Natural Hawai'i

Statehood History

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World War II

On December 7, 1941, a wave of Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor, jolting the USA into WW II. The attack caught the US fleet totally by surprise. Within minutes the USS Arizona went down in a fiery inferno, trapping 1177 men beneath the surface. Twenty other US ships were sunk or damaged, along with 347 aircraft. More than 2,500 people were killed.

map pearl harbor 100Throughout the war, Oahu served as the command post for US Pacific operations. Hawaii was placed under martial law, and Oahu took on the face of a military camp. Already heavily militarized, vast tracts of Hawaii’s land were turned over to the US forces for expanded military bases, training and weapons testing. Much of that land would never be returned to Hawaii ownership.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor there was a wave of suspicion against people of Japanese descent. Many religious and civic leaders were sent to mainland internment camps in one of the darkest days of US civil rights history.

Eventually Japanese-Americans were allowed to volunteer for a segregated regiment. In the latter stages of the war, they were given the chance to form a combat unit. Volunteers were numerous and two distinguished Japanese-American regiments were formed. One of these, the 442nd Second Regimental Combat Team, was sent to Europe and became the most decorated fighting unit in US history. One of the veterans of the 442nd was Hawaii’s senior US senator Daniel Inouye.

Unionizing Hawaii

After WW II, organized labor launched an intensive campaign against the ‘Big Five’: C Brewer, Castle & Cooke, Alexander & Baldwin, Theo Davies, and Amfac. These were Hawaii’s biggest businesses and landholders, all with roots in sugar.

The ILWU’s six-month waterfront strike in 1949 virtually halted all shipments to and from Hawaii and the union went on to organize plantation strikes. In the 1950’s, under McCarthyism, the leader of the ILWU in Hawaii, Jack Hall, was tried and convicted of being a Communist.


By the time the war was over, opinion polls showed that two out of three Hawaiian residents favoured statehood.

Hawaii was too much of a melting pot for many politicians to support statehood, particularly those from the segregated southern states and also of concerned was the success of Hawaiian labour strikes and the growth of membership in the ILWU. It all combined to keep statehood at bay.

In March 1959, the US Congress finally passed legislation to make Hawaii a state and more than 90% of the islanders voted for statehood.


In just 200 years of Westem contact the native Hawaiian population was decimated by foreign diseases to which they had no immunities and much of their land grabed by westerners.

The passage of Hawaiian Home Lands legislation in modern times is attempting to correct this imbalance that continues today with much of Hawaii owned by a few families or corporations descended from the missionaries.

Hawaii history
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