TO THE tourist Hawaii means "Aloha," the land of friendship and flowers and moonlit surf at Waikiki -- "the loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any sea." But to the statesman, the diplomat and the General Staffs of the Army and Navy it means America's powerful mid-Pacific naval base, it means problems of naval warfare and of national defense -- political as well as military. Among these problems one of the most serious arises from the racial composition of the islands' population. A few years ago it was frequently stated that Hawaii would soon be dominated by Japanese. In 1920 a political leader of Hawaii predicted: "Within seven years from now a majority of the voters in Hawaii will be Hawaiian-born Japanese." Somewhat later one of the leading Americans on the islands wrote, more conservatively: "Between 1940 and 1950 the voters of Japanese blood will reach the point of numerical majority."

It is now clear that these forecasts were entirely incorrect. Inhabitants of Japanese race will never constitute the majority of Hawaii's population; their proportion is now declining, and will continue to decline in the future. Among the voters, those of Japanese ancestry will never much exceed one out of three; and, once having attained that ratio, their proportion will thereafter gradually decrease. The most numerous racial group in Hawaii will eventually be, not the Japanese, but the Hawaiian and part Hawaiian.

Nevertheless, twenty years ago the prophecy that the Japanese would shortly constitute a majority of both the population and the electorate seemed reasonable enough. In 1920, they comprised nearly 43 percent of the population and that percentage appeared to be increasing. In 1923, 50.2 percent of the babies born in Hawaii were of Japanese parents. During the years 1912-1916, 53.8 percent of all the marriages performed in the islands were between Japanese. But since then the proportion of Japanese population, births and marriages has declined strikingly. In 1937, the Japanese constituted only 38.1 percent of the total population; and, of greater importance for the future, their births were 35.6 percent and their marriages only 29.7 percent of the total.

The accompanying tables, prepared by Professor Romanzo Adams of Honolulu, the outstanding authority on racial problems in the islands, indicate population trends among the important racial groups over the last forty years.

1896 1910 1920 1930 1937
Hawaiian, including part Hawaiian
39,504 38,547 41,750 50,860 60,546
Caucasian 22,438 39,158 49,140 73,702 89,253
Japanese 24,407 79,675 109,274 139,631 151,141
Other Asiatic 21,616 28,568 49,488 96,692 87,370
All Others 1,055 5,961 6,260 7,451 8,405
----- ----- ----- ----- -----
     Total 109,020 191,909 255,912 368,336 396,715

1896-1910 1910-1920 1920-1930 1930-1937
Hawaiian, including part Hawaiian --2.4 8.3 21.8 19.0
Caucasian 74.5 25.5 47.9 21.1
Japanese 222.9 37.1 27.7 8.2
Other Asiatic 13.2 73.2 95.4 --9.61
All Others 465.0 5.0 19.0 11.3
----- --- ---- ----
     Total 76.0 33.3 43.9 7.7
1 The result of the departure from the islands of several thousand Filipinos.

(in percent)
Hawaiian and White Japanese Others6
Part Hawaiian
19221 17.2 15.0 49.7 18.1
19232 17.1 13.2 50.2 19.5
19253 15.1 12.4 47.2 25.3
19304 20.0 12.9 42.8 24.3
1936 26.6 15.5 36.3 21.6
19375 27.5 15.1 35.6 21.8
1 The first year for which registrations were sufficiently complete to make valid comparisons.
2 The year of the maximum Japanese percentage. 3 The year of the maximum number of all births.
4 The year of the census. 5 The most recent year for which data are available. 6 This column includes Filipinos, Chinese, Koreans, Puerto Ricans, plus a few Negroes, South Sea Islanders and smaller groups.

These tables show clearly the proportionate decline of the Japanese population in contrast with the Hawaiian and part Hawaiian group. This decline has been due in part to migration and in part to a drop in the birth rate. Immigration from Japan was limited by the Gentleman's Agreement of 1908 and was stopped altogether by the Immigration Act of 1924. Since then many Japanese have left Hawaii: during the five years ending with 1937, the excess of departures over arrivals was 5,231; while during the three years ending with 1937, the white population had a net increase of over 5,500 Americans from the mainland, not including men connected with the Army and Navy. The decline in the Japanese birth rate has been due in part to the aging of the women who came to Hawaii as "picture brides" before 1920, and in part to the fact that the Hawaiian-born Japanese have largely adopted an American standard of living and therefore marry later and have smaller families. With these facts in mind the Joint Committee of the United States Senate and House of Representatives, appointed to study conditions in Hawaii, stated in its report of February 15, 1938, that "The figures to date warrant the conclusion that before the end of the century the great majority of the people of Hawaii will be partly of Hawaiian ancestry. The future of Hawaii belongs, in fact, to the part Hawaiians." A similar forecast is made by Professor Adams.

The number of Japanese voters will eventually correspond roughly to the total number of adult Japanese in Hawaii. At present, however, over a third of the Japanese, being aliens, cannot vote; nor can they ever acquire the vote for, like other Orientals, they cannot be naturalized. But every person born in Hawaii is an American citizen, and after a few years practically all Japanese will be actual or potential voters. At the last election (in 1936) the Japanese who were registered as voters numbered 24.9 percent of the electorate. This proportion will doubtless increase for a time as Japanese who are citizens take the places of the alien Japanese who, being older, are dying off somewhat rapidly. But apparently voters of Japanese ancestry will never exceed approximately one-third of the total.

However, the important question regarding the Japanese is not whether they will obtain a majority of the electorate, which is impossible, but whether they will form a helpful, cooperative, loyal element in the islands. On the answer to that question depends, in the judgment of many, the kind of government best suited to Hawaii. At present Hawaii is an organized territory: its voters elect members to a territorial legislature and a delegate to represent them in the House of Representatives at Washington. The President of the United States, however, appoints the Governor and therefore controls the Executive Department of the islands. Though this form of government appears to have worked well, Hawaii is officially asking for statehood. The leading arguments advanced in favor of this change are that Hawaii deserves it and that, although it is constitutionally an integral part of the United States, it needs statehood to protect itself against discriminatory legislation at Washington. Opposition to this proposal is based primarily on the apprehension that Hawaii's Orientals, especially the Japanese, are not yet adequately Americanized. To study this question Congress appointed two Joint Congressional Committees on Statehood for Hawaii, which spent several weeks in the islands during 1935 and 1937, heard much testimony and gathered much material.

Three issues which bear on the loyalty of the Hawaiian Japanese to the United States are causing considerable controversy: dual allegiance, foreign language schools, and bloc voting. A substantial number of American citizens of Japanese ancestry have dual nationality: they are American citizens by American law since they were born in the United States, but they are also citizens of Japan by Japanese law since they are the children of Japanese subjects. To meet American criticisms of this dual status, in 1924 Japan put into effect a generous nationality law which provided that: (1) Japanese in the United States who had dual allegiance could expatriate themselves from Japan, and (2) children of Japanese subjects born in the United States after 1924 would automatically lose their Japanese status unless their parents should register them within two weeks of their birth at some Japanese consulate.

Among the Japanese born in Hawaii since 1924, the great majority owe sole allegiance to the United States, since they have not been registered at any Japanese consulate. Of the others who have dual allegiance, several thousand have formally expatriated themselves from Japan. More would have done so but for the time and expense involved. Many do not concern themselves over the situation any more than do most American-born children of European aliens in the United States. But it is widely felt that, under the exceptional conditions obtaining in Hawaii, the loyalty of all American citizens should be undivided. It is regarded as unfortunate that there are at present living in Japan some 14,000 Hawaiian-born Japanese who are legally entitled to return to Hawaii and resume their American citizenship.

Another issue is that of the Japanese language schools. These were established and have been supported by Japanese residents in order that their children might have some training in the Japanese language. They do not replace the public schools but supplement them: the children attend the language schools daily for about an hour after the close of the public schools. They have been widely criticized on the ground that they tend to make the children Japanese rather than American. For this criticism there was formerly some justification, since in the early days practically all of the teachers were aliens and since the courses, while imparting a knowledge of the language, dealt in subject matter largely with Japanese customs and loyalties. In recent years, however, these schools have become increasingly Americanized. At present over a third of their teachers are American citizens (348 citizens to 451 aliens), the textbooks have been translated and made available to the Territorial Department of Public Instruction, and the topics discussed are in large part American.

These language schools formerly met a real need of the Japanese community, and are still distinctly useful. The first Japanese to come to Hawaii were aliens and could therefore never be naturalized; they spoke only Japanese and naturally wished their children to have some systematic training in their native tongue. Even now a good knowledge of their racial language is valuable to second and third generation Japanese. American firms in Honolulu sometimes refuse to employ young Japanese unless they can speak the language of their people. And these private Japanese language schools are the only institutions in Hawaii, apart from the University, where Japanese is a part of the curriculum.

Many believe that these schools will eventually disappear. Such schools normally meet the temporary need of an alien racial group in the early stages of its progress toward complete Americanization. In Hawaii the German, Portuguese and Hawaiian language schools were closed as the members of these groups came to use English as their regular language; for the same reason attendance in the Japanese, Chinese and Korean language schools is now declining. Although apparently nothing anti-American is now taught in these institutions, some of the fairest-minded Americans in Hawaii believe that the Japanese language schools, especially the personal influence of some of the more recently arrived teachers, tend to retard Americanization.

There is no truth in the charge that the Japanese vote en bloc. Voters of Japanese ancestry, like the voters of other racial groups, divide between the Republican and Democratic Parties and often oppose each other enthusiastically. The Joint Congressional Committee, whose members would naturally have a keen interest in everything which concerned party politics, stated in their recent report: "racial voting . . . seems to be indulged in less in Hawaii than on the mainland. . . . So far it is safe to say that elections have been decided on individual merit rather than racial ties; and no good reasons exist for believing that any different policy will be accepted by the citizenry in the future."

A more fundamental question is whether the Japanese in Hawaii are genuinely American. Do they have characteristics which make them a desirable element in the community? Are they so thoroughly loyal to the United States that they would fight for the United States in an American-Japanese war?

The Japanese in Hawaii have proved themselves to be outstanding in those qualities which go to make desirable citizens. They are law-abiding, hard-working and efficient. In proportion to their numbers, fewer Japanese are arrested, in prison and on charity than any other racial group, including the Caucasian.

As regards the degree to which they have been Americanized in their daily life and thought, we must differentiate between three generations. The first immigrants from Japan were of course thoroughly Japanese; and, although many of them have adapted themselves in varying degrees to life in an American community, they still remain on the whole Japanese in customs and ideas. Their children, the second generation, were born in homes where Japanese was the common language; but when they went to the public schools they learned English, adopted American customs and absorbed American ideas. This second generation, American citizens because American born, has become in large measure American in speech and in ways of living and thought. Visitors from Japan, when invited to address an audience of younger Hawaiian Japanese, have frequently found it advisable to speak in English. The leading Japanese language newspapers now publish half of each issue in English.

One aspect of this change was somewhat humorously described by the present postmaster of Honolulu: "The younger element [of Japanese and Chinese] live just as we do, on beefsteak and onions, and they get their orange juice and ham and eggs for breakfast. You don't suppose they want to return to a diet of rice and seaweed, which they would get if they went back to Japan or China." The extent to which Americanization has gone is strikingly shown whenever a second generation Japanese goes to Japan. As one of this group has described it: "One born here finds it very difficult to fit himself into the life of Japan. His ignorance of the language, customs and manners brand him as an outsider and subject him to great embarrassment. His meager training received in the local language schools does not prepare him for life in Japan, and he is tempted to board the first boat home to Hawaii."

The third generation, now at school or already in business, is almost entirely American in its way of life. It speaks English at home and starts its school life with a background of American habits. The second generation -- at present the dominant Japanese group in Hawaii -- is the one which has had to make the difficult cultural transition. That on the whole it is making this transition satisfactorily is the conclusion of the Joint Congressional Committee on Hawaii. "The Americanization of the Japanese in Hawaii," reports this body, "has perhaps made greater progress than it has with many immigrant groups of longer residence in America living in mainland communities."

A final important query is whether the American citizens of Japanese ancestry are completely loyal to the United States. Certainly, the Japanese in Hawaii who are American citizens have a very good record. In the World War some 600 men of Japanese descent served from Hawaii in the United States Army, and at least four were commissioned as officers. During the draft no Japanese claimed exemption, even if an alien. Of the Boy Scouts, 57 percent are of Japanese ancestry and each Scout meeting opens with a pledge of allegiance to the United States. Many of the Japanese students speak as ardent Americans, and in debate refer to "the ideals for which our forebears fought in 1776." Such remarks are common and, since they honestly reflect the attitude of the students concerned, are fully as justified as similar expressions by students on the mainland who belong to the second or third generation of European immigrants.

The query is often raised, and in view of the peculiar conditions in Hawaii very naturally raised, whether the Japanese would be loyal to the United States in case of a war with Japan. When this test came, would American citizens of Japanese ancestry fight for the United States? One can well understand the answer of a young Japanese who replied to such a question: "I would kill myself." Many well-informed persons in Hawaii believe that in such a war most Japanese-Americans would act as loyally as did the thousands of German-Americans who served in the American Army during the World War. The attitude of a great many Japanese-Americans has been well expressed by one of them: "The fact that I am an American doesn't mean that I should hate my own race. . . . If war comes -- for our parents' sake we do not want to see war with Japan -- but if it should come, you will find a great majority of us on the side of the Stars and Stripes -- not because we hate Japan, but because it is our duty to America."

It is unfortunate that the question of loyalty should have been openly raised, as is evident from the intensity of feeling sometimes manifested by Japanese-Americans. For example, in the recent hearings before the Congressional Committee one Hawaiian-born Japanese said: "I want to be treated as a citizen of the United States, and not as a Japanese. I have been telling my good, white American friends that as long as you treat American citizens of Japanese ancestry as Japanese, they are going to be Japanese. If you treat them as Americans, they will be Americans, and they will be Americans 100 percent." Some of the white Americans hold much the same view. General B. H. Wells, formerly Assistant Chief of Staff at Washington and for four years Commander of the Hawaiian Department, recently said: "In case of trouble with Japan . . . I think the majority of citizens [of Japanese ancestry] would be loyal, but this is the thing we don't know and are not going to definitely find out. It does no good to speculate about it in time of peace, and I think it is something of a tragedy. If we want to drive these people into a bloc, all we have to do is go ahead and suspect them." As a prominent American official in Honolulu remarked, "You cannot breed loyalty with suspicion."

But the problems of statehood and of defense make it necessary to raise this question of loyalty. If a referendum on statehood were to be submitted to all the voters at a general election, a majority would probably favor it, since the Hawaiian legislatures for thirty years have continuously asked for it and the platforms of both the Republican and the Democratic Parties have endorsed it. The "Big Five" sugar companies have recently declared for statehood, largely to prevent anti-Hawaiian discriminatory legislation at Washington. The white Americans are much divided in opinion and it would be hazardous to prophesy what the vote would be if it were limited to them alone. Nevertheless, most of them probably look forward to the achievement of statehood whenever the citizens of Japanese ancestry shall have become thoroughly American, whether that be after ten years or two generations. Many believe that statehood would strengthen the loyalty of these people to America. As Dr. David L. Crawford, President of the University of Hawaii, has said: "Statehood will make better citizens of our oriental young people . . . it will prove to them that they are being trusted as fellow citizens."

Statehood and Americanization are problems in which the American naval and military authorities are vitally interested. The naval base at Pearl Harbor, near Honolulu, is one of the greatest in the world. A narrow channel through the coral rock leads to six square miles of protected water, in which most of the American fleet can lie at one time. In fact, during the 1935 manœuvres the entire fleet of 163 ships (all except the large airplane carriers) did anchor in Pearl Harbor. At the naval yard ships can be refuelled, repaired and provided with ammunition.

Immense sums have been spent on Pearl Harbor. Up to June 30, 1938, the total amounted to $127,479,557, while the last Congress appropriated an additional $4,575,000. But if Pearl Harbor is to be made fully adequate for any contingency still more must be done. To accommodate the entire United States fleet, and to make it possible for the airplane carriers and battleships to anchor there if damaged and low in the water, further dredging is necessary. Larger dry docks are needed, since the present 1,000-foot one cannot take the airplane carriers and the largest battleships -- nor indeed any of the battleships if they are damaged and drawing more than their normal depth. Congress has twice appropriated $10,000,000 for a floating dry dock adequate for the largest naval vessel; but, as no bid has yet come within that figure, no construction contract has been awarded.

To protect Pearl Harbor the United States maintains on the island of Oahu an extensive military establishment. There are batteries of 16-inch, 14-inch and 12-inch guns; many miles of military roads; concrete and steel observation posts, searchlights and sound detectors to guard against hostile airplanes; a depot in the crater of an old volcano containing about $20,000,000 worth of ammunition; and a highly efficient mechanized and motorized military force of 20,000 officers and men. The Army air base at Hickham Field is being rapidly completed. It comprises 2,300 acres, will cost $18,000,000 and is to be the largest of all the United States Army airports. With this defense Oahu is practically impregnable. Pearl Harbor has been called the most strongly defended naval base in the world. In the words of Admiral Leahy: "So long as the United States fleet is intact in the Pacific, there is no danger of an enemy capturing the Hawaiian Islands." Hawaii is the outpost guarding the Pacific coast of the United States. It is generally believed that so long as Pearl Harbor is securely held and a strong American fleet is intact in that ocean, no hostile fleet will dare to attack in force anywhere between Panama and Puget Sound. And, if the United States should be at war in the Far East, Hawaii would serve as the base for an advance across the ocean.

The Army and the Navy are, however, somewhat apprehensive as to two possibilities: a food shortage in case communications with the mainland are interrupted, and sabotage. Oahu, whose soil is devoted to producing sugar cane and pineapples, raises only fifteen percent of the food consumed by its civilian population. The Army has therefore developed plans for quick-growing crops, some of which could be harvested in 80 days: the lands which would raise these crops have already been selected.

The fear of wartime sabotage is primarily due to the Japanese in Hawaii. Ninety-nine out of a hundred of them might remain thoroughly loyal to the United States in case of a war with Japan. Yet the Army and Navy know that even if only one percent should be aggressively disloyal there might be disastrous consequences. Their apprehension is shown by their disapproval of early statehood for Hawaii. This opposition rests on two assumptions: (1) that American citizens of Japanese ancestry might be elected to the executive offices of the new state, and (2) that if so elected they would not coöperate fully with the Army and Navy. The proponents of statehood insist that the possibility of a Japanese-American Governor is very remote and that in time of war, whether Hawaii be state or territory, the Federal Government would take control by declaring martial law.

In Hawaii, then, the United States has two great tasks which often conflict: the protection of the country's greatest naval base and the blending of diverse racial groups into a loyal American community. Hawaii has already made striking progress towards creating racial harmony, and if this progress can be continued into the future there is every promise that time will eventually weld the racial groups into a thoroughly American population. Nothing should be permitted to interfere with this process which is now so happily going forward.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now