Coffman shines a light on the aftermath of December 7, 1942 for Hawaii’s AJA community

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I can’t think of another writer who has covered contemporary Hawai`i history as thoroughly and prolifically as Kailua-based, Tom Coffman. Don’t let the “prolific” part mislead you. Tom is every bit as thoughtful and assiduous in his research in every project he takes on.

Being in front of his keyboard is part of his makeup and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

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His most recent book, INCLUSION: How Hawai`i Protected Japanese Americans from Mass Internment, Transformed Itself, and Changed America focuses on the post December 7, 1942 period.

Tom Coffman, a political journalist and leading historian of modern Hawaii

Following the Pearl Harbor attack, the United States government interned the 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry evicted from scattered settlements throughout the West Coast. Why was a much larger number concentrated in the Hawaiian Islands war zone not interned?

As the author explains, at the root of the story is an inclusive community that worked from the ground up to protect an embattled segment of its population. Where the onset of World War II surprised the American public, war with Japan arrived in Hawaii in slow motion. Responding to numerous signs of impending conflict, a Council for Interracial Unity mapped two goals:  Minimize internment and maximize inclusion in the war effort. The Council’s aspirational work was expressed in a widely-repeated saying: How we get along during the war will determine how we get along when the war is over. The Army Command of Hawai`i, reassured by first-hand acquaintances, came to believe Trust breeds trust.

Where most histories have shielded President Franklin D. Roosevelt from direct responsibility for the U.S. mainland internment, his relentless demands for a mass removal from Hawai`i—ultimately thwarted—reveal him as author and actor. In making sense of the disparity between Island and mainland, Inclusion unravels the deep history of the U.S. “sabotage psychosis,” dissecting why many continental Americans still believe Japan succeeded at Pearl Harbor because of the unseen hand of Japanese saboteurs. Contrary to the explanation of hysteria as the cause of the internment, Inclusion documents how a high-level plan of mass removal actually was pitched to the U.S. Army command in Hawaii well before December 7, only to be rejected.

A Japanese American shop, Asahi Dye Works, closing. The notice on the front is a reference to Owens Valley being the first and one of the largest Japanese American detention centers

Inclusivity developed in strategic steps, from prewar community-building to the shock of threatened invasion, to demoralization, to morale-building, and ultimately to the performance of Japanese American troops in the U.S. military. The last step was formation of the State of Hawaii.

The inclusivity of Hawai`i did not just happen. It has history. So far as this history resulted from conscious intention, it poses the issue of what sort of conscious intention would be required to create a more inclusive America today.

What Scholars Are Saying

Inclusion is of singular worldwide public and academic importance. It lifts up Hawai‘i’s interethnic history to show how small groups with a common goal and working cooperatively can result in wondrous social change.” —Tetsuden Kashima, author of Judgment without Trial: Japanese American Imprisonment during World War II

“Brilliant and meticulous, Tom Coffman reveals the people and forces that spared territorial Hawai‘i’s Japanese populace from mass removal after Pearl Harbor…the heroes of this  story were inspired by an idealism and aloha that the world can learn from today.”— Mark Matsunaga, journalist and World War II historian

A child is “Tagged for evacuation”, Salinas, California, May 1942. Photo by Russell Lee.

“Tom Coffman has broken new ground on the tragic history of the Japanese American internment. Now we know the Hawai‘i chapter is a crucial part of the story—and Coffman tells it with authority and verve. —Kai Bird, Leon Levy Center for Biography, CUNY Graduate Center; author of John J. McCloy & the Making of the American Establishment

“Tom Coffman has produced a definitive account of Americans of Japanese Ancestry in Hawai‘i during World War II. Packed with fascinating details, Tom Coffman’s work enlarges our understanding of this key era in American history.”—Greg Robinson, Université du Québec à Montréal, author of By Order of the President and A Tragedy of Democracy

“It is unlikely that a work of this breadth and magnitude will come around again anytime soon, especially as many of the historical actors interviewed by the author have passed away. I know of no account that attempts to treat as many separate threads of historiography in a single account.”— Corey M. Johnson, Stanford University and University of Hawai‘i at Hilo

Tom Coffman is a political reporter and author of six books, including Nation Within and Catch A Wave. First Battle and Ninoy Aquino are among his widely broadcast documentaries. He is a three-time recipient of the Hawai‘i Book Publishers Association’s award for nonfiction writing, and for his cumulative work he received the Hawai‘i Award for Literature.

University of Hawai‘i Press; 359 pages, publication date October 2021; paperback $24.95; hardcover $80

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