Friday, July 4, 2014

Hawaii Five-O

The Fourth of July means many different things to many different people, but what's interesting to me on this day is the battle that took place in 1959 over which state would be admitted first into the Union, Alaska or Hawai'i, thereby completing the United States as we know it today.

Hawai'i was the first choice of Eisenhower and the Republicans, but the Democrats anxiously wanted Alaska admitted first and refused to accept Hawai'i on any other grounds.  Apparently, there was still some lingering animosity toward Hawai'i over the Pearl Harbor attack, even though the Japanese-American 442nd Infantry Regiment is the most decorated American combat unit.  Eisenhower eventually relented and Alaska was admitted in January with Hawai'i following in March, although its proclamation wasn't signed until August 21.

The Aloha State's bid began a half century before when the governor of the recently annexed territory signed a joint resolution suggesting statehood to Congress in 1903.  The topic wasn't taken up until three decades later.  Concerns were raised over the preponderance of Japanese-Americans and whether they would be loyal to the United States in times of conflict.  The territory had voted overwhelmingly for statehood in its first plebiscite in 1937.  But, the matter stalled with the breakout of WWII.

Captain James Cook happened on the islands in 1778, while the United States was at war with Britain.  He sailed onto Alaska the same year, had a miserable time that winter looking for an inland waterway that connected the two oceans before sailing back to Hawai'i the following year only to meet his doom.  His final voyage to some degree inspired Hunter S. Thompson's The Curse of Lono, as he ostensibly followed a marathon held in 1980 on the great island of Oahu.

Truman took up Hawaii's cause in 1946 but failed to garner much support.  Eisenhower similarly championed Hawaiian statehood in his 1953 State of the Union Address, only to find similar resistance in Congress.  In 1954, residents signed a 500-foot long petition demanding statehood now, but once again it fell on deaf ears.

Eisenhower's main concern was apparently the military installations in Hawai'i, whereas Democrats in Congress were more concerned with oil and mineral rights in Alaska.  Oddly enough, Hawai'i was considered a Republican state at the time and Alaska a Democratic state, so both parties eyed the potential votes from these states.  Not much different than in antebellum days.

Hawai'i had twice the population of Alaska at the time, although both were given the same electoral representation in Congress upon achieving statehood.  Hawai'i has since become heavily Democratic, gained a second U.S. Representative and is the birthplace of our President, much to the chagrin of the Republicans.  However, they did gain Alaska.

I think Hawaii's full acceptance came in the late 1960s with the highly popular television show, Hawaii Five-O, with its memorable theme song.  The long-running serial pulled off a hard-hitting crime drama with Polynesian accents, shot on location throughout the islands.  The show was revived in 2010.

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