Hawaii Under Martial Law was Like ‘Military Dictatorship’ (1941-1944)

123HAWAII — Islanders suffered under nearly three years of martial law from 1941-1944; so oppressive that it was later described by a federal judge as a “military dictatorship.”  All manner of civilian liberties were replaced by oppressive military orders enforced by American soldiers.

The dark period of Hawaiian history began on December 7, 1941, with the massive surprise attack of Japanese bombers on the U.S. Naval Base Pearl Harbor.  The air raid successfully sunk or grounded 18 ships and killed 2,403 Americans.

As the smoke billowed from the harbor, Lieutenant General Walter Short met with Territorial Governor Joseph Poindexter to convince him to declare martial law.  Being coerced through tactics discussed below, Gov. Poindexter reluctantly ceded power to the military — temporarily, or so he thought.

In declaring martial law, all forms of civilian law were suspended.  An entire new system of justice and order was instituted and controlled at the absolute discretion of Lt. Gen. Short — the newly declared “Military Governor” of the islands.

The transfer of power meant that all civilian courts would be closed, and all government functions — federal, territorial, and municipal — would be placed under military control.   The U.S. Constitution was suspended and civilians no longer guaranteed any individual rights or protections from the government.  Civilians had no freedom of speech, self-defense, assembly, or protections from from unreasonable search and seizures, inter alia.

Lt. General Short, in his first proclamation as Military Governor on December 7th, 1941, stated that [7]:

I shall therefore shortly publish ordinances governing the conduct of the people of the Territory with respect to the showing of lights, circulation, meetings, censorship, possession of arms, ammunition, and explosives, the sale of intoxicating liquors and other subjects.

In order to assist in repelling the threatened invasion of our island home, good citizens will cheerfully obey this proclamation and the ordinances to be published; others will be required to do so. Offenders will be severely punished by military tribunals or will be held in custody until such time that the civil courts are able to function.

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