Documentary with historical re-creations | 2007 | 60 mins | DVD | Closed Captioning
Writer/Producer/Director: Tom Coffman
Director of Historical Re-creations, Editor: Robert Bates
THE FIRST BATTLE is about a previously untold struggle for freedom, equality and full citizenship in America. This struggle was waged unconventionally behind the scenes in Hawaii during the two years leading up to World War II and the first several years of the war. It pitted fragile inter-ethnic relationships and untested Nisei (second generation Japanese American) leadership against the full weight of the United States government.
Five years before the onset of World War II, the President of the United States had directed the construction of camps for the mass internment of Hawaii’s Japanese-ancestry population in the event of war with Japan. After December 7, 1941, the President, the Army Chief of Staff, and the Secretary of the Navy all pressed for – and at various times sent orders directing – a mass internment.
THE FIRST BATTLE is about the networks of people – principally Nisei, their acquaintances and allies – who resisted the pressure for internment. At the heart of the story are two previously unheralded individuals – educator Shigeo Yoshida and YMCA executive Hung Wai Ching. As such, it is a David-and-Goliath story, a reminder that the contest does not always go to the obviously powerful, but to those of humble status who are clear-minded and focused.
The efforts of Yoshida and Ching, in concert with many others, helped Hawaii through the immediate crisis, helped preserve the right of the Nisei to serve in the U.S. military, and eventually resulted in fateful encounters with Eleanor Roosevelt, whose impulses lay in one direction, and Franklin Roosevelt, whose impulses lay in another. As such, the story sheds new light on both Roosevelts.
Along the way, THE FIRST BATTLE also puts internment in a new light, as well as the unreliability of constitutions in times of crisis. It will answer the unanswered question: Why was there no mass internment in Hawaii, where the large Japanese community potentially posed a security threat, in contrast to the West Coast, where the tiny Japanese community posed none? It will show that Hawaii not only was shaped by the war, but helped shape post-war America. The first battle, that of the home front in Hawaii, will become known as the seminal story of contemporary multicultural Hawaii.
THE FIRST BATTLE is an implicit lesson on how varied people, working together, can change the course of events and thereby change history.
–Tom Coffman, Director