Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Island Edge of America

The Island Edge of America: A Political History of Hawaii

Tom Coffman
Copyright Date: 2003
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Island Edge of America
    Book Description:

    In his most challenging work to date, journalist and author Tom Coffman offers readers a new and much-needed political narrative of twentieth-century Hawaii. The Island Edge of America reinterprets the major events leading up to and following statehood in 1959: U.S. annexation of the Hawaiian kingdom, the wartime crisis of the Japanese-American community, postwar labor organization, the Cold War, the development of Hawaii's legendary Democratic Party, the rise of native Hawaiian nationalism. His account weaves together the threads of multicultural and transnational forces that have shaped the Islands for more than a century, looking beyond the Hawaii carefully packaged for the tourist to the Hawaii of complex and conflicting identities--independent kingdom, overseas colony, U.S. state, indigenous nation--a wonderfully rich, diverse, and at times troubled place. With a sure grasp of political history and culture based on decades of firsthand archival research, Tom Coffman takes Hawaii's story into the twentieth century and in the process sheds new light on America's island edge.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6478-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Timeline
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Chapter 1 The Edge
    (pp. 1-6)

    When the sun is high in the central Pacific, visitors often wander near down-town Honolulu along the mountain side of ‘Iolani Palace, past the iron fence, past the statue of the queen, and into the open-air rotunda of the capitol of the State of Hawai‘i. These landmarks say that Hawai‘i once was a kingdom, and now it is a state of the United States. If the visitor were to return for a long night of storytelling, he or she might acquire a more intense feeling for their significance, because in Hawai‘i there is a story for every niche, stream, stone,...

  7. Chapter 2 The Tensions of Annexation
    (pp. 7-14)

    Like springs bubbling up from the back of a wet valley, the renewed inquiry into the nature of Hawai‘i was fed by many sources. In the raw, it was developed not so often by academic historians as by celebrations, protests, reenactments, exhibits, slide shows, and videos. Oral history became important. Genealogies and chants were revived. Novels about the Hawai‘i experience began to flourish, along with poetry and public art. Again, the early 1970s were the point of acceleration. Where the writing produced at the time of statehood was about the whole, the new writing was about the parts. Literatures of...

  8. Chapter 3 The Japanese Migration
    (pp. 15-36)

    The mass migration of Japanese to Hawai‘i eventually was to become the single most important factor in the development of the State of Hawai‘i and also the making of Hawai‘i’s unique contribution to America. If a single object could be lifted from its box at the Bishop Museum to symbolize the origins of the Japanese in America, it might be a coral-colored brocade pouch that arrived in Hawai‘i in 1886. The pouch contained an agreement that had been worked out between the governments of Hawai‘i and Japan covering standards of pay, health care, and housing on the plantations, and access...

  9. Chapter 4 Prewar Change
    (pp. 37-58)

    If the sugar industry and the Big Five corporations could have seen further into the future, they might have opted for institutionalizing their relationships with the mostly Japanese leadership of the 1920 strike through collective bargaining. Had they done so, it seems plausible they could have benefited from the willingness of immigrants to work hard and get ahead. A Japanese-led system of collective bargaining might have evolved that included Filipino workers as well as the small number of Koreans and Chinese. By resisting the strikers, the companies delayed the organization of labor. This eventually left them face to face with...

  10. Chapter 5 When Time Began
    (pp. 59-102)

    It is often said that Americans from all over connected with one another through their stories of December 7, 1941. The question, “Where were you?” was like resetting a clock. Everything that happened before Pearl Harbor was old news, and everything that happened after Pearl Harbor was charged with meaning.

    Daniel K. Inouye was seventeen. He rushed into the streets, shook his fist at the sky, and said, “You dirty Japs.” George Ryoichi Ariyoshi was fourteen. He had gone to the Buddhist temple on Fort Street early that morning to play ping pong in the basement. As the ball bounced,...

  11. Chapter 6 The ESC and the Modern Democratic Party
    (pp. 103-135)

    While the nisei soldier has become a staple of Hawai‘i’s story, the overall pattern of self-imposed AJA restraint has obscured the extent to which the contemporary state of Hawai‘i grew out of the effort to get Hawai‘i’s Japanese community through World War II.

    The first recorded vignette of a heightened nisei determination to pursue social and economic change through the democratic process was in the training camp of the 100th Battalion, where a group of young nisei officers stayed back from weekend passes to discuss, over and over, how Hawai‘i must be transformed after the war.¹ The debate centered on...

  12. Chapter 7 The Island Democratic Party
    (pp. 136-159)

    The story of Burns’ formative years has a striking parallel to the story of Hawai‘i in the first half of the twentieth century: It is wrapped in vague generalizations that present a mythic outline but conceal a great deal of pain. Burns was the oldest of four children born to Harry Jacob Burns and Anne Scally Burns, a military family whose lives were shaped by how America came to be a Pacific power. Harry was a veteran of the Spanish-American War, as were two of his brothers-in-law, Jack and Elmer Scally. John Burns was born in 1909 at a remote...

  13. Chapter 8 A State Like No Other
    (pp. 160-184)

    If the only clue to Hawai‘i’s political culture was a map, the viewer might be struck by the wide dispersal of the islands. They are separated by imposing channels, which are usually wider than the islands themselves. Although the land mass of the archipelago is only a little larger than Connecticut, it is spread across a space the size of Kansas.

    The islands were formed by an outpouring of lava from a fissure in the earth’s tectonic plates. Over millennia, the fountain of lava has remained in place, but the plates themselves have migrated, carrying islands to the northwest. As...

  14. Chapter 9 In the Middle
    (pp. 185-206)

    While George Ariyoshi’s story is distinctly a nisei story, it is a reminder of the many variations on its themes.¹ Neither Ariyoshi nor his family experienced plantation life. He came of age as World War II was ending. Although he was influenced by the war, its effect on him was less direct than on people a few years older. After living in various places around O‘ahu, the Ariyoshi family moved into Chinatown when young George was entering the second grade. There he was enrolled at Robello School in P a lama and also at a nearby Japanese language school, the...

  15. Chapter 10 The First Japanese American Governor
    (pp. 207-226)

    By the time George Ariyoshi became acting governor, the post-statehood economic boom had ended. In one of John Burns’ last acts in office, he appointed a commission to analyze how much revenue the state government was taking in versus how much it was spending. The panel was called the Commission on Operations, Revenues, and Expenditures (CORE).

    CORE settled on the ratio of increased revenues to increased population as a key indicator of government’s ability to embark on new programs and expand old ones. It found the state government had been living in the luxury of rapid economic expansion. Between 1961...

  16. Chapter 11 Special Place
    (pp. 227-267)

    When George Ariyoshi took the oath to serve as the third elected governor of Hawai‘i, he stood at the far end of a long sequence. The journey had begun with the forced opening of Japan in 1853 and the ensuing question posed by the Social Darwinism of the times: Were white Europeans and Americans—sailing in superior ships, bearing superior arms—inherently superior beings? Other questions followed: If some nations were obviously superior in power, would they always be? Why had Japan’s emigrants been barred from voting in the Republic of Hawai‘i, then barred from citizenship in the Territory of...

  17. Chapter 12 The Pacific and Asia
    (pp. 268-288)

    One day in 1967, a packet arrived in the governor’s office from Osaka, Japan, announcing Osaka’s coming international exposition, Expo ’70. The packet was routed to a young development officer, Tom Sakata, in the Department of Planning and Economic Development. Sakata had traveled to Japan as a child and spoke a modest amount of Japanese. He had served as president of the Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce during the early statehood controversy over integrating the ethnic chambers of commerce, a move he had opposed.

    Sakata recommended that Hawai‘i participate in the Osaka fair. He cautioned that presenting Hawai‘i in Japan...

  18. Chapter 13 Native Hawaiians in the New Hawai‘i
    (pp. 289-321)

    Within the modern Democratic Party in Hawai‘i, a long-term effort was made to include native Hawaiians and to incorporate their concerns into broad Democratic themes. As John Burns argued, Hawaiians and AJAs together formed an unbeatable majority. This coalition worked increasingly well in the sixties and seventies, as more Hawaiians became politically active and also tended to migrate from the Republican to the Democratic Party. Nonetheless, a day of reckoning awaited, in which native Hawaiian history would be rediscovered and the interests of Hawaiians might then diverge.

    As the 1970s unfolded, it would be one thing for people of Japanese,...

  19. Chapter 14 Democratic Reinventions: Status Quo and Change
    (pp. 322-350)

    Having won the three-way Democratic primary of 1974 with only 36 percent of the vote, George Ariyoshi was in a politically insecure position during his first four years in office. The nature of his insecurity was punctuated on the night of his election victory, when Tom Gill gave up his eight-year quest for the governorship, leaving to Fasi the potential for getting a majority vote in the next Democratic primary.

    The scale of Frank Fasi’s ambitions was illustrated to me as a political reporter in 1968, when it was becoming apparent that he finally would be mayor of Honolulu. In...

  20. Chapter 15 Conclusion
    (pp. 351-356)

    With America’s 1898 annexation of Hawai‘i, the struggle of Hawaiians to perpetuate themselves as a people and the struggle of Asian immigrants to make their way in America were set in motion simultaneously. These became the two most active forces in Hawai‘i’s contemporary political history, eventually playing themselves out in 1954, 1959, the 1978 constitutional convention, and many of the gubernatorial elections since statehood. In the “black hole” of Hawai‘i’s history, between annexation and World War II, a great deal more change occurred than is typically suggested. For this, much of the credit must be given to the settlers from...

  21. Notes
    (pp. 357-374)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 375-380)
  23. Index
    (pp. 381-420)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 421-424)