Excerpted From: John H. Culley, Relocation of Japanese Americans: The Hawaiian Experience, 24 Air Force Law Review 176 (1984) (21 Footnotes) (Full Document)


InternmentJapaneseThe Japanese Navy struck a crippling blow at the American Pacific fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Along with reports about the devastation on "battleship row," newspapers and radios carried mysterious rumors impugning the loyalty of those residents of Hawaii who happened to be of Japanese ancestry. These individuals were alleged to have poisoned drinking water, set signal lights and fires, dispatched homing pigeons, and sent short-wave radio messages to the enemy. Japanese trucks were alleged to have blocked roadways while signals were cut into the sugar cane fields pointing the way to Pearl Harbor. The situation quickly got out of hand until an harassed Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short found it necessary to warn the public against "unfounded rumors and fantastic flights of your imagination." He cautioned citizens to "check carefully the authenticity and accuracy of rumors you may hear."

In this highly emotional atmosphere, Americans began discussing the wartime disposition of the resident Japanese as well as the Japanese Americans. The dismal fate of these people in California has been described in numerous studies as not only the most deplorable violation of civil liberties in American history but also a blot in the history of American race relations. However, the treatment of Japanese Americans in Hawaii, 2,000 miles closer to the battle zone than California, shows a lesser known aspect of America's wartime racial mentality. In the aftermath of the surprise assault, local military leaders, aided by the FBI and influential non-Japanese Hawaiians found themselves defending the rights of Japanese Americans against efforts by the nation's highest leaders to duplicate in Hawaii the concentration camps and deportation of the tiny West Coast Japanese minority.

The key figure in this drama was Lt. Gen. Delos C. Emmons who replaced Lt. Gen. Short as military governor of Hawaii two weeks after martial law was declared in Hawaii on the day of the Pearl Harbor attack. This critical event removed the territory of Hawaii from the control of the Interior Department and put the islands under the plenary authority of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The military quickly moved to try to verify the widespread allegations about incidents of sabotage and espionage. The commander of the sunken fleet of battleships, Rear Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, stated on 12 December that fifth column activities caused great confusion during the attack. However, Army investigators under Lt. Gen. Emmons found no evidence to support the colorful news media accounts of enemy activity in the islands either during or after the attack.

General Emmons soon took the dramatic step of publicly contradicting his coworker, Admiral Kimmel, who was relieved of his command on 17 December. On 21 December General Emmons blasted attempts to question the loyalty of any group resident in Hawaii. He indicated confidence in the loyalty of resident Japanese and provided opportunities for them to demonstrate their loyalty by acting as territorial guards and participants in other civil defense activities. His chief of military intelligence, Col. Kendall J. Fielder, later explained General Emmons' philosophy in these early days:

How differently a Himmler or a Heinrich would have handled this delicate situation! Does anyone believe for a moment that any of the Axis crowd would give one of the enemy race a fair chance to prove himself? ... It would take much too long to tell you of the many concrete ways in which many of these people who were on the spot have proved their love for America ... Americans of Japanese blood ... are Americans--and until they prove (or show themselves dangerously capable of proving) traitorous, they should be treated as Americans.

General Emmons backed his opinion with a long letter sent through Army command channels to his civilian supervisor, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. The General argued against any wholesale movement of the Japanese on the Hawaiian islands. However, Secretary Knox was firmly committed to removing not only all 20,000 resident Japanese but also 98,000 Japanese Americans from the island of Oahu to a concentration camp on another island. Secretary Knox was also frustrated by the dilatory efforts of the War Department to approach the "Japanese problem." President Roosevelt was greatly intrigued by the Knox plan and suggested that the Japanese population be relocated to an Army internment camp located on Molokai island.

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The activities of Delegate King revealed the lack of local economic and political pressure calling for Japanese removal. Authorities on the scene in Hawaii were in almost total agreement that the Japanese and Japanese Americans be treated as much like those of German or Italian descent as possible under the circumstances. The racist attitude of the nation's highest civilian war leaders like President Roosevelt and Secretary Knox formed a surprising contrast to the more practical attitudes on the part of the nation's military commanders who, under martial law, were in charge of the disposition of the inhabitants of Hawaii. This contrasting attitude was highlighted in the Supreme Court case of Korematzu v. United States by Associate Justice Owen J. Roberts, who had conducted his own investigation of Hawaiian espionage and sabotage three weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack. He concluded initially that the assault had been greatly abetted by Japanese spies, some with "no open relations with the Japanese foreign service" and that too close an adherence to the U.S. Constitution had seriously inhibited the work of the FBI. Justice Roberts, in discussing the fate of a West Coast detainee, blasted government assertions concerning military necessity by pointing to the case of Hawaii which, unlike California, was both 2,000 miles closer to Japan and under military rule. Justices Robert H. Jackson and Frank Murphy joined Roberts in dissent and argued that the west coast exclusion had no reasonable relation to the threat of espionage or sabotage. Military intelligence and FBI reports were ignored in this exercise in group punishment that also ignored individual guilt and legalized racism because those of Japanese ancestry were seen as belonging to an "enemy race" and bound to an enemy nation by racial, cultural, and religious ties.

This contrast between the racism rampant on the west coast and the tolerance of the Hawaiian community was highlighted by Curtis B. Munson's report to the State Department:

The result of this is that the Hawaiian Japanese does not suffer from the same inferiority complex or feel the same mistrust of whites that he does on the mainland. While it is seldom on the mainland that you find even a college-educated Japanese-American who talks to you wholly openly until you have gained his confidence, this is far from the case in Hawaii. Many young Japanese there are fully as open and frank and at ease with a white as white boys are. In a word Hawaii is more of a melting pot because there are more brown skins to melt--Japanese, Hawaiian, Chinese and Filipino. It is interesting to note that there has been absolutely no bad feeling between the Japanese and the Chinese in the islands due to the Japanese-Chinese war. Why should they be any worse towards us?

Major Culley, (B.A., cum laude; J.D., University of Colorado; M.A., University of California at Santa Barbara) is a former Assistant Staff Judge Advocate, USAFR, to the Staff Judge Advocate at Lowry Technical Training Center, Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado.