Morale Committees

Following the Pearl Harbor attack, a Morale Section was established in Hawai'i on December 18, 1941, that created various subcommittees within different ethnic communities to promote racial unity. The Emergency Service Committee , for example, was organized to work with the Japanese community. The formation of Morale Committees during the war indicate the underlying racial tensions in Hawai'i, as extensive efforts were made to mobilize the Japanese community as well as other ethnic groups in order to contribute to the overall war effort. [1]


Prior to World War II, some Nisei and non-Japanese had formed the Committee for Interracial Unity in Hawai'i, a multiethnic group of civic and military leaders that included YMCA leader Charles Loomis, Chinese American YMCA Secretary Hung Wai Ching , and Japanese American school principal Shigeo Yoshida . These highly articulate, educated individuals who would later comprise the Morale Section represented three of the major ethnic groups in Hawai'i—white, Japanese, and Chinese—but were not beholden to their own ethnic group. Loomis was a respected outsider from the mainland who was not part of the exclusive circles of the Islands' kama'aina (native-born) elite. Ching, the son of Chinese immigrants, was a YMCA administrator with strong ties to powerful individuals like University of Hawai'i Board of Regents Chair Charles Hemenway. Yoshida, who was born to Japanese immigrant parents, had excelled as a debater at the University of Hawai'i under the tutelage of individuals like Hemenway and had become one of the few Nisei administrators in the territory's Department of Public Instruction. As scholar Franklin Odo noted, "Unlike men who were executives of Big Five firms or ethnic organizations, these were leaders by virtue of their association beyond their own ethnic boundaries." [2] As such, these men were uniquely qualified to direct their energies to the overall Morale Section effort rather than to one individual group.

During the Pearl Harbor attack, individuals connected with various community groups including the Committee of Interracial Unity reported to Robert L. Shivers , chief of the Honolulu office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) to implement the plans they helped to set up before the war. They also discussed their plans with the head of the local Office of Civilian Defense . As a result of these meetings, a Morale Section was created in the Office of Civilian Defense on December 18, 1941. This later became the Morale Section of the Office of Military Governor on January 26, 1942. According to Shivers, the Morale Section "was appointed by the Army and worked under the immediate supervision of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Military Intelligence [and] maintained a close liaison with the F.B.I. and the Military Governor's Office." [3] The purpose of the Morale Section was to serve as an intermediary between the Army and civilian community on matters related to public morale and to work toward the maintenance of a "unified and cooperative community." [4]

Under the Morale Section were several ethnic or national subcommittees that worked among their respective groups to disseminate military orders and alleviate any problems that arose. The Japanese subcommittee of the Morale Section was organized as the Emergency Service Committee (ESC) in February 1942 on O'ahu. Similar groups were organized on the other islands—the Kaua'i Morale Committee in May; the Maui Emergency Committee in August; the Lanai Emergency Service Committee in January 1943; and the Hawai'i AJA Morale Committee in April 1944. [5] In addition to thirteen Nisei men, Loomis and Ching of the Morale Section served as ex-officio members of the ESC. In the ESC alone there was also an advisory committee made up of about eighty men of Japanese ancestry who were leaders of their respective districts. [6]

Besides the ESC, the Honolulu Police Contact Group and the Citizens' Council were organized to further promote racial unity in Hawai'i. The Honolulu Police Contact Group was sponsored by the Honolulu Police Department and led by Captain John Anthony Burns who had headed its Espionage Division that worked under the direction of the F.B.I. Besides encouraging the active participation of Japanese Americans in the war effort, it "helped to ally the fears of the other racial groups where the Japanese were concerned, thus contributing to the overall unity of this community." [7] Additionally, the Citizens' Council was created that was composed of leading professional and business leaders to keep Hawai'i's citizens "united in purpose and action." [8] Together, these groups that had emerged throughout the Territory helped to advert racial tensions in the various racial communities.

Actions of the Morale Committees

During the war, $2.4 million dollars in frozen bank assets were confiscated from three leading Japanese banks in the territory. This money was converted into war bond purchases. [9] Through letters and personal phone calls, the ESC collected $147,408.75 that was invested in war bonds. In June 1943, ESC members raised over $10,000 for the "Bombs on Tokyo Campaign." [10] The money was presented to Lt. General Robert C. Richardson Jr., who succeeded General Delos Emmons .

In addition to collecting money, many Japanese also responded through individual demonstrations of loyalty. Often holding down more than one job, many Japanese served as block wardens, Red Cross workers, firefighters, medical workers, and laborers. They responded to urgent pleas for blood by hosting numerous blood drives and encouraged the purchase of war bonds. As block wardens, they were responsible for patrolling their areas, investigating fire hazards, and enforcing the 6 p.m. curfew and blackout regulations established under martial law. Volunteers also manned first-aid stations and the blood bank and provided emergency ambulance services. In fact, the 800 volunteers who had received emergency medical training under the United Japanese Society in Honolulu went directly from their December 7, 1941 certification ceremonies to the aid of the wounded at Pearl Harbor.

As members of the Kiawe Corps on O'ahu and Kaua'i, and of the Menehune Minutemen on the Big Island, Japanese volunteers cleared kiawe thickets for evacuation and military camps, built trails, and strung barbed wire along the coastline. [11] On Sundays, Japanese women devoted their free time to Red Cross activities, such as folding bandages and knitting woolen socks. Others joined the Women's Division of the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD), and studied safety measures, disseminated necessary information, and worked on special projects such as Christmas gifts for servicemen. [12]

Although many of these activities were sincere expressions of patriotism, they were also efforts to deflect the suspicion focused on them as a result of their Japanese ancestry. Fear of and discrimination against the Japanese suffused popular public sentiment, and the military officials who now ruled Hawai'i closely monitored the actions of the Japanese community. The actions of the members of the Morale Committees revealed the extreme insecurity and racial tensions that existed in World War II Hawai'i.

Authored by Kelli Y. Nakamura , Kapi'olani Community College

For More Information

100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Education Center. "Honorary Members, Club 100." .

Allen, Gwenfread. Hawaii's War Years: 1941-1945 . Honolulu: The Advertiser Publishing Co., Ltd, 1950.

Hawaii, Office of the Military Governor, Morale Section, Emergency Service Committee. Final Report of the Emergency Service Committee . Honolulu: n.p., 1946.

Kimura, Yukiko. Issei: Japanese Immigrants in Hawaii . Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1988.

Lind, Andrew. The Japanese in Hawaii Under War Conditions . Honolulu: American Council Institute of Pacific Relations, 1943.

Odo, Franklin. No Sword to Bury: Japanese Americans in Hawai'i During World War II . Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004.

Shivers, Robert L. Cooperation of Racial Groups in Hawaii During the War . Honolulu: Chamber of Commerce of Honolulu, 1946.

Yoshida, Shigeo. "Emergency Service Committee." Club 100 30th Anniversary Reunion, June 1972. .


  1. Research for this article was supported by a grant from the Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities .
  2. Franklin Odo, No Sword to Bury: Japanese Americans in Hawai'i During World War II (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004), 120.
  3. Robert L. Shivers, Cooperation of Racial Groups in Hawaii During the War (Honolulu: Chamber of Commerce of Honolulu, 1946), 8-9.
  4. Shivers, Cooperation of Racial Groups , 9.
  5. Gwenfread Allen, Hawaii's War Years: 1941-1945 (Honolulu: The Advertiser Publishing Co., Ltd, 1950), 144.
  6. Yukiko Kimura, Issei: Japanese Immigrants in Hawaii (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1988), 227; Hawaii, Office of the Military Governor, Morale Section, Emergency Service Committee, Final Report of the Emergency Service Committee (Honolulu: n.p., 1946), 48-49.
  7. Shivers, Cooperation of Racial Groups , 10.
  8. Ibid., 10.
  9. Final Report of the Emergency Service Committee , 19.
  10. Ibid., 22.
  11. Allen, Hawaii's War Years , 91.
  12. Ibid., 350.

Last updated July 29, 2020, 5:43 p.m..