World War II to Statehood (1941-1959)
World War II was a faraway affair until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor
December 7, 1941
. After that, Hawai`i became central to the United States’ war effort in the Pacific. The Islands became a changed place, ruled by martial law for the duration of the war and hosting hundreds of thousands of servicemen as they moved through on their way to and from battle. Many Japanese families, settled in Hawai`i for decades and generations, were torn apart by the war. Many younger Japanese males fought for the United States, earning great distinction with the 442nd Regiment.
In the years following the war, Hawai`i benefited from the country's growing prosperity and the fond memories of those visiting wartime soldiers. Although travel to the Islands was still mainly by ship, the journey was more affordable for middleclass travelers and no longer restricted to adventurers or wealthy celebrities. Waikiki beach was again a bustling tourist attraction.
Sugar remained the powerhouse of the economy, but the post-war years saw upheavals in the labor dynamic. Unions became a force to contend with, spurred on by dynamic leaders such as Jack Hall and others. By 1949
, they won major victories in improving wages and working conditions.
The unions soon put their organizational clout to work in the political arena, challenging the entrenched Republican system supported by sugar growers. In 1954
, Democrats won their first significant victories in the state legislature, aided largely by union support and the votes of WWII veterans. In 1962
, Democrats controlled both the governorship and the state legislature for the first time. John Burns
, rising star of the Democratic party, owed much of his success to changes heralded by the growing muscle of the unions. Union activity spread beyond the sugar industry and remains strong today among groups such as hotel workers (HREU, Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union), teamsters, dock workers (ILWU, International Longshoreman and Workers Union), civil service workers (HGEA, Hawai`i Government Employees Union) and state teachers (HSTA, Hawai`i State Teachers Association).
, political lobbying and negotiation which had been going on for years finally came to fruition when Hawai`i was admitted to the union as the 50th state
, following close on the heels of Alaska. Statehood brought certain political advantages as well as new access to federal funds. It also ushered the Islands into a new era of prosperity.