefit of the people of Hawaii.

-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.”