One thing I love about going out in nature is I’m continually reminded that nothing remains the same, and things do change. And so it was when Koko and I went walking this morning under a sky thick with clouds in the west and choked with brilliant stars and planets in the east.
Gradually, the clouds thinned in the west, revealing first Jupiter, then the hulking masses of the interior mountains, and finally brief glimpses of their summits. Meanwhile, quilted clouds poured in from the east, and by the time the sun rose, everything was consistently gray.
Of course, not all changes happen so quickly, or are so easy to detect, as I was reminded in telling a friend about Dr. Dean Saranillio’s presentation at Saturday’s “Unmasking Statehood” event. Saranillio, a professor at UH, told of how Lorrin Thurston, a leading force in the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, capitalized on the prevailing attitude of white supremacy to make a case for the coup and subsequent annexation.
Thurston traveled to the Chicago World Fair with an exhibit on volcanoes that played up the notion of Pele as a dark, brutal, superstitious force that destroyed men, and the Islands as the place where American civilization and Hawaiian savagery met. The fair included exhibits from around the world that portrayed the darkest races — including Hawaiians — as “primitives” that needed to catch up to the more advanced white race, with Asian races somewhere between the two extremes.
Saranillio said that Thurston hyped the idea of deposed Queen Liliuokalani as a “dangerous woman of savage termperment,” who had planned to behead and him and others for treason, even though beheading was not a common practice in Hawaii. Thurston also began advancing the notion, still prevalent today, that it wasn’t a question of whether Hawaii would be controlled, but by whom.
(And that reminded me of a question that is often raised in regard to Hawaii’s independence: shouldn’t Hawaiians be glad that America, instead of some other nation, overthrew their monarchy? I liked Ikaika Hussey’s reply: “Why should people have to choose their oppressor? The idea is to eliminate oppression and imperialism.”)
Saranillio went on to talk about how Hollywood made the film “Go for Broke!” to soften Americans’ attitudes toward the Japanese in preparation for Hawaii's statehood. He also showed a clip of William F. Quinn, who was governor of the Territory of Hawaii and went on to become the first governor of the new state, saying statehood would "allow us to sell Hawaii like never before.”
Seems big banks and insurance companies wanted to invest in the Islands, but were nervous about putting serious money into a Territory, and the tourism industry would get a boost when folks could travel someplace exotic without leaving the safety of the U.S. And of course The Big Five was all for statehood, because it would increase their profits.
Saranillio went on to talk about the opposition to statehood by Territorial Senator Alice Kamokila Campbell, who testified:
I do not feel...we should forfeit the traditional rights and privileges of the natives of our islands for a mere thimbleful of votes in Congress, that we, the lovers of Hawaii from long association with it should sacrifice our birthright for the greed of alien desires to remain on our shores, that we should satisfy the thirst for power and control of some inflated industrialists and politicians who hide under the guise of friends of Hawaii, yet still keeping an eagle eye on the financial and political pressure button of subjugation over the people in general of these islands.
He told of how she successfully sued the Hawaii Statehood Commission because opponents couldn’t access any of the $475,000 that had been allocated to lobby voters on the issue.
Saranillio finished up by discussing how Hawaii was placed on the United Nation’s list of non-self-governing territories eligible for de-colonization in 1946, but removed following the vote for statehood. He and others believe the U.S plebiscite vote was conducted illegally in 1959 because the ballot should have included the options of independence and commonwealth status, but instead included only two choices: continuing as a territory or statehood.
“When you look at it, Hawaii’s progression toward statehood was based on white supremacy, greed, propaganda, fraud and corruption,” I told my friend.
“So what’s changed here?” he asked.
I didn’t have an answer, expect that now more people know what really went down. And truth does have the power to change things.