Free Hawaii! One particularly annoying aspect of “Third Wav” politics is its proponents’ penchant for symbolic, feel-your-pain apologies. Tony Blair offered one to the Irish for Britain’s inaction during the Potato Famine; Bill Clinton delivered another to black Americans for slavery. Surely no good can come from such empty sentimentalism.
Or can it? In 1993, Bill Clinton formally apologized to native Hawaiians for the U.S. military’s role in forcibly ousting Queen Liliuokalani from power in 1893. Bill’s blubbery mea culpa appears to have awakened some old grievances and sparked calls for Hawaiian independence. On September 20, the Washington Times reported that “the apology encouraged a spate of Hawaiian sovereignty movements.”
Keaki Keali, a native Hawaiian living near the site of Capt. James Cook’s initial landing in 1778, puts it plainly: “We should be completely independent. . . . They took it away from us by force and we should get it back.”
Keali has a point. America’s absorption of Hawaii is hardly a proud moment in our history. Disturbed by Queen Liliuokalani’s desire for a stronger monarchy (and enticed by the benefits annexation would bring to the American-controlled Hawaiian sugar industry) a group of planter-class American expatriates formed a Committee of Public Safety and overthrew the queen in 1893. The American minister, John L. Stevens, backed the coup with troops from the U.S.S. Boston.
Shortly after the coup, President Grover Cleveland took over from pro-annexation lame duck Benjamin Harrison. Cleveland refused to countenance the annexation of Hawaii, stating: “I mistake the Americans if they favor the odious doctrine that there is no such thing as international morality; that there is one law for a strong nation and another for a weak one.” Cleveland’s behavior in this incident reaffirms H.L. Mencken’s assessment of him as “a good man in a bad trade.” It was left to a lesser man, Cleveland’s expansionist Republican successor, William McKinley, to accept annexation in 1898.
The annexation of Hawaii was the first in a series of defeats by a formidable coalition of anti-imperialists that fought U.S. expansionism around the turn of the century. That coalition was broad enough to include millionaire industrialist Andrew Carnegie, former Union General and mugwump Carl Schurz, Nation editor E.L. Godkin, and AFL leader Samuel Gompers. The 1899 platform of the American Anti-Imperialist League reveals the distinctively American principles which were able to unite such a disparate group: “The policy known as imperialism is hostile to liberty and tends toward militarism, an evil from which it has been our glory to be free . . . We maintain that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed . . . We cordially invite the co-operation of all men and women who remain loyal to the declaration of independence and the constitution of the United States.”
Independence for Hawaii would right an historical wrong and give a belated victory to the anti-imperialists. And it would benefit Americans on the mainland as well. Hawaii’s statehood is an expansionist abomination. Ifs no coincidence that our only two noncontiguous states were admitted to the union in 1959, at the height of Cold War globalism. Disgorging Hawaii could be the first step in reversing a century’s worth of imperialist overreach.
Alas, the idea of Hawaiian independence is probably little more than a pleasant pipe dream. U.S. officials are already planning to buy off disgruntled Hawaiians with federal loot. Interior and Justice Department officials have suggested that subsidies for better schools and health care for native Hawaiians may aid “the process of reconciliation.” But if the more hard-core Hawaii Firsters don’t get their way, they may see the merit in taking the struggle to the U.S. mainland, with assassination squads and ear bombs. If the Puerto Rican precedent is any indication, there might be an eventual pardon waiting for them.