A year ago I was looking at an old map of Hawaii, noticing several islands not depicted on tourist maps and brochures. One in particular intrigued me since it sat just south of Kauai, and was close enough to be seen from the shore.
I learned that the Island has been privately owned by the Robinson sheep farming family since the 1800′s. Less than 150 people live there. Hawaiian is still spoken as the primary language.
There is no telephone service, and automobiles are not allowed; horses and bicycles are the main form of transportation. Solar power provides all of the electricity. There are no hotels or general stores. Barges deliver groceries from Kauai.
The isolation is self-imposed, the Robinson’s enjoy caretaking this lost portion of Hawaiian culture.
The Island’s name is Ni’ihau and it is home to one of the forgotten events of World War Two.
On December 7th, 1941 Airman First-Class Shigenori Nishikaichi of the Empire of Japan took part in the bombing of Pearl Harbor, on the Island of Oahu, in the U.S. Territory of Hawaii. After the bombing, his tiny plane was damaged by anti-aircraft fire and he was unable to return to his ship.
He crash landed on Ni’ihau.
His plane wrecked less than 20 feet from Hawila Kaleohano, a native Hawaiian. Kaleohano and the rest of the people on Ni’ihau had no idea that Pearl Harbor had been bombed; without electricity or newspapers it often took weeks for news to reach them.
Because he was aware that the U.S. had placed an oil embargo on Japan, and that Japanese expansion had set conditions in the Pacific rim on edge, he took the opportunity to remove the woozy pilot’s pistol and identification papers.
Then he and the other Islanders hosted a Luau to honor their unexpected guest.
When it became clear that communication with Nishikaichi was at an impasse, they sent for the three people on the Island who spoke Japanese: Ishimatsu Shintani, a Japanese immigrant to the island, and Yoshio and Irene Harado; native Hawaiians of Japanese ancestry.
The pilot told them of the decisive victory at Pearl Harbor,
That the United States Navy had been destroyed,
And that he wanted his pistol and papers back.
Kaleohano and the Hawaiians refused to return the pilot’s possessions. Confused about what to do next, the Harado Family persuaded the others to let the pilot stay in their home.
None of the Japanese speakers mentioned Pearl Harbor.
When the Sunday evening supply ship failed to arrive, the Hawaiians turned to a battery operated radio. Learning of the attack, they set up a guard detail around the Harado’s home.
They locked the pistol in an old woodshed.
Kaleohano kept the papers.
5 days passed, and inter-island travel by ship was still not restored. Shintani approached Kaleohano and offered him $200 for the papers. Kaleohano refused. Shintani warned that there would be trouble.
While Irene Harado created a diversion, Yoshio and the pilot overpowered the guards and retrieved the pistol, and a shotgun. The Hawaiians fled to the hills to hide in caves and thickets.
Hawila Kaleohano got into a canoe and began paddling the 17 miles to Kauai.
The pilot and his sympathizers took Ella Kanahele hostage, demanding that her husband Ben find and return with the papers. Knowing that Kaleohano had left the Island, Ben feigned cooperation but then returned to rescue his wife.
Nishikaichi may have been a soldier, but Ben Kanahele was a shepherd.
Taking the wife hostage proved to be a fatal miscalculation. Being shot three times did nothing to deter Ben from hurling the pilot against a wall and slitting his throat. In his shame Yoshio Harado turned the shotgun on himself.
When Kaleohano returned with the authorities, Irene Harado and Ishimatsu Shintani were arrested. Neither were tried for treason, but Harado spent 31 months in prison, and Shintani spent the remainder of the war in an internment camp.
The effects of the isolated incident on Ni’ihau were far reaching.
The official report, authored by Lieutenant C. B. Baldwin, reads, “The fact that Ni’ihau Japanese… went to the aid of the pilot when Japan domination of the island seemed possible, indicate likelihood that Japanese residents… may aid Japan if further Japanese attacks appear successful.”
The terror caused by the treachery of three terrified outsiders created an atmosphere which led to the internment of over 100,000 innocent Japanese-Americans. Absent from the context of the Ni’ihau incident, and the National panic during the final days of 1941, it’s easy to throw stones at the United States Government.
While the internment of Japanese-American families on the west coast (in preparation against Japanese invasion) seemed wise at the time, the decision came from a sample size that was too small and tainted to extrapolate national policy from.
Also, None of the Japanese-Hawaiians on Ni’ihau were U.S. Citizens- and none of them were able to make decisions informed by living inside the United States.
It’s important to remember that our nation’s leadership wasn’t intentionally punishing innocents out of a malicious prejudice. They had no idea what the winter months would bring to the western shores of our continent.
It’s a also good illustration that we can be well-meaning and hurtful all at the same time. This is often because our best intentions will usually come from a lack of information and perspective.
It’s that same lack of information and perspective that led the Japanese-Hawaiians on Ni’ihau to pick the wrong side of a much bigger fight than they ever imagined.
As our country celebrates its birthday today, it’s important to keep in mind that our intentions are just a tiny portion of the overall factors involved in the outcome of an event.
The amount of information, calculation, and action required for successful human interaction should be sobering enough to keep us from sweeping generalization and broad assumption.
Everyone believes that their motives are pure,
We think ourselves to be noble in conflict,
We assert our moral righteousness as vindication,
But in the end it is our ability to question and go beyond ourselves for guidance that delivers us from selfish acts of self-preservation.
In the end, who we turn to for perspective and guidance is actually more important than our intention and motivation.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to destruction.” Proverbs 16:25
The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run into it, and they are saved. Proverbs 18:10