Teresa Goudie: Why weren't Japanese in Hawaii rounded up during WW II as they were on the US mainland?





[Teresa Goudie is Lecturer in Japanese Studies, University of New South Wales. t.goudie@unsw.edu.au.]

... Despite their desire to isolate the Japanese in Hawai’i and the fact that Hawai’i was the most obvious place for a ‘fifth column’ to exist ... only about 1,700 key community leaders were ever evacuated from Hawai’i and interned on the mainland (National Archives, RG210 and Office of the Secretary of War, RG107). Why were the majority of Japanese-Hawaiians spared the fate of the mainlanders?

The fact that Japanese constituted the largest ethnic group and Chinese a second large group, was among the reasons why ideas about the ‘inscrutable Oriental’ and fear of the ‘yellow peril’ were not felt as strongly in the Hawaiian Islands as they were on the mainland. Another reason was their integration into the local culture. From the early twentieth century, it was predominantly Japanese and Hawaiian cultures that merged to create what locals call the ‘aloha spirit’.[5] The strength of this spirit was exhibited by the few Japanese-Hawaiians who were sent to internment camps on the mainland. They instinctively sought each other out and found comfort and solace in a shared culture, history and language, differentiating themselves from mainlanders. This is demonstrated in this excerpt from an internment camp report[6]:
"Hawaiian cohesiveness – and separation from the
“mainlander group,” is shown in distinct clothing (geta,
colors in certain variety, flowered shirts for men, lei
worn around neck at parties). . . the use of Hawaiian
pidgin. . . and a difference at points in manners,
musical instruments and recreational forms. The
Hawaiians are a tight in-group, cohesive, and apart
from all other locality groups" (Ogawa Collection, 2, 98).

What ultimately saved the Japanese-Hawaiians from mass internment, however, was economic realities. Not only was Roosevelt’s desire to transport them all to the island of Moloka’i, the former leper colony, a logistical nightmare but their large population meant they were the backbone of both the labour force and, ironically, the war effort as exemplified by this letter from Secretary of War Stimson to the House of Representatives on the 8th July 1942:

"The Japanese population is so interwoven into the
economic fabric of the Islands that if we attempted to
evacuate all Japanese aliens and citizens all business,
including that concerned with the building up of our
defenses, would practically stop" (Ogawa Collection,
10, 362).

It was not just the economy that would suffer from the removal of the Japanese; their integral role to the aforementioned ‘aloha spirit’ would certainly be extremely harmful to the morale of the wider Hawaiian community.

How did they become so indispensable to the spiritual aspect? Anderson posits that the two most important forms of imagining that first emerged in Western Europe in the eighteenth century were the novel and the newspaper. For readers of a newspaper, a simultaneous imagining occurs – a society is created consisting of those in the articles and their readers; the different articles and the ‘characters’ in them are connected in the minds of the readers who, in turn, are connected to all other readers who are reading the newspaper that same day. The arbitrariness and juxtaposition of the articles and the simultaneity of the readers creates an imagined community (Anderson 1991:35):

"[The reader is] well aware that the ceremony he
performs is being replicated simultaneously by
thousands (or millions) of others of whose existence
he is confident, yet of whose identity he has not the
slightest notion."

The fraternity created by the rapidly expanding newspaper readership within the Japanese diasporic community both on the mainland and in Hawai’i is clear.[7] But Anderson’s argument that the most important aspect of language is “its capacity for generating imagined communities, building in effect particular solidarities” (Anderson 1991:133), seems particularly applicable to the fraternity created amongst the Japanese-Hawaiians whose bond was strengthened by their unique pidgin language and to the pidgin language they shared with other diasporic groups in Hawai’i. The importance of Hawaiian pidgin, which was created by the early plantation workers as a means of communication across linguistic divides by incorporating all their various languages, cannot be underestimated. In this case, not only was it crucial to communicate amongst themselves, it also created solidarity among Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Portuguese and Hawaiian labourers. Their significant contribution to the common language and the feeling of fraternity in Hawai’i, their role in the ‘aloha spirit’, meant their removal would have had a debilitating effect on morale throughout the islands. Not only were Japanese-Americans far more integrated and assimilated in Hawai’i, but something that strengthened that bond and differentiated them further from Japanese on the mainland, was the willingness of many to make the supreme sacrifice for their new country. ...

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