Forgotten Honouliuli: Jack Burns, Police Spy
by Andrew Walden (Originally published May 3, 2015)
Dedicating the Honouliuli Internment Camp National Monument March 31, 2015, Senator Mazie Hirono mourned “a dark period in our country’s history (which) should never be repeated.”
Representative Tulsi Gabbard said, “Honouliuli was a central piece of the brutal and discriminatory internment system created during WWII….”
Nobody mentioned the man who, as head of the Honolulu Police Department Espionage Bureau, helped select which Japanese-Americans were to be sent to internment. His name: Jack Burns. Architect of the ‘old boy’ Democrat politics underlying the long tenure of Senator Dan Inouye, Burns would in 1962 become the first Democrat elected Governor of the State of Hawaii.
Hirono and Gabbard aren’t the only ones keeping quiet. Burns’ name does not appear even once in the National Parks Service 238 page ‘Draft Special Resource Study’ on Honouliuli. But Burns’ biographers were not so conveniently forgetful. In “John A Burns, the man and his times,” published by the University of Hawaii in 2000, Dan Boylan and T Michael Holmes paint partial internment as a positive alternative to the total population internment carried out on the West Coast. And in contrast to those gathered at the dedication ceremony, they did not hide Burns’ role or its political significance:
“It was (his) work as head of the HPD’s Espionage Bureau that lay the foundation for Burns’ later political success in Hawaii.” (Boylan and Holmes p28)
“To understand Jack Burns’ postwar political base, it is necessary to examine the relationships he developed during the war.” (Boylan and Holmes p60)
Burns’ grandson, Brendan P Burns, fills in the details in his 2014 book, “An Aura of Greatness”:
“…in December of 1940, (Honolulu) Police Chief (William A.) Gabrielson had called my grandfather into his office. He said to him: ‘I’m appointing you the head of a new outfit called the Espionage Bureau….
“His assignment involved working closely with the FBI for one year prior to the beginning of the war…. He worked alongside FBI Special Agent Robert Shivers, who had been assigned to Honolulu in August, 1939, by FBI Director J Edgar Hoover to determine the loyalty of the Hawaii Japanese population in the event of war…. With the help of his four handpicked men, they investigated 6,000 people of Japanese ethnicity.” (Burns p54)
“They would look into their background, examine their general activity, and ascertain their reputation in the community in order to determine their loyalty to America….” (Burns p55)
“(Kanemi Kanazawa, a member of Burns’ staff at the Espionage Bureau, said:) ‘Our investigations were based on second or third-hand hearsay evidence. It would never have stood up in a court of law.’” (Burns p55)
After a year of no-so-quiet investigation, Burns sprung into action December 7, 1941:
“(After Pearl Harbor, my father and grandfather) did not see him for about a month. He left in order to assist the government with the aftermath of the attack during the ensuing martial law.” (Burns p52)
“On Sunday, 7 December 1941, Jack Burns … arrived at FBI headquarters at 10:20AM. By noon he was closeted with Robert Shivers of the FBI and Colonel George W Bicknell, head of counterintelligence for the US Army in Hawaii. Together they went over lists of possible security risks. By the evening of 8 December, 482 individuals had been rounded up. Of that number 370 were Japanese, 98 were German, and 14 were Italian….
“Burns was willing to sacrifice the civil rights of some to protect the many.
“Those at the top of the suspect list included reserve officers of the Japanese army, mostly kibei, consular agents, and Japanese-language school principals. Those identified as security risks were picked up by the Honolulu Police Department, working with military security officers, and taken to the US Immigration and naturalization Service facility or to Sand Island. They were later taken to the Honouliuli internment camp. The total number of Japanese internees from Hawaii during World War II was 1,444. Of that number, 534 were American citizens….” (Boylan and Holmes p36-37)
Only 370 of the 1,444 total Japanese internees from Hawaii were rounded up immediately. Burns had the rest of the war to pick off another 1,074 for internment. That gave him a distinct type of power over AJAs in Hawaii.
How were internees selected? In Cane Fires, published 1991 by Temple University Press, Gary Y Okihiro outlines a strategy with obvious political potential:
“Whether these individuals were subversives was not the issue; they were interned because they were leaders. ‘So there were some things operating very much against the Japanese, to tell you the truth,’ acknowledged Burns.” (Okihiro p209)
“Besides promoting insecurity, the forced removal and detention of community leaders contributed to social disruption, which was, in fact, a goal of the strategy … because it weakened the will and ability to resist.” (Okihiro p229)
In “Catch a Wave, a Case Study of Hawaii’s New Politics,” historian Tom Coffman quotes Burns:
“It fell to Burns to direct the arrests, and, in his words, ‘I went along at the time with the idea, which was to take the leadership.’” (Coffman p15)
Regardless of whether one believes Burns’ role was to protect Hawaii AJAs from total internment—an analysis discarded by the pronouncements at Honouliuli--what emerges is a case study in population control and political manipulation.
Construction of Burns’ and later Inouye's political ‘machine’ began before Pearl Harbor. With independent leaders locked up in internment camps, Burns’ organization had free reign over a people with ‘weakened will and ability to resist’:
“During the months leading up to the start of the war, while he was head of the Espionage Bureau, he had helped to organize and then had led a Police Contact Group comprised of a network of some sixty AJA men who were scattered throughout the island. Once in place at the beginning of the war, this group reported directly to the Police Department through (Jack Burns).” ‘I used this organization of mine to feed me back things from the community and to contra feed other things’ he explained.
“The group’s function was also to receive information from the Japanese community in Hawaii and to provide a venue for them to come to with their troubles. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported that as of May, 1942, the group had made contact with over 6,000 local Japanese and had conducted 121 meetings at which (Jack Burns) and others had spoken. (Burns p63)
“On February 8th, 1942, the leaders of the (Hawaii Military Government) Morale Section created an Emergency Service Committee (ESC). It was a war service organization comprised of AJAs whose purpose was ‘to promote the war effort and to foster and preserve the loyalty of the local Japanese community.’ …
“‘The Morale Section and the ESC recognized the need for aggressive leadership to funnel the inherent loyalty of Hawaii’s Japanese into positive and active participation in the war effort,’ said Ted Tsukiyama. (Jack Burns) helped both of these groups to work together with both his Espionage Bureau and his Police Contact Group to help achieve this over-arching goal….” (Burns p67)
At first Burns was ‘just a policeman’:
“Dr Murai recalled, ‘My first impression of (Jack Burns) was that he was a man of few words. He just listens, and I thought that probably was the position a police officer should take.’ Mits Kido was less generous in his first impression. ‘The first time I met him,’ Kido recalled, ‘I though he was very cold and a hard person to work with. Never smiled much. Very businesslike. Abrupt almost curt in his response when you talked to him….He didn’t strike me as a person you could get close to, … so I kept my distance.’
Another Japanese-American who worked with Burns during the war was Jack Kawano, a longshoreman and one of the leaders of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU). ‘I didn’t like him,’ Kawano said, recalling his first impression of Burns. ‘To me, he didn’t know how to smile. To me, he was just a policeman. Nothing friendly about him.’” (Boylan and Holmes p65)
The threat of internment which Burns held over the heads of AJAs in Hawaii shaped the rhetoric coming from the ESC:
“… the Service committee’s counsel was to ‘take the bumps’ as they come and ‘keep up our chins.’ In fact, according to the committee, nisei should expect the bumps, be grateful for the ‘fair and humane’ treatment of their enemy alien parents, and be thankful that there was not further repression.
“The committee admonished nisei to show their gratitude by being productive and not idle, participating in voluntary labor, buying defense bonds, donating blood, and scrupulously obeying military orders. It also warned nisei against speaking Japanese in public, wearing Japanese clothes and footwear, displaying Japanese signs, and congregating in large numbers. ‘We must not tolerate a half-way allegiance,’ advised the committee. ‘Those who waver or who we know are disloyal or whom we consider potentially dangerous must be exposed not only for the welfare of our country, but for our own sake.’ The committee accordingly worked through Burns’ Honolulu police department contact group….” (Okihiro p232)
Burns position as a police officer gave him unique access not available to others under martial law curfews and blackouts:
“The Emergency Service Committee meetings on the plantations were well attended, with an average turnout of roughly one hundred. Dr. Murai recalled that martial law dictated the timing of the meetings . ‘They had to be off the street at eight o’clock, so we had to rush over there, maybe at 4:30 or 5:00—some of them would just get through work and come to the meeting in their work clothes before they go home.’ At the meetings, Burns kept a low profile, letting people like Dr. Murai, Mitsuyuki ‘Mits’ Kido, Baron Goto, and Masatoshi Katagiri do the talking. They gave their listeners hard-headed practical advice, But not all of their listeners appreciated what they heard. (Boylan and Holmes p64)
“…Ted Tsukiyama, remembered my grandfather picking him up one evening at Schoefield Barracks in his police car in the summer of 1942 to drive him to a community meeting at a gym in Waipahu. He explained that my grandfather was able transport him to the meeting since as a policeman he was allowed to drive around at night during the mandatory blackouts and curfews during the martial law period. He said that the gym they went to was packed with local people of Japanese ancestry. He recalled giving a ‘pep talk’ to those who were in attendance for the purpose of boosting their morale by sharing about the patriotic works of service of the VVV. ‘We don’t have to hang our heads!’ he said to them, attempting to encourage them during a time when the local Japanese population was greatly on edge. He remembered the gathering being a product of the collaboration between the Morale Section, the ESC, and (Jack Burns’) Police Contact Group….” (Burns p70)
Even with all Burns’ advantages, many were not won over:
“The most difficult were the issei. Many were troubled by any suggestion that they should turn their backs on the two-thousand-year-old culture that had shaped their lives. There was also a small number of ultranationalists who called themselves the katta gumi (the winning group). They quietly applauded each Japanese victory at the beginning of the war and looked forward to the day when Japanese forces would come to claim the Hawaiian Islands for the Japanese Empire. Some found it hard to admit, even after V-J Day, that the Japanese Empire had been defeated. These nationalists thought of Murai, Kido, Goto, Katagiri, and the haole cop they travelled with as inu—dogs.” (Boylan and Holmes p64)
The effectiveness of Burns’ population control methods went far beyond repression. He soon directed a new form of expression which became the bedrock consciousness of a ‘new man’ created in the wartime crucible:
“(Hung Wai) Ching followed (Jack Burns’) advice and persuaded young AJAs (expelled from the ROTC at UH Manoa) to offer themselves to (Hawaii Military Governor) General Emmons for war time service through providing non-combat labor. He reportedly suggested to them that they should ‘go the extra mile,’ ‘turn the other cheek,’ and ‘fight’ instead by using shovels as a non-combat labor battalion since the US Government did not allow them to fight with bullets anymore. After some heated discussion, they heeded his command. They eventually all signed a petition that they wrote with the help of (ESC member) Shigeo Yoshida which they presented to General Emmons. The petition said:
“‘We the undersigned, were members of the Hawaii Territorial Guard until its recent inactivation. We joined the Guard voluntarily with the hope that this was one way to serve our country in time of need. Needless to say, we were deeply disappointed when we were told that our services in the Guard were no longer needed. Hawaii is our home: the United States our country. We know but one loyalty and that is to the Stars and Stripes. We wish to do our part as loyal Americans in every way possible and we hereby offer ourselves for whatever service you may see fit to use us.” (Burns p68-9)
“On January 28, 1943, Emmons called for 1,500 AJA volunteers to serve in the military….It was during this time that (Jack Burns) drove around Oahu at night during the island-wide blackouts with his Contact Group members, encouraging young AJA men to sign up…. Ron Oba remembered (Jack Burns) coming to a meeting at Aiea gym and saying emphatically to young AJA men like him: ‘You are on the spot! You must volunteer to prove your loyalty (to America)!
“Morale Section leaders Hung Wai Ching and Shigeo Yoshida played a significant role in recruiting AJA volunteers as well. By March 2nd, as a result of (Jack Burns) and others urging, 9,500 AJA volunteers had replied to General Emmon’s call to service…. ‘The volunteers included one-third of Hawaii’s AJA population in the 18-38 age group.” (Burns p74)
“(Jack Burns) even had a hand in suggesting a saying for their division. ‘This outfit shows pretty good,’ he explained. ‘And they adopted the name, ‘Go for Broke’…I suggested it to the guys.’ The saying ‘Go for Broke’ was a gambling term…. it means risking everything the game player has on one final roll of the dice in order to win big. ‘Go for broke’ became the motto of the 442nd.” (Burns p75)
“…On November 17, 1944, when the 100th/442nd was finally relieved, the dead and wounded outnumbered the living. The 100th/442nd ended up at half its usual strength. K Company of the division, which started out with 186 men had only 17 left. I Company started out with 185 and only 8 survived….
“the 4,000 men who initially formed the unit in April, 1943 had to be replaced 3.5 times. In total about 14,000 men served in the unit, ultimately earning 9,486 Purple Hearts. Twenty-one of its members were awarded Medals of Honor….” (Burns p77)
The ‘inu’ plan to become core leaders of the Democratic Party did not wait until V-J Day:
“What was taking place during the final years of World War II was the transformation of Burns from a policeman to a politician. The preceding five years of his life had provided Jack Burns with an education that no university could have duplicated.” (Boylan and Holmes p40)
“Beginning in 1944, Jack Burns joined four other men to discuss, informally, the political future of the Territory of Hawaii: (ESC member) Dr Ernest Murai, the dentist; (ESC member) Mits Kido, a University of Hawaii-trained social studies teacher; Jack Kawano, a Big-island born labor leader; and Chuck Mau, a Chinese-American lawyer and member of the Honolulu board of Supervisors (now known as the Honolulu City Council). Out of their meetings, the new Democratic Party of the Territory of Hawaii would emerge.” (Boylan and Holmes p66)
“ESC members Murai and Kido would later become two of (Jack Burns’) strongest supporters when he went into politics after the war.” (Burns p68)
“In 1946, to broaden (their) penetration into the inner workings of the Democratic Party, Burns, Murai, Kido, Kawano, and Mau decided that they would attempt to bring the former members of Burns’ Police Contact Group into the fold. Each member was asked to organize meetings in his own election precinct. Their efforts were just under way when the 1946 elections took place.” (Boylan and Holmes p73)
Even as the “Revolution of ‘54” took hold, older AJAs remembered Jack Burns. He would not win elections until they died off:
"...not all people of Japanese ancestry in Hawaii admired... (Jack Burns)... after World War II ended.... Some were angry with him for facilitating the arrest of some of their friends and relatives and also for encouraging young Americans of Japanese ancestry to sign up for the war effort as members of the 442nd RCT. 'I didn't come out any hero,' he said towards the end of his life. 'Because a hell of a lot of Japanese blamed me for interning their relatives. Others blamed me for sending their sons off to be killed--that I was a government dog that did these things to them.'"
(Burns’ successor as Governor) George Ariyoshi ... commented... "When I got involved in the Hawaii Democratic Party in 1954, there were some older Japanese who still believed that Burns had spied against the Japanese. They said he was an inu, a dog." (Burns pg 78)