The thick vegetation, pineapple patch and plantation-style cottages that sit just makai of the cannery and Fukushima Store look like any other part of Haiku. You don’t have to walk too far in any direction before the modern sounds of civilization disappear, transporting you back to a time when all you’d hear was the odd rooster crowing and the wind rustling through the lush jungle.
Really, it wasn’t that long ago that the old cannery was still just for canning pineapple, rather than holding an eclectic array of cafés and shops. Back then, steam trains regularly ran through town, bringing sand and lime up from the coast and pineapples to the Kahului Harbor. And for a brief time in 1942, Haiku also included an internment camp for Japanese Americans.
Today most Haiku residents—to say nothing of the rest of the island—have no idea it was there. There’s no sign of it these days, or even any indication of where it stood exactly—just vague directions handed down by descendents of some of its now-deceased prisoners.
“The camp was located below where the Haiku Post Office is now, near the old Mukai Store,” said Sandy Daniels, the granddaughter of Tetsuji Hanzawa, who was held at the camp.
“The Haiku Camp was located about 250 feet makai side of the old Haiku Fruit cannery and about 50 feet to the right side of the then old Hana Highway,” Kenneth Okano, who used to drive a woman to the camp to visit her husband, said in a hand-written recollection of the camp on file with the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i (JCCH). “The camp was set up on the athletic field located in that area. Today you cannot tell that there was a camp as there are homes built in that area.”
Maui was spared the relentless bombardments, bloody invasions and ruthless occupations that characterized the Pacific Theater during World War II. But the war didn’t bypass the island entirely.
In Makawao, the paniolos formed the Maui Mounted Patrol to keep the peace Upcountry. Over in South Maui, U.S. Navy Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT or “frogmen”) trained at what is now the Royal Mauian Hotel—you can still see the wreckage of old pillboxes among the rocks at Kamaole I Beach Park. Marines practiced amphibious landings at Kealia Pond. Hellcat fighters flew off the short airstrip at Naval Airstation Pu‘unene, used today by the island’s drag racers.
And in Haiku in early 1942, U.S. Army soldiers resettled the island’s Japanese residents—many of them American citizens—into a camp. Such camps existed on every major island.
“[T]hey learned last week that, in a nation’s hour of peril, having been born a citizen is not enough,” Time Magazine wrote ominously the week of Mar. 16, 1942. “So they began to pack their keepsakes, lift their slant-eyed children on their arms, and start on the long migration east across the Sierra Nevadas, to dreary inland country far from the blue sea.”
These were the dark days of the war, immediately following the Pearl Harbor attacks, and President Franklyn Roosevelt ordered the army to round up more than 100,000 Japanese Americans across Hawai‘i and the Mainland’s West Coast and move them inland, ostensibly where they couldn’t commit unspeakable acts of sabotage. Racism and wartime paranoia—far more than any strategic consideration—were the engines that kept the prisoners moving.
“The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil, possessed of United States citizenship, have become Americanized, the racial strains are undiluted,” Lieutenant General John Lesesne DeWitt—Western Defense Command chief and architect of internment—wrote to his superiors in 1942. “To conclude otherwise is to expect that children born of white parents on Japanese soil sever all racial affinity and become loyal Japanese subjects, ready to fight, and if necessary, to die for Japan in a war against the nation of their parents.”
What’s more, DeWitt was so caught up in wartime hysteria that even the absence of attacks by a Japanese American “fifth column” of saboteurs terrified him.
“There are indications that these [Japanese] are organized and ready for concerted action at a favorable opportunity,” he continued in his memo. “The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken.”
Ironically, even though Nazi U-boats did land saboteurs on the East Coast—the FBI rounded them up fairly easily, with the help of a turncoat—government officials never seriously considered the incarceration of German and Italian Americans.
Often citizens were given just 48 hours notice or less to pack whatever they could carry and leave their homes and businesses. All Americans of Japanese ancestry—even those with sons serving in the U.S. military—had to go. Their new “homes” for the duration of the war were true detention camps—on the Mainland, guard towers and machine guns were the norm.
The camps on Maui and the other Hawaiian islands were apparently not so hardcore. The Haiku Camp consisted mostly of tents and non-permanent structures. From there, the army moved prisoners first to either Sand Island in Honolulu Harbor or Honouliuli near Ewa, and then to big Mainland camps like Manzanar, located in California’s Owens Valley.
Tetsuji Hanzawa—owner of Hanzawa’s Store, which is still in Haiku—was one of the prisoners held at the Haiku camp. Now deceased (he’d be 105 today), his granddaughter Sandra Daniells runs the store today.
According to Daniells, authorities took her grandfather first to the Haiku camp, and then to a more permanent facility in New Mexico. When ordered into the camp, Hanzawa’s wife and other relatives were left behind to run the business without him. In this regard, Hazawa was lucky—after the war, he had a still-functioning business to return to.
Documentation on the camp is rare, to say the least. In response to our inquiry about life at the Haiku camp, the JCCH dug around, but didn’t find much. “We have so little information that we hope your story will encourage people to contact you to offer their stories, etc.,” Jane Kurahara, a JCCH Resource Center volunteer, emailed us.
The JCCH did produce a letter from the National Archives. Dated Sept. 23, 1943 and written by Swedish Vice Consul Gustaf W. Olson, it’s one of the only known official accounts of life in the camp, though written at a time when it appears most of Maui’s prisoners had already been moved out to other camps. If it represents an accurate depiction of life, then the Haiku prisoners had a far easier time coping with incarceration than their counterparts on the Mainland or even other Hawaiian islands.
“Reference is made to my report on this camp dated January 30, 1943, in which I described it and stated that it is the best of all the internment camps in the Territory,” Olson wrote. “I can only repeat this opinion, with added emphasis. It is a most delightful place, and being on vacation at the time of my visit, I would rather have stayed there than return to the hotel in Wailuku.
“There were only four internees at the time of my visit, only one of whom was a Japanese subject,” he continued. “All had been recommended for release by the local board. All expressed themselves as well content with their treatment. I lunched on the same food served the internees and found it good.”
Kenneth Okano was born in Hana in 1928. Later he moved to Lahaina to attend Lahainaluna High as a boarder. Working as an errand boy during the war, he was able to drive a large Plymouth. He says he drove Mrs. Nishino and her daughter Pricilla the 45 minutes up to the Haiku camp to visit Nishino’s husband twice–both times on the weekend.
The Nishino family owned a laundry in Lahaina. Authorities sent Kinori Nishino to the Haiku camp before transferring him to another camp on Sand Island and then finally to the Mainland.
Priscilla Shinmoto, daughter of the now deceased Nishino, visited her father when she was a child. Today she’s a retired schoolteacher and a grandmother living in Oahu. She says that she only discovered that her father spent time in an Albuquerque camp when she saw a Hawaii Herald article listing the names of prisoners held there (The Hawaii Herald is a Japanese American newspaper in Hawai‘i).
“He came home in ’45,” Shinmoto said. “I was born in ’41. He never talked about it. All 18 years I was growing up in Lahaina, he never talked about it. I think that’s how it was. They never brought it up. He had to leave behind a business, his wife and three small children to fend for themselves.”
Nishino exemplifies the arbitrary, often contradictory grounds for imprisonment Japanese Americans faced. Shingmoto said her father went to the camps because he was a Judo instructor and community leader. She said that military authorities considered those characteristics “a threat, or whatever.”
Okano, her Lahainaluna chauffeur, heard a different story. “I heard Nishino was sent to the camp because when he’d make laundry deliveries, he would boast that the Japanese were going to win the war,” he said. Okano added that usually, just teachers, Buddhist reverends, businessmen and people involved with the Japanese government were sent to the camps.
He said that when Hawai‘i was still a U.S. territory, Japanese American babies were registered first with local government liaisons and then the Japanese government. This way they could get dual-citizenship.
Shinmoto recalled that her father went to the camp with five of his friends. She doesn’t recall all of their names, but one was apparently a man named Fukunaga who worked at the Post Office and another was Reverend Tanaka from Lahaina. Two others were Nishino’s fishing buddies.
“They all five went to the camp,” she said. “I think they’re all gone now.”
The financial costs to Japanese Americans were enormous,” Eric Muller wrote in the December 2004 Reason Online article “Indefensible Internment.” According to Muller, property losses suffered by the Japanese Americans exceeded $150 million in 1940 dollars. No one knows how much they lost in potential income, emotional hardship and societal stigmatization. After the war, the U.S. Government redressed former prisoners’ documented property losses, paying a mere 25 cents on the dollar.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, formally recognizing the hardship Japanese American citizens endured during the war and offering financial reparations and a formal apology acknowledging that the internment policy was more based on racism than military necessity.
The apology was good but long overdue. And it almost goes without saying that the reparations were a mere pittance. By February 1999, the U.S. government had handed out 82,210 payments of $20,000 each to Japanese Americans or their heirs, according to Justice Department officials.
Today, the forced evacuation and incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II is nearly universally reviled in this country. We say “nearly,” because every now and then some voice pops up in the wilderness to say what President Roosevelt and General DeWitt did was completely justified.
Calling the contemporary outrage at the camps a “politically correct myth… enshrined as incontrovertible wisdom in the gullible press, postmodern academia, the cash-hungry grievance industry, and liberal Hollywood,” conservative commentator Michelle Malkin managed to put the best spin on the camps she could in her 2004 tome In Defense of Internment: The case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War II and the War on Terror.
Based on the historically shaky theory that Top Secret “MAGIC” intelligence intercepts–secret cables sent by the Japanese government and intercepted by U.S. intelligence–guided men like Lt. Gen. DeWitt towards internment. Now Malkin herself admits she’s not an historian, and authentic historians have discredited this view, observing, among other things, that DeWitt didn’t have the security clearance to even know that U.S. Military Intelligence was reading secret Japanese cables.
But we live in a time when conservative commentators like Malkin—a favorite on Fox News and talk radio—are so paranoid about terrorism that they scream about the need to watch Arabs everywhere, regardless of whether there’s any evidence of guilt.
“Absolutists who oppose national-security profiling often invoke the World War II experience of Japanese-Americans,” Malkin wrote in USA Today on Aug. 16, 2004. “Post-9/11, the belief that racial, religious and nationality profiling is never justified has become a dangerous bugaboo. It is unfortunate that loyal Muslims or Arabs might be burdened because of terrorists who share their race, nationality or religion. But any inconvenience is preferable to suffering a second mass terrorist attack on American soil.”
Buried in Malkin’s slippery illogic is a stunning argument: it’s okay to imprison people simply because they happen to be a certain race. As the Japanese American internment experience slips further out of living memory, and places like the Haiku Camp disappear entirely, there’s a real danger that such attitudes will become easier to justify.
Written By Greg Mebel and Anthony Pignataro
The JCCH is currently seeking people who either know about or were involved with Maui’s internment camps. They will send someone to Maui to record the oral histories of people with information on this nearly lost era. You may contact them at (808) 945-7633.