In the aftermath of the 1920 strike of Filipino and Japanese American sugar plantation workers on the island of O'ahu, Major General Charles P. Summerall, commander of the army's Hawaiian Department, submitted an assessment of “the Japanese situation in relation to our military problem” to the federal Hawaiian Labor Commission investigating the strike. The 1923 federal commission alleged Hawai'i's Japanese Americans posed a national defense problem of a magnitude that “submerges all others into insignificance.” Japanese Americans, the commission warned, were poised to “sweep everything American from the Islands” and install Japan's rule in Hawai'i (Okihiro, 95–97). The commission provided as evidence of that threat Summerall's report.
For years, the army's Hawaiian Department had kept track of what it called “the Japanese problem.” Military intelligence, using Japanese, Chinese, and Korean American informants, collected statistical information on Japanese American organizations, tracked the activities of certain individuals, and met all steamships and checked their passenger lists. That data supplied the evidence for Summerall's report. The military concern included the Japanese American population and its growth, their concentration and areas of settlement, Japan's consul general and his agents, Japanese-language schools, Buddhism and Shintoism, the ethnic press, economic activities, the education of nisei in Japan, called kibei, and nisei voters and their voting patterns. Of particular concern was the loyalty of the second generation because they were coming of age during the 1920s.
The struggle for the hearts and minds of the nisei was a cornerstone of the Summerall report. Japanese-language schools, the report alleged, “had for its principal
purpose the inculcating into the young Hawaiian born Japanese child the knowledge that he was a Japanese citizen and that the Yamato race was the greatest race on earth.” That education made nisei children “almost as much Japanese as their parents were when they left Japan,” and it produced a whole generation of military-age youth loyal to Japan. Even less American were nisei educated in Japan, the kibei, who were “at heart Japanese and can never be changed into material for American citizenship” (Okihiro, 120).
Americanization was also important in Summerall's report. Addressed was Christian minister Takie Okumura's Americanization campaign targeting nisei to stay on plantations and not pursue upward mobility and to assimilate into American life. The Boy Scouts movement was held up as praiseworthy in that process of nisei assimilation and loyalty. “Under the efficient guidance of some of the best members of the American community,” the report praised, “the scout leaders are instilling into these boys the thought that they are Americans and that they must always conduct themselves as American boys are taught to do in the United States” (Okihiro, 119).
Examining the Japanese American vote, the report cited demographic trends to predict that by 1930, Japanese Americans would constitute 23 percent of all voters in Hawai'i, by 1940, 38 percent, and by 1950, 46 percent. Moreover, it charged, Japanese American voted as a bloc, increasing their political clout. In the general election of 1922, for instance, over 95 percent of nisei voted for the Democratic candidate in the Delegate to Congress race, rather than the Republican candidate who was the choice of the territory's white oligarchy. That voting pattern, the Summerall report noted, would favor Japanese over American interests.
The 1920 strike, the report claimed, opened a new area of concern for the military. Japanese Americans were vital to the islands' industries, and their rising militancy and unionization threatened to wrest control from whites. Japanese American upward mobility was termed an invasion and their acquisition of skills was potentially dangerous to the national security because “their expert and detailed knowledge if directed against the United States could do irreparable damage in a remarkably short time” (Okihiro, 120). Japanese Americans, the report stated, controlled the fishing industry, rice cultivation, and the taxi business. They dominated as barbers, blacksmiths, builders and contractors, plumbers, watchmakers, and confectioners, and as operators of drugstores, dry goods stores, fish markets, florist shops, restaurants, and theaters.
Japanese culture, the Summerall report maintained, promoted the “solidarity of the Japanese race,” and cemented the relationship between issei parent and nisei child. Parental love, accordingly, was “one of the most serious drawbacks towards the Americanization of the Hawaiian born Japanese …” (Okihiro, 121). Respect and love for parents translated, in this report, to allegiance to the country of the parents, Japan. In that way, Japanese culture and the Japanese American family held dangers for the nation's defense.
The 47-page Summerall report, having weighed the evidence, concluded the nisei were “a military liability to the United States.” It predicted that in an emergency, a majority of the nisei would remain neutral, depending on local conditions,
while only a small number would be loyal to the United States. The report stated categorically that the nisei “can never be assimilated” but could be “Americanized,” especially after “the present generation of alien parents has passed away” and “the strong Japanistic centers of influence in the Territory have been eliminated” (Okihiro, 122).
Gary Y. Okihiro
Okihiro, Gary Y. Cane Fires: The Anti-Japanese Movement in Hawaii, 1865–1945. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991.