[FILM] WWII Film Tells of Japanese in Hawaii
- WWII Film Tells of Japanese in Hawaii
Sunday December 5 6:23 PM ET
More than 120,000 Japanese-Americans were ordered into internment
camps during World War II, but despite their large numbers, few in
the territory of Hawaii were forced to leave their homes.
Filmmaker Tom Coffman is working on a documentary that explains why,
and explores how communities working together on behalf of local
Japanese-Americans influenced both Hawaii's and the nation's
"I believe this laid the basis for statehood," said Coffman, an
author and former political reporter.
An interracial group started meeting in Hawaii in 1939 in
anticipation of war, fearing the effect on the U.S. territory would
be devastating, Coffman said.
"Their premise was that how well we get along during the war will
determine how well we get along after," he said. "The greatest sense
of urgency came from the Japanese community. But overlooked are the
Caucasian community, business community, Chinese community."
The group, including Shigeo Yoshida, an educator whose unarchived
and uncategorized files Coffman found at the University of Hawaii,
began working as the Council for Interracial Unity. Coffman said the
council combined "pragmatism and idealism."
"The group struck on the idea of involving military intelligence and
the FBI," Coffman said, noting that intelligence agencies had been
keeping watch on the Hawaii populace.
The group made contact with Robert Shivers, the head of the Honolulu
FBI office who was charged with determining whether the estimated
one-third Japanese population would be loyal to the United States.
The group enlisted Shivers in their cause and surrounded him with
advisers that were Nisei second-generation Americans of Japanese
When young Nisei went to the police department and volunteered their
service in event of war, they were assigned to Lt. John A. Burns,
who began organizing a communication and morale-boosting network.
Burns, a Democrat who went on to be elected governor in 1962, three
years after statehood, was assigned to assist the FBI with
Burns wrote in a Honolulu Star-Bulletin column that Japanese-
Americans in Hawaii were loyal to the United States and it was in
America's interest to cultivate that loyalty.
"It was a gutsy move; it put him personally at risk," Coffman said.
Members of the group also became instrumental in the formation of
the Army's storied 442nd Regimental Combat Team, comprised of mostly
Japanese-Americans. The unit became one of the most decorated in
U.S. military history.
Coffman said he has been working on the project for about 10 years,
including spending a month one summer at the National Archives
collecting archival film. It started with his book "Catch a Wave,"
which chronicled Burns' final campaign for governor in 1970.
The effort accelerated with Coffman's work at the Japanese Cultural
Center and his research on his last book, "Island Edge," which
traces Hawaii's history from annexation to the 1980s with emphasis
on the contribution of Japanese-Americans.
Most of the approximately 15 interviews have been done and the
documentary's script has been written. Film directors Bob Bates and
Ryan Kawamoto are helping to film some of the interviews.
"The archival film is good, but the live interviews authenticate
it," Coffman said. "They tell the stories that put you there. We're
lucky we still have some of the people around."
Coffman hopes to complete the documentary by next fall.