Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: We continue Michael G. Malaghan’s serialized historical novel, “Picture Bride — A Family Saga,” based on the Japanese immigrant experience. Malaghan’s trilogy takes readers from turn-of-the-20th-century-Japan to Hawai‘i in the picture bride era; the Islands during World War II, highlighted by the exploits of the Nisei soldiers; and beyond.
The novel, which is now available as a printed softcover book, opens with 12-year-old Haru-chan, fleeing her home in Amakusa, Kyüshü, for Hiroshima, where she becomes the picture bride of a Buddhist priest in Hawai‘i.
Author Michael Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Georgia and Japan.
Jack Burns wondered about the urgency of the summons as he walked into Robert Shivers’ FBI office on the first Monday of December. Shivers motioned him to close the door. Hearing the click of the latch, he announced, “This is for your ears only: We’re going to be attacked before the week is out.”
Burns’ facial expression did not change. They had prepared for this day.
“What makes you so sure?” he asked, taking his usual seat in front of Shivers’ desk.
Shivers fished a cigarette out of a pack lying on his desk.
“J. Edgar called. Japan’s carrier fleet has left Yokosuka. Maybe eight hundred planes and who knows how many marines. Washington-Tokyo talks have stalled.” He lit his cigarette and inhaled, tilting his head upward and blowing out a pillar of smoke.
“Is Hawai‘i under threat?”
“No, no,” said Shivers, dismissively. “Even if Yamamoto headed this way, we would know before he got here since we have planes going out hundreds of miles every day. No doubt, our teahouse spy has wired our preparedness. What our spy doesn’t know is that the Navy has that radar apparatus in place, the one on the North Shore that we talked about.”
“I’d bet on Singapore, but you said we’re going to be attacked,” Burns said.
Shivers remained poker-faced, saying nothing. His silence said it all.
“That means the Philippines,” said Burns.
Shivers crushed the half-smoked cigarette into his seashell ashtray. “Take the pulse of the Japanese community.”
Shivers ran a forefinger across his lips. “And, Jack, not a word about this to anyone.”
Burns looked out at Aloha Tower. “We’ve bet the farm that Navy intelligence’s fear mongering about our Japanese is ill-founded.”
Shivers turned his eyes up. “No doubts about your community at this minute, Jack?”
Burns’ eyes turned back to Shivers. “None.”
“But we’re prepared just in case we’re wrong, correct?”
“Yes, we are.” Burns stood up and nodded his head. “I’ll call with a daily pulse reading,” he said, closing the door behind him.
With Burns gone, Shivers turned his attention to the photographs on his desk. The picture on the left memorialized his and Corrine’s wedding day; the middle photograph was of a serious-looking Sue in her high school cap and gown; and on the right, he let his eyes linger on the “family” portrait taken Easter Sunday of him in his best suit flanked by Corrine and Sue, both wearing bonnets with ribbon ties and white dresses. The picture captured Sue’s warmth and sense of security. He had never told his “adopted” daughter that he loved her. When he introduced her as his daughter, he assumed she understood his fatherly affection. How much was he betting on this one teenager’s representation of a whole race?
He and Burns had vetted the Japanese community for two years. They hadn’t found any evidence at all to support a local Japanese plan to sabotage a U.S. military response to Japanese aggression. And yet, with a population of 140,000 Japanese who still clung to an alien culture and religion while looking so different from most Americans, suspicion was understandably aroused. It wouldn’t take many saboteurs to blow up a few power transformers, cut key telephone lines or poison the reservoirs. A dozen dedicated men could wreak havoc in a short amount of time.
Until today, all of this had been theory and rhetoric. Now they were embarking on a great gamble: no mass internment — the decision had been made. Shivers and Burns were almost certain that the Japanese community was not harboring saboteurs.
Shivers kept his eyes focused on Sue’s picture. Had his love for this girl led him to the right decision or blinded him to his duty? He, more than anyone else on the Emergency Service Committee, was responsible for Hawai‘i’s internal security. He had been charged with preparing the Japanese for internment, but he hadn’t done that. Instead, he worked with the local community leaders to make sure that it would not happen.
He wasn’t worried about ruining his own career if he were wrong, or even a criminal charge of neglect of duty. But what would be the effect on America if he were wrong?
“So much is resting on your unsuspecting shoulders,” he told the young woman smiling in the family picture.
* * *
Burns returned to his office and called a meeting of his staff.
“Boys, I am worried that we’ve become a little complacent.” He tried to strike a tone of dispassionate resolve, hoping to motivate his men to swim among the Japanese community with renewed diligence — without raising alarm that there was a special reason for his urgency. Seeing no raised eyebrows, he continued, “Let’s do a ‘listen-to’ over the next couple days. Look for signs that the Japanese are expecting something and for runs on nonperishable food at the grocery store . . . things like that.”
Each day, the reports confirmed what previous intelligence had assessed: No one was acting suspiciously, nor were there any signs of preparation. However, one detective noted that all the airplanes at Hickam Field were lined up in the middle of the runway. “I guess the military doesn’t believe the reports we and the FBI are sending,” he said. “They’re thinking some Japanese fanatic is going to sabotage the planes through the fences.”
“At least we know they don’t expect an attack or they wouldn’t leave all the planes lined up like ducks in a shooting gallery,” said another detective.
I hope you’re right, thought Burns.
To be continued . . .