It’s no secret that the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, which killed more than 2,000 Americans, changed the course of history for the United States and the rest of the world.
But it also dramatically altered the identity of the island paradise of Hawaii, changing everyday life for the people who lived there and bringing tourism, one of the islands’ most important industries, to a halt.
Hours after the attack, Hawaii, a U.S. territory at the time, was placed under martial law, and all of the islands’ residents were under the dictatorship of the U.S. military, according to Honolulu Bishop Museum historian DeSoto Brown.
Since Japanese-Americans made up 37 percent of Hawaii’s population, it was impossible for the military to incarcerate all of them, Brown told The Huffington Post. Instead, all residents of Hawaii — white, Native Hawaiian, Japanese, Filipino, Chinese — were forced to live under strict military rule.
“Everybody was under martial law and treated equally unfairly because the military couldn’t target just the Japanese, who were so important to the economy,” Brown said.
After all, Japanese-American residents had long-established themselves in Hawaii as business owners, teachers and community leaders. Without them, Brown added, Hawaii’s economy would have collapsed.
Under martial law, life in Hawaii became dramatically restricted, according to Brown. Immediately after the attack, civilians were mandated by the military to dig holes for makeshift bomb shelters and were ordered to place barbed wire around everything, including beaches, water pumping stations, electrical installations and government buildings.
While they were free to live their normal lives during the day, Hawaii residents were forced to black out their windows, and a curfew banned civilians from being outside at night.
All electricity was required to be shut off after sundown, and the military enforced the curfew every night. Any unauthorized civilian out after hours faced the risk of being shot. If civilians were permitted to drive after-hours for official purposes, they were required to paint their cars’ headlights black.
Food on the island was rationed to families. There was a ban on liquor, and bars were shuttered. Waikiki’s iconic beachfront hotels, once thriving with tourists and affluent locals, were closed to the public and taken over by the military.
The military even banned Hawaii civilians from taking photographs of any of the islands’ coastlines (to prevent the Japanese from finding points of entries) and anything with war- or military-related imagery. As a result, officials reviewed and confiscated any photographs that contained barbed wire, beaches or military bases.
The harsh military rule in Hawaii ended nearly three years after the Pearl Harbor attacks, but, according to Brown, the islands were forever changed.
The poor treatment of the residents in Hawaii fueled the case for bringing the islands into statehood. And the military continued to maintain a stronghold in Hawaii, with every branch of the military stationed there today.
As a historian specializing in World War II and the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Brown has collected many of the contraband images that were photographed in Hawaii despite martial law.
Many of these images are on display at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu for the 75th anniversary of the devastating attacks.
Below, see the forbidden photos and other World War II memorabilia that reveal what life in Hawaii was like for those who lived through that day “which will live in infamy,” Dec. 7, 1941.