Why is Hawai'i a state?
How did it become a state?
Having asked this question over the last several years, it has elicited a response that usually focuses on the lobbying efforts of the Statehood Commission and the territorial delegate John Burns; the Senate debate over race and communism; the Democratic revolution of the 1954 Hawai'i legislature; the organizing efforts of the labor movement in Hawai'i, particularly the ILWU; as well as the sacrifice of Japanese-Americans in the 100th/442nd during WWII. Although this is all part of the statehood story, so is the story of the overthrow of Queen Lili'uokalani in 1893 and the controversial annexation of Hawai'i as a territory in 1898.
Historically, the events of the overthrow in 1893 and annexation in 1898 is arguably as much of a locus for pinpointing the roots of statehood as Congressional debates throughout the 1950s, but so is the landing of Captain Cook in 1778, the unification of Hawai'i by Kamehameha in 1795, or the arrival of the first missionaries in 1820. These events however, drawn out as an narrative suggests an implausible story line that concludes that statehood is the result of some hegemonic Western agenda.
Hawai'i statehood though is less the result of conspired domination than of opportunism. The conflict of the world’s powers during the age of colonialism insured that no opportunity would be missed for acquiring natural or strategic resources. England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan and the United States all competed. This 19th century empire building process of nations eventually fomented its own collapse in WWI and again, attempted some finality during WWII with the creation of the United Nations.
The decade after WWII promised independence for peoples and territories, an adjustment to right the wrongs of the previous era while announcing an end to colonialism to ensure lasting peace. In 1946, Chapter XI of the United Nations Charter called for the administering countries to recognize in full measure the aspirations of non-self-governing territories like Hawai'i.
With the introduction of Chapter XI of the UN Charter, the question of why and how Hawai'i became a state is reframed and the challenges of Hawai'i and statehood are located in the rise of the United States in international organization after WWII. This includes the process by which the State Department submits Hawai'i, along with Alaska, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, Guam and the Panama canal Zone as territories in which the US is responsible for administering.
As stated in a letter by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to Senator Knowland in 1956, “The grant of statehood to Alaska and Hawaii would provide the best means of convincing other United Nations Members that the two territories have achieved ‘a full measure of self-government.’ Such a step would be generally welcomed as further indication of the traditional attachment of the American people to the principle of self-determination.”
The process of Hawai'i statehood revealed in source State Department documents as well as in the Congressional Record, highlights the conflict between Congress and the State Dept, between two branches of our government— the Legislative and the Executive—a conflict still occuring in legal terms: the authority of the Constitution vs. the authority of the United Nations Charter vs. states' rights, the State Constitution.
Although the age of colonialism has been replaced by another age, one that futher asserts western opportunism in a new world order, the 50th anniversary of Hawai'i statehood reveals a process of how the United States managed to assert its influence and rise to dominate the "peace process" after WWII and continues to do so well into the 21st century. It's also the story of how Hawai'i statehood was used by the United States to assert its influence in international organization.