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The Island Edge of America

Tom Coffman

Publication Year: 2003

In his most challenging work to date, journalist and author Tom Coffman offers readers a new and much-needed political narrative of twentieth-century Hawaii. The Island Edge of America reinterprets the major events leading up to and following statehood in 1959: U.S. annexation of the Hawaiian kingdom, the wartime crisis of the Japanese-American community, postwar labor organization, the Cold War, the development of Hawaii's legendary Democratic Party, the rise of native Hawaiian nationalism. His account weaves together the threads of multicultural and transnational forces that have shaped the Islands for more than a century, looking beyond the Hawaii carefully packaged for the tourist to the Hawaii of complex and conflicting identities--independent kingdom, overseas colony, U.S. state, indigenous nation--a wonderfully rich, diverse, and at times troubled place. With a sure grasp of political history and culture based on decades of firsthand archival research, Tom Coffman takes Hawaii's story into the twentieth century and in the process sheds new light on America's island edge.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

I arrived in the new state of Hawai‘i in 1965 as a young reporter and was almost instantly immersed in covering politics. Having experienced the civil rights movement in mainland America, I was eager to believe—as were many people—that Hawai‘i was the ideal society in the potentially ideal nation. To my shock, the...

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pp. xi-xii

The writing of this book was made possible by a grant from the Pacific Rim Society. Without Lawrence S. Fuchs of Brandeis University, there would be no point of departure for Hawai‘i’s post-statehood history. My friend Edward Crapol of William and Mary College helped me digest the largely hidden narrative of America’s...


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pp. xiii-xiv

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Chapter 1 The Edge

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pp. 1-6

When the sun is high in the central Pacific, visitors often wander near downtown Honolulu along the mountain side of ‘Iolani Palace, past the iron fence, past the statue of the queen, and into the open-air rotunda of the capitol of the State of Hawai‘i. These landmarks say that Hawai‘i once was a kingdom...

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Chapter 2 The Tensions of Annexation

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pp. 7-14

Like springs bubbling up from the back of a wet valley, the renewed inquiry into the nature of Hawai‘i was fed by many sources. In the raw, it was developed not so often by academic historians as by celebrations, protests, reenactments, exhibits, slide shows, and videos. Oral history became important. Genealogies and chants were revived. Novels about the Hawai‘i experience began...

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Chapter 3 The Japanese Migration

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pp. 15-36

The mass migration of Japanese to Hawai‘i eventually was to become the single most important factor in the development of the State of Hawai‘i and also the making of Hawai‘i’s unique contribution to America. If a single object could be lifted from its box at the Bishop Museum to symbolize the origins of the Japanese in America, it might be a coral-colored brocade pouch...

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Chapter 4 Prewar Change

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pp. 37-58

If the sugar industry and the Big Five corporations could have seen further into the future, they might have opted for institutionalizing their relationships with the mostly Japanese leadership of the 1920 strike through collective bargaining. Had they done so, it seems plausible they could have benefited from the willingness of immigrants to work hard and get ahead...

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Chapter 5 When Time Began

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pp. 59-102

It is often said that Americans from all over connected with one another through their stories of December 7, 1941. The question, “Where were you?” was like resetting a clock. Everything that happened before Pearl Harbor was old news, and everything that happened after Pearl Harbor was charged with meaning....

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Chapter 6 The ESC and the Modern Democratic Party

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pp. 103-135

While the nisei soldier has become a staple of Hawai‘i’s story, the overall pattern of self-imposed AJA restraint has obscured the extent to which the contemporary state of Hawai‘i grew out of the effort to get Hawai‘i’s Japanese community through World War II. The first recorded vignette of a heightened nisei determination...

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Chapter 7 The Island Democratic Party

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pp. 136-159

The story of Burns’ formative years has a striking parallel to the story of Hawai‘i in the first half of the twentieth century: It is wrapped in vague generalizations that present a mythic outline but conceal a great deal of pain. Burns was the oldest of four children born to Harry Jacob Burns and Anne Scally Burns, a military family whose lives were shaped by how America...

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Chapter 8 A State Like No Other

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pp. 160-184

If the only clue to Hawai‘i’s political culture was a map, the viewer might be struck by the wide dispersal of the islands. They are separated by imposing channels, which are usually wider than the islands themselves. Although the land mass of the archipelago is only a little larger than Connecticut, it is spread across a space the size of Kansas...

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Chapter 9 In the Middle

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pp. 185-206

While George Ariyoshi’s story is distinctly a nisei story, it is a reminder of the many variations on its themes.1 Neither Ariyoshi nor his family experienced plantation life. He came of age as World War II was ending. Although he was influenced by the war, its effect on him was less direct than on people a few years older...

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Chapter 10 The First Japanese American Governor

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pp. 207-226

By the time George Ariyoshi became acting governor, the post-statehood economic boom had ended. In one of John Burns’ last acts in office, he appointed a commission to analyze how much revenue the state government was taking in versus how much it was spending. The panel was called the Commission on Operations, Revenues, and Expenditures (CORE)...

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Chapter 11 Special Place

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pp. 227-267

When George Ariyoshi took the oath to serve as the third elected governor of Hawai‘i, he stood at the far end of a long sequence. The journey had begun with the forced opening of Japan in 1853 and the ensuing question posed by the Social Darwinism of the times: Were white Europeans and Americans...

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Chapter 12 The Pacific and Asia

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pp. 268-288

One day in 1967, a packet arrived in the governor’s office from Osaka, Japan, announcing Osaka’s coming international exposition, Expo ’70. The packet was routed to a young development officer, Tom Sakata, in the Department of Planning and Economic Development. Sakata had traveled to Japan as a child and spoke a modest amount of Japanese. He had served as president...

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Chapter 13 Native Hawaiians in the New Hawai‘i

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pp. 289-321

Within the modern Democratic Party in Hawai‘i, a long-term effort was made to include native Hawaiians and to incorporate their concerns into broad Democratic themes. As John Burns argued, Hawaiians and AJAs together formed an unbeatable majority. This coalition worked increasingly well in the sixties and seventies, as more Hawaiians...

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Chapter 14 Democratic Reinventions: Status Quo and Change

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pp. 322-350

Having won the three-way Democratic primary of 1974 with only 36 percent of the vote, George Ariyoshi was in a politically insecure position during his first four years in office. The nature of his insecurity was punctuated on the night of his election victory, when Tom Gill gave up his eight-year quest for the governorship, leaving to Fasi the potential for getting...

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Chapter 15 Conclusion

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pp. 351-355

With America’s 1898 annexation of Hawai‘i, the struggle of Hawaiians to perpetuate themselves as a people and the struggle of Asian immigrants to make their way in America were set in motion simultaneously. These became the two most active forces in Hawai‘i’s contemporary political history, eventually playing themselves out in 1954, 1959, the 1978 constitutional...


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pp. 357-374


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pp. 375-380


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pp. 381-419

E-ISBN-13: 9780824864781
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824826253

Publication Year: 2003

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Hawaii -- Politics and government.
  • Hawaii -- Politics and government -- 1959-.
  • Hawaii -- Politics and government -- 1900-1959.
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