On a Trip to Hawai’i

Hawai’i is one of the most beautiful places in the United States, and people from all over the world go there to enjoy the beauty of the beaches, forests, and the hospitality of the people. Asian tourists visit the islands routinely and have for decades. One such tourist from Japan was named Takeo.

Takeo’s desire to go to Hawai’i was so strong that he stayed several months. He arrived in Hawai’i in March of 1941, and he rented an apartment overlooking the harbor in Honolulu. Using that place as a base, Takeo wandered all over the island of Oahu, learning about its beaches and hills, and he took copious notes so he could remember all that he saw. Like many tourists, he enjoyed taking tours of the island by air. The view from above, he said, gave him a wonderful perspective on all that lay below.

Takeo enjoyed swimming in the harbor. He snorkeled there often, and he sometimes took the ferries and boats that chugged around the island. He mingled with the populace, shopped in the markets, and listed to their stories about life there. Over the course of nine months, Takeo learned all he could about the place. You could easily say that he was obsessed.

Today, almost 1/5th of the population of the state is of Japanese descent. When Takeo was there, the place housed about 160,000 people from Japan. That helped Takeo blend in better and made him feel much less conspicuous, much less of a “foreigner” in what was still at that time an American territory. When the United States entered World War II, the overwhelming majority of those Japanese people residing in Hawai’i chose loyalty to the United States over their native land. Fear of “the other” and racism led the United States government to implement a policy of internment for many Japanese-Americans on the mainland.

Takeo, however, had other ideas. You see, the reason he was so interested in Hawai’i was not that he was a casual but deeply attached tourist. No, rather, he worked for the Japanese government as a gatherer of intelligence. He was the chief Japanese intelligence agent in the American territory.

In fact, Takeo Yoshikawa’s copious notes and research that he radioed back to his home country over the nine months he lived in Honolulu helped Japan carry out the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

On a War-Time Ban

Our modern generation has “suffered” the inconvenience of supply-chain issues due to the Covid pandemic. We have only tasted the edge of what it is like to live in an extended time of rationing and shortages. During World War II (and also World War I, to some extent), rationing in the United States was mandated for several years. Several items during the war saw shortages, but it was only those commodities that were directly needed by the war effort that required rationing and the accompanying ration stamps.

Among the rationed items in the United States were gas, rubber (for tires), sugar, meat, and coffee. While most people hated rationing, most people also accepted it because, after all, it was the least they could do to support our fighting men and women in the “crusade” against Nazism and fascism. In fact, the rationing and shortages served to unify the nation in an odd way.

The federal government had been granted absolute authority to decide what items were to be rationed and what products could be manufactured and which ones were to be prohibited for the war’s duration. One such banned product caused an unusually loud outcry among the population when it was enacted in 1943. It was a product that had been ordered banned by the Secretary of Agriculture, a man named Claude Wickard.

Now, Wickard knew his stuff. He was from Indiana, farm country, and he had a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Purdue University. The state had decreed Wickard as a Master Farmer in the 1920s for his agricultural innovations and improvements for small farmers. He had served as an Undersecretary of Agriculture in the Hoover Administration and then was appointed Secretary of Agriculture in 1940. He would hold that post all during World War II. He is remembered for promoting the growing of Victory Gardens as a way for Americans to extend their food supplies during the years of shortages and rationing.

However, it was the incredibly unpopular ban in 1943 that Wickard is best remembered for. In an article, Time magazine described the terrible deprivation the ban created. It said that American housewives felt the ban, “was almost as bad as gas rationing and a whale of a lot more trouble.” The article went on to point out that, for American women, they had to “saw…grimly on. This war was getting pretty awful.”

Sounds terrible. What product would you think could cause such consternation among American women? In a letter to the editor of the the New York Times, an irate American pointed out how important this item was to the morale and “saneness” of the average American household. She lamented the days gone by when this product made her life worth living. New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (yes, that LaGuardia) even got involved in the controversy, offering alternatives to the ban and saying that he would do all he could to intervene with Secretary Wickard to end the ban as soon as possible.

Wickard, for his part, pretended to ignore the uproar his ban had caused. He seemed to not notice the outcry. He pointed out the savings his ban would make and said that it was all necessary for the war effort. But the cries of housewives across America proved too incessant and the political pressure put on elected officials forced Wickard to retreat. He soon announced not that the ban was lifted because of the protests but, rather, that the supposed savings the ban was to provide did not in fact come to pass. Thus, he said, the ban was lifted.

Jubilation ensued. We don’t know if or what pressure Claud Wickard might have felt from Mrs. Wickard, but we know how happy she was, too, when her husband ended the ban.

And what was this product that every American housewife demanded to have during World War II?

Sliced bread.