Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: “A Question of Loyalty” is the second historical novel in Michael Malaghan’s trilogy on the Japanese American experience in Hawai‘i. Earlier this year, the Herald concluded chapter-by-chapter publication of his first novel, “Picture Bride,” which chronicled Haru Takayama’s escape from Japan to begin a new life in Hawai‘i as the picture bride wife of Kenji Takayama, a Buddhist priest.
In the second novel, we follow Haru’s and Kenji’s children through the World War II years.
“A Question of Loyalty” will be released next year.
Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i Georgia and Japan.
Shivers’ futile efforts to find any spies over the past two years paralleled the growing affection he and his wife felt for Sue. All of his instincts, nurtured by decades of experience, were being challenged. Despite Washington’s hysteria prophesying their disloyalty, any Issei or Nisei in Hawai‘i would love nothing more than to be approached by a Japanese agent so they could turn him in to the FBI. Sure, some of the Issei might support the Imperial forces if they attacked America, but sympathy for Imperial Japan is not the same as sabotage. Still, the havoc that one well-trained Japanese agent could cause worried Shivers. That “it only takes one” rejoinder frequented Washington’s response to his reports that America had little to worry about its Japanese living in Hawai‘i.
So, Shivers stood ready. All of his agents had the list of leaders who were to be picked up the moment war began. Most on the list, if not all, were innocent of sabotage intentions. But that did not matter. Only a vigorous sweep of those influential Japanese men would reassure Washington. The roundup of the few would have to protect the majority.
Sue had overheard enough breakfast conversations between Shivers, Burns and other policymakers to know, more than any of her fellow university students, of the plans to keep Hawai‘i’s internment numbers low if and when war broke out. Respectful of Shivers’ trust in her, Sue never offered an opinion on the internment possibilities that often highlighted campus gossip, and the students, knowing her as the “FBI girl,” respected her reticence.
On this morning, she reflected on the conversation that had taken place the previous Friday as she and Angelina ate their lunch with a group of Nisei students. As usual, she remained a diligent eavesdropper.
“You would think,” said a boy with a crew cut haircut whose father Sue knew because he supplied vegetables to Honolulu’s grocery stores, “that when those California farmers envied the Japanese fields — their straight rows of celery and weedless strawberry patches earning top dollar from produce wholesalers — they would copy a winning hand that’s in plain sight.”
“It’s not about farming techniques,” said Angelina, one of the few Japanese females to be so bold as to articulate an opinion or dabble in sarcasm. Sue admired Angelina for what others called “unladylike manners.” Rather than parting her hair down the middle as most Japanese ladies did, Angelina parted her hair on the side with hanging curls brushing her neck in the style of Bette Davis, her favorite actress. Angelina even dressed differently — no standard white blouse for her. She wore cheery blues and greens with skirts in similar hues below the knees, albeit barely beneath her knees. From early grammar school, she worked on speaking “American English” rather than Pidgin English.
“We ‘alien’ Japanese got the second-rate farmland,” said Angelina. “How dare our slanted eyes and brown skin produce better crops than the supreme white race?”
An angry male voice punctuated with a shaking fist jarred Sue’s calmer demeanor. “Those envious big noses want a war with Japan — an excuse to get rid of us. It wasn’t enough that California passed laws forbidding us ‘aliens’ from buying land. A war would drive those earlier buyers off of their farms. This call for internment isn’t about sabotage — it’s about eliminating the competition. Al Capone would understand.”
Sue noted that no one on that angry day admitted that the Japanese in Hawai‘i lived under no such threat. Certainly, those same Nisei student debaters understood that Hawai‘i’s white community, referred to as “haoles,” seldom regarded the agriculture and fishing success of “their” Japanese with envy; rather they viewed the Japanese commitment to food production as a needed service requiring work more arduous than most whites wanted to embrace. Sue, like all Japanese in Hawai‘i, acquiesced that haoles comprised the managerial class.
We Orientals are the working class. Like the Hindu caste system, Sue thought — a comparison she kept to herself.
But on the loyalty issue, Sue observed haoles were divided. Even those who claimed Japanese in Hawai‘i were loyal, hedged their bets. How often had student gossip sessions repeated the Advertiser’s refrain cloaked in many nuances: “Better to be careful than sorry.”
Despite her brother’s assurances that mass internment would not happen in Hawai‘i if war broke out, Sue often tried to imagine what life in an internment camp might be like.
“Ouch!” yelped Sue as a spurt of grease rocketed from the sizzling bacon to her face. She stepped back and rubbed her left cheek with the bottom of her apron while using the long fork to flip the offending bacon onto its paler side.
“Sue, are you all right?” “Mom” Shivers’ slow Southern drawl drifted into the kitchen.
“Just a spot of grease, Mom Shivers,” said Sue, who had come to feel she now had two mothers.
Despite Sue’s assurance, Corrine Shivers, dressed in her Sunday church-going white mu‘umu‘u, entered the kitchen.
“Let me see,” said Corrine, putting her fingers under Sue’s chin and gently tilting the girl’s head. “Yes, it’s OK.”
Dropping her hand, Corrine wrinkled her brow. “I do wish our pilots wouldn’t practice on Sunday mornings. It interrupts church services,” she said, referring to their regular Sunday service at Kawaiahao Congregational Church on Punchbowl Street.
Focused on the lyrics of “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” Sue had hardly noticed the drone of engines. But now that she thought about it, today’s maneuvers did seem rather loud.
She picked up the spatula and slid two sunny-side up eggs on each of the three plates sitting on the scarred sideboard. Special Agent Robert Shivers, dressed in a white, long-sleeved shirt with a blue necktie, had already seated himself at the dining table across from Corrine. Sue set their plates down in front of them and then brought in her own plate and took the seat next to Mom Shivers, who then bowed her head and blessed their meal. Just as Shivers wedged a piece of bacon onto his fork, the phone rang.
Sue jumped up and scooted the few steps to the black phone attached to the dining room wall near the entrance to the kitchen.
“Good morning, the . . .” Before she could say “Shivers’ home,” she lifted the phone from her ear to escape the frantic screaming from the earpiece.
“I need to speak to Robert NOW!”
Alarmed, Sue held out the phone.
Shivers had heard the shrill voice from across the room and had already risen from the table to take the phone.
“What?!” His voice trembled, betraying incredulity. “I’ll be right down.” He turned to Corrine, who was slathering a piece of toast with pineapple jelly she had bottled herself. “We have been attacked. Those planes we heard are Japanese.” First glancing at Sue, he turned to his wife and paused until the lump in his throat cleared. “Corrine, take Sue wherever you go; don’t let her out of your sight.”
“My mother . . .” Sue squeaked.
Shivers knew Haru was scheduled to sail to the Big Island today. Sue had planned to walk to the harbor later to see her parents off.
“The switchboard ladies must have all the lines available for military and security.” A stupendous noise like rolling thunder stopped Shivers’ explanation. “I have to go . . .”
To be continued . . .