Reverberations in distant Hawaii
Issue: Sept 26, 2001
We had arrived at our Waikiki beach hotel late on September 10, and encountered a commotion of distress when going to breakfast the next morning. On restaurant TV sets, I saw the words "Attack on America" and heard an announcer lament some tragedy. My wife, Gloria, and I asked the first person we met what was going on. "We're going to war!" said an agitated Mrs. Maine, a contestant in the Mrs. America pageant set for ten days later.
What I took first as an exaggeration evolved into sad reality within hours. Yet, almost as quickly, the urge in Honolulu to send help, mourn the losses and pray for unity and strength reflected responses seen in city after city across the country after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. Except that in usually mellow Hawaii, the memory, of another surprise attack six decades ago was rekindled.
Comparisons to Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor were limited by certain differences--now the "enemy" was an elusive network of terrorist bands operating in many nations, and its targets were just as likely civilian as military ones. But the shock of massive death and destruction hitting U.S. shores and the anxieties over wartime economics were familiar to older Hawaiians.
"America Needs Our Aloha," said the Honolulu Advertiser in a full-page ad of its own September 13. "On December 7, 1941, America rallied to the aid of Hawaii. Now, it's Hawaii's turn," it began. "It's impossible to imagine the terror, the magnitude and the evil of this attack by faceless cowards. But, as we learned 60 years ago, we will get through this by rallying together," said the newspaper, which told readers how they could donate money or blood.
More than that, Hawaii could serve as a model as well for the levels of cooperation and tolerance that will be sought increasingly on the U.S. mainland. From our six visits to Honolulu, we have seen the cooperation of military and civilian segments in Hawaiian society--at times uneasy, at times proud--and how religious leaders encourage understanding amid residents with a variety of ethnic, racial and spiritual differences.
An interfaith service on September 13 illustrated the challenging mixtures in Hawaii. The prayer service, held at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in the Punchbowl volcanic crater above downtown Honolulu, was suggested by Pastor Dan Chun of the PCUSA-related First Presbyterian Church. Presiding over ceremonies organized by Mayor Jeremy Harris and attended by Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano, Chun told the crowd of 1,500 that a cousin of his who worked at the World Trade Center had evacuated safely but that a second cousin died in rescue attempts.
Participant clergy included a native Hawaiian religion leader, a rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Baha'i leader and Bishop Chikai Yosemori, representing the large Japanese-American Buddhist community in Hawaii. The closing prayer came from David Kaupu, the pastor of Kaumakapili Church, the second-oldest Protestant church in Honolulu and one of many United Church of Christ affiliates stemming from the early Congregationalist missions in Hawaii. The 50th state also has a strong United Methodist, Episcopal and Mormon presence, and growing numbers of Filipino, Korean and Chinese immigrants.
The message was given by Admiral Dennis C. Blair, commander of sea, land and air forces of the U.S. Pacific Command, which extends into the Indian Ocean. "As in 1941, the surprise attack will not cause America to lie down," said Blair, who saluted firefighters, police and emergency service workers at the service whose counterparts in Manhattan "already led the way."
As in many interfaith services around the country, a Muslim leader was asked to take part. Saying that "I stand before you as an American," Moroccan-born Hakim Ouansafi, president of the small Muslim Association of Hawaii, asked the crowd to stand and join hands. "Whoever kills one single being is as if he kills the entire humanity," he said, citing a traditional teaching going back to Muhammad. "And whoever saves a single life is as if he saves the entire humanity."
For an interfaith service earlier that day on the neighboring island of Maui, organizers could not find a Muslim, according to the Honolulu Advertiser. But one speaker, addressing any Muslim who might be attending, said: "You are one of us. In the tradition of this island, we ... do not descend into generalizations, racial stereotyping and hatred. If you are afraid, let us be your brothers and sisters."
Back at the Hilton Hawaiian Village at noon the next day, when distant church bells pealed on the nationally proclaimed day of prayer, a service with a Pentecostal and patriotic flavor was held on the sand. Mrs. America contestants sat among more than 100 tourists and sunbathers. When the Lord's Prayer was sung, a woman dressed in a long muu-muu interpreted the words with her hands in a hula dance.
Far from the flames, smoke and tears on America's East Coast, Hawaiians dealt with tragedy anew.
©Copyright 2001, The Christian Century