AJA I.D. Likened to Those Worn by Jews and Dissidents During World War II

Ellen Kim
Reprinted from Dec. 6, 1991

It could have been a scene out of World War II Nazi Germany, where concentration camp guards easily identified Jews, gays and dissidents by the colored badges they wore. However, the setting was 1940s Hawai‘i, and the only people wearing easily identifiable badges were Issei and American-born Nisei.

In 1941, Alvin Ihori was a 19-year-old carpenter working for the U.S. Engineering Department, forerunner of the Corps of Engineers. Identification badges with photographs were issued to all government workers and civilians contracted to work for the government as a “security measure,” he was told. However, Ihori and his Japanese American co-workers were given black-rimmed badges with the word “Restricted” on it, while everyone else was given white badges.

“We were doing our job, but we were discriminated against,” he said. Having a black badge meant some work areas, such as underground tunnels and ammunition depots, were off-limits to people like him. Although Ihori worked primarily on building wooden barracks, he was occasionally assigned work near the restricted areas. In those instances, he said an armed guard was stationed nearby to monitor his movements.

Allan Beekman, a former Central Identification Bureau employee, shed some light on the martial law government’s badge system. Beekman analyzed and evaluated the personal histories of prospective and current government workers. He said that in 1942, there were four classes of identification badges:

• “Number One” was for non-Japanese with no serious criminal record;

• “Number Two” was for non-Japanese with criminal records;

• “Number Three” — the black-rimmed badges — were for those of Japanese ancestry with U.S. or dual citizenship with no criminal record; and

• “Number Four” were for kibei, or American- or foreign-born Japanese who were educated in Japan. In theory, those assigned “Number Four” badges were not eligible for government-related work and were likely to be interned.

The four classes of badges seemed to create some semblance of order and structure during that period of martial law. In reality, however, says Beekman, the badges were designed to segregate those of Japanese descent. For instance, children who were part-Japanese were required to wear the black-rimmed “Number Three” badge if they worked for the government, while those wearing “Number One” badges could not be differentiated from the “Number Two” badges for non-Japanese with criminal records.

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  1. Thank you for posting this article. Last year I tried to find an image of these infamous badges to show my students at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, but had no luck. Now I’ve got it. Mahalo for making this history available to the community.


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