Ron’s Canteen*** The Evolution of Post World War II Hawaii Through the 442nd Nikkei’s

Ron Oba is an active member of the 442nd Veterans Club in Honolulu. He has served as president of the organization. He is a veteran of the Second Battalion, F Company, 442nd RCT and spends much of his time promoting the 442. Here’s an article written by Ron, originally published in 1992.

The Evolution of Post World War II Hawaii Through the 442nd Nikkei’s

Whatever we do will have consequences. Conversely, whatever we don’t do will result in consequences – this is the meaning of “Karma”. “Karma” is not merely a cause and effect.

On December 7, 1941 we experienced the “Karma of Opportunity”. Our Nikkei (Japanese immigrants and their descendents) lives were not predestined to prejudice, injustice nor to a life of subordination purely on the basis of color or race. The Nikkei in Hawaii did not let faith take its predestined course. The young Americans of Japanese ancestry (AJA) took matters into their own hands to meticulously mold their fortunes and future by an indomitable will to succeed economically, intellectually and politically.

Before World War II, youths in Hawaiian plantations were compelled to attend classes called, “Future Farmers of America” (FFA). Presumably the industrious Nikkei’s would make an excellent labor force for the sugar dynasties in the years ahead.

WWII turned out to be the catalyst that changed the whole political, social, economic and educational future of the AJAs. The seeds of the Horatio Alger Effect were transcended through kindergarten and college education interspersed with a smattering of Japanese “Shushin” that gave the Nikkei’s a taste of the quality of life never before expected by their immigrant parents.

The young AJAs known as the Varsity Victory Volunteers (VVV), former University of Hawaii ROTC students, cajoled, pleaded, implored the Territory of Hawaii authorities to utilize their talents and loyalty for a more useful military purpose than the then labor force they were in. Through the support of the Assistant Secretary of the Army, John McCloy, the War Department decided to reopen military service to the Japanese Americans. This opened the floodgates for volunteers to join the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) in March of 1943!

The Battle experiences of the 442nd RCT is now legendary. Their valor and heroism are finally narrated in several books as the Nikkei are less reluctant to toot their own horn and more importantly, they seem eager to tell their story so that others may not forget. As some Sansei’s (third generation) and Yonsei’s (fourth generation) exclaim, “What? I wasn’t even born yet”.

In 1954, history emphasizes that the Democratic Party in Hawaii emerged as the dominant force in the political arena and has held the leadership role to this day. How did 442nd veterans like Dan Inouye become U.S. Senator and Tadao Beppu (M Co.) become Speaker of the House from 1967 to 1974? How did the others follow suit – John Ushijima (M Co.) as President of the Senate, Nadao Yoshinaga (Cannon Co.) and Katsugo Miho (552) [sic], legislators: Justices Yoshinaga Hayashi (171 Co.) and Eddie Nakamura (522); City Prosecutor Togo Nakagawa (I Co.);  Henry Oyasato (F Co.), State Director of Selective Service, 1965-76; and Michio Taketa (F Co.). State Director of Fish and Game.

(Source: “Nisei Men Told They Couldn’t Serve”. Walter Wright, The Sunday Star Bulletin and Advertiser. Dec. 1, 1991. pg A21)

Nikkei’s other than 442nd veterans abound in important positions of influence starting with former U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga, Governor George Ariyoshi, Harry Tanaka, Judge of the Intermediate Court of Appeals, and many others too numerous to cite.

As stated previously, this historical revolution did not happen by chance. The AJA veterans who returned from the battle fields were not content to revert back to their former status as a labor force. Almost all of them took advantage of the GI bill to seek higher education. Every parent imbued into their formative minds that the way to success was through education and hard work.

When they returned from colleges across the nation, they infiltrated and qualified for every conceivable position that required high technology and skill. The Democratic dominance of 1954 was the climactic result of this educational background that the then Governor of Hawaii, John A. Burns first caucused with the politically motivated veterans to formulate the future political arena which helped carve a niche for the AJAs in every facet of life.

Labor did not remain idle. The Nikkei’s jumped feet first into union activities and helped improve the economic fortunes of their fellow men. Ironically, the Nikkei’s today sit on opposite sides of the bargaining table and whether as the result of their background or common goals they aspire, both union and management negotiators seem to settle their differences with impunity. And today, the top arbitrator in Hawaii is Ted Tsukiyama (522).

Today, the future of Hawaii rests in the hands of a mixture of races – cosmopolitan, if you like. However, the spectra of Hawaiian Sovereignty rises in the horizon and history may repeat itself in the quest for redress and reparations for the native Hawaiians. When and how the Nikkei’s participate in the sovereignty issue remains to be seen.

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