|Born||May 31 1900|
|Died||July 1 1976|
Kilsoo Haan was a Korean nationalist figure who rose to prominence in Hawai'i in the 1930s and the U.S. mainland in the early 1940s, engaging in intelligence activities through the Sino-Peoples League. Claiming that Koreans in Manchuria, Siberia, China, and America could be indispensable in aiding the United States against Japanese militarism, Haan drew considerable attention from the American public as well as from U.S. government and military officials.
Born in Korea on May 31, 1900, Kilsoo Haan arrived in Hawai'i as a five-year-old with his parents who had immigrated as plantation laborers. While his father returned to Korea in 1910, Kilsoo and his mother remained in Hawai'i, where he attended the Korean Compound School and the Ka'iulani School up until the 8th grade. In August 1920, he departed for San Francisco to spend a year preparing for the ministry at the Salvation Army Training School. When he returned to Hawai'i, he was assigned to the island of Kaua'i to serve as a Salvation Army representative and rose over the next six years to the rank of captain. In 1926, Haan married Stella Yoon, a fellow Korean from Honolulu, and resigned from the Salvation Army, reportedly because his wife's religious beliefs conflicted with those of the Salvation Army. Following his resignation, the couple returned to Honolulu.
In the early 1930s, Haan became involved in the Korean independence movement, engaging in intelligence activities to combat the threat of what he called the "Japanization" of Hawai'i. In 1932, he helped create a new organization in Hawai'i, the Sino-Korean Peoples League, which reflected broader changes in the diasporic movement for Korean independence. The primary goals of the new organization included organizing intelligence and propaganda systems among Koreans throughout the diaspora and to enlist the support of the Chinese. Lobbying actively through the League, Haan declared that Koreans in Manchuria, Siberia, China, and America could be indispensable in aiding the United States against Japanese militarism. While Haan operated the Sino-Korean People's League largely as a one-man outfit with few Korean or Chinese members in the United States, his outspoken articulate demeanor and controversial views attracted considerable attention from U.S. government officials and the American public.
Haan quickly drew the attention of government and military officials in Hawai'i by linking Japan's recent aggressions in Manchuria in 1931 with the threat of a Japanese attack on U.S. soil. Claiming to have uncovered an array of espionage activities among the Japanese living in Hawai'i, who made up nearly half of the total population on the islands, Haan warned of an imminent attack on Hawai'i that would ignite a war between Japan and the United States. Through his intelligence activities, Haan sought to expose Japanese aliens and citizens in the United States as dangerous threats to the military security of the United States. Haan informed U.S. government officials that a primary objective of the Sino-Korean Peoples League was "to expose un-American Japanese activities in helping America, in the hope that by serving America an eventual change in the Pacific area may help us." Through what he called "constructive Americanism," Haan persistently promoted Koreans in the U.S. mainland and Hawai'i as valuable allies of the United States in combating the Japanese threat at home and abroad. Throughout the 1930s, Haan tenaciously appealed for material aid from the United States to support Korean military and espionage activities against the Japanese in Manchuria and China. Often drawing criticism as a self-serving propagandist, Haan nevertheless put forth what he believed to be a clear, pragmatic vision of achieving Korean independence.
In the mid-1930s, Haan also alerted U.S. military intelligence that he had been hired by the Japanese consulate in Hawai'i as an employee. Though he claimed to have infiltrated the Japanese consulate to conduct counter-intelligence work for the U.S. government, intelligence officers found his employment with the consulate to be suspicious and considered him an unreliable source of information as a possible Fifth Columnist. As his ability to carry on his activities in Hawai'i increasingly diminished, Haan informed U.S. military officials in 1937 that he had decided to leave the Japanese consulate and depart for the U.S. mainland. With the outbreak of war between China and Japan in 1937, Haan saw new opportunities to expand the activities of the Sino-Korean Peoples League on the U.S. mainland, particularly in Washington, D.C.
Before his departure to the mainland, Haan vigorously lobbied against Hawaiian statehood in his testimony before the Joint Committee of the U.S. Congress investigating a congressional proposal to grant statehood to Hawai'i. In his testimony, Haan expressed his vehement opposition to statehood based on his persistent claims that the Japanese government's strong control over the social and political allegiances of the numerically dominant inhabitants of Japanese descent on the islands presented a threat not only to the well-being and security of Hawai'i but also to the American nation at large. Haan's testimony drew stern disapproval from many local Japanese and Korean residents who had voiced strong support for statehood and likely hastened his permanent departure from Hawai'i in 1938.
Haan arrived in San Francisco in September 1938 and began a nationwide speaking tour to publicize his views on Korean independence and his anti-Japan outlook. In the spring of 1939, Haan reached Washington D.C., making his presence known almost immediately upon his arrival to the nation's capital by doggedly lobbying top U.S. government and military officials for American support of Korean independence.
Following U.S. entry into World War II in 1941, Haan clamorously campaigned for drastic measures against Japanese living in the United States. Throughout 1942, he participated in a series of speaking engagements along the Pacific Coast demanding the mass removal and internment of all Japanese aliens and citizens as dangerous threats to national security. Though Haan's speeches began after the official military order for the mass removal of Japanese Americans, his speaking engagements drew considerable attendance and press coverage. The Japanese American press, such as the Pacific Citizen, also regularly reported on his anti-Japanese activities and views.
While Haan attracted widespread public attention, U.S. government and military officials largely dismissed and rejected his anti-Japan claims and lobbying efforts. Proclaiming to have correctly predicted and warned the U.S. government of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Haan tenaciously cautioned American intelligence and civilian government agencies that a second Japanese invasion of California, abetted by Japanese residents in the United States, would occur within a year or two. American military intelligence, however, had determined the risk of a full Japanese invasion and occupation of California was highly unlikely. As a result, U.S. military and government officials routinely discounted Haan's repeated warnings and increasingly viewed him as a nuisance even though they may have shared his racialist views of the Japanese. U.S. officials further distrusted Haan's reliability given his prior employment with the Honolulu Japanese consulate.
Ultimately, Haan's anti-Japanism was inextricably linked to his Korean independence activities. Haan's rise to stature in the Korean independence movement emerged from changes in the balance of power among Korean nationalists in the 1930s. As military aggressions between China and Japan escalated into full-scale war between the two nations during the 1930s, Korean nationalists gained substantial support from the Chinese Nationalist government to fight Japan as a common foe. In the process, left-wing nationalist groups, who had advocated direct military action against Japan instead of diplomatic recognition from the West, consolidated their forces and gained ascendancy over their more conservative counterparts such as Syngman Rhee who shunned military action and supported the exiled Korean Provisional Government, headquartered in Shanghai. Haan's seemingly sudden emergence as a prominent political voice within the Korean nationalist movement in the United States came in the wake of these changes. However, when U.S. entry into World War II created conditions favorable for Syngman Rhee to reassert his authority as diplomatic recognition of the Korean Provisional Government once again became paramount for the nationalist movement, Haan's overall authority and legitimacy were increasingly discredited and overshadowed by Rhee and his coterie of supporters in and out of the Korean community in the United States.
Following the end of World War II and Korean liberation from Japan in 1945, Haan became greatly distraught with the national division of the Korean peninsula and the ensuing Korean War. He gradually withdrew from the public sphere of politics and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1956. From the mid-1950s until 1969, Haan worked as a sales representative for the Chung King Corporation in San José, California. Upon retirement, he moved to Capitola, near Santa Cruz, where he died in 1976.
For More Information
Grodzins, Morton. Americans Betrayed: Politics and the Japanese Evacuation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949.
Hayashi, Brian Masaru. "Kilsoo Haan, American Intelligence, and the Anticipated Japanese Invasion of California, 1931-1943." Pacific Historical Review 83.2 (May 2014): 277-93.
Kim, Richard S. The Quest for Statehood: Korean Immigrant Nationalism and U.S. Sovereignty, 1905-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
- U.S. National Archives, RG 59 895.01/93; RG 165 Regional File 2266 Folder 4 Korea - Propaganda Releases (1939-41).