What If Annexation Did Not Occur

Picture of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement

By: T. Jeffersonian

The Hawaiian sovereignty movement is a grassroots political and cultural campaign to reestablish an autonomous, independent kingdom of Hawaii due to their desire for sovereignty, self-determination, and self-governance. Some sovereign groups also advocate for some form of redress from the United States for the 1893 overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani, and for what is described as a prolonged military occupation of Hawaii beginning with the 1898 annexation. The movement generally views both the 1893 overthrow and 1898 annexation as illegal. The Apology Resolution passed by the United States Congress in 1993 acknowledged that the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893 was an illegal act; however, the 1898 Annexation was not condemned. What would have happened to Hawaii had the state not been annexed by the United States?

Initially, the United States did not want Hawaii. When the Queen was forced to abdicate in 1893, the matter was left for Washington politicians to settle. President Grover Cleveland was an outspoken anti-imperialist who thought Americans had acted shamefully in Hawaii. He withdrew the annexation treaty from the Senate and ordered an investigation into potential wrongdoings. Cleveland aimed to restore Liliuokalani to her throne, but American and even some free Hawaiian public sentiment strongly favored annexation. The matter was prolonged until after Cleveland left office. When war broke out with Spain in 1898, the military significance of Hawaiian naval bases as a way station to the Philippines outweighed all other considerations. President William McKinley signed a joint resolution annexing Hawaii, much like the manner in which Texas was joined the Union in 1845. Hawaii’s annexation by the United States was thus not without precedence as the Republic of Texas had undergone a similar proceeding.

Without Hawaii as a naval base, the United States would have had a more difficult time fighting and winning the Spanish-American War in 1898. Without Hawaii, governing and policing the Philippine and Guamanian territories after the war would have been much more difficult and expensive. It is probable that, the Philippines and Guam may have even been retained by Spain or immediately sold off by the United States to the highest bidder – most likely Japan or Germany. Had not American Hawaii been so close, American Samoa would probably not have voted in 1900 to become part of the United States and likely too would have become a German colony along with the rest of Samoa. Had any of this occurred, the United States would not have become a Pacific power.

It is extremely unlikely that the Hawaiian monarchy would have survived had the United States either been absent from the Pacific or had at least maintained a strictly hands off approach to the islands. Given the geopolitical situation in the world in the 1880s and 1890s, Hawaii would have become either a German, a British, a French, or even a Japanese colonial possession. In the era of coal fired ships, the strategic location of the Hawaiian Islands simply made it too vital of a location in the trans-Pacific shipping routes to be left independent. Hawaii has excellent anchorages for ships to resupply fresh food and water, or to sit out large typhoons that pass through this area. Germany was late to the colonial scene after having become a nation in 1871. Imperial Germany would have greatly coveted a truly independent Hawaii.

If Hawaii had become a German colony and World War I still played out the same way, once the Germans lost the war, the British would have likely taken Hawaii for themselves as war reparation. It is possible that British or allied forces could have invaded Hawaii during the war. During World War I, German Samoa was taken by troops from New Zealand for example, and the German islands further west of Samoa were seized by Japan. Some of these areas did not receive their sovereignty until the mid-1960s. World War II certainly would have been more difficult to fight and win with Japanese forces controlling both the Philippines and possibly even Hawaii for decades before the war began. With Hawaii as a Japanese possession, December 7, 1941 would have targeted San Francisco and San Diego instead of Pearl Harbor. The war itself would have likely lasted far longer with major battles having been fought between Hawaii and the mainland. Hawaii would have had to be invaded and bombed by Americans as they advanced across the Pacific. It is even quite possible that having Hawaii, Guam, and Philippines would have enabled Imperial Japan to have won the Pacific portion World War II. Given the atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese against occupied peoples, it is even conceivable that Imperial Japan would have completed a genocide in Hawaii.

Going back to Hawaii becoming a British colony. Today, Hawaii would likely be either a small independent nation or as many as eight small nations had the United Kingdom gained control of Hawaii before, during, or immediately after World War I. It is even possible that Hawaii may even still be a protectorate of the United Kingdom. If a British protectorate , Hawaii would have no representation in Parliament. Instead of Hawaiians being equal citizens under their own government, they would be British nationals under the rule of the British monarch. Given its size and population however, Hawaii would have likely gained its independence sometime between the mid-1960s and early 1980s. Many of Britain’s agrarian based former colonies in the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa, became targets for Communist expansion during the Cold War. Hawaii had itself already been an early 19th century Russian ambition. Russia played a significant role in Hawaii in the early 1800s, even establishing forts mainly on Kauai. Given its strategic proximity to the United States and its distance from the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union would have seen a newly independent Hawaii in the 1960s-1980s as a target for Communist takeover. There would probably have at least been a violent Communist insurgency fought here in Hawaii if not a full-blown Red Hawaiian Revolution.

Though the United States’ annexation of Hawaii is continually vilified, that annexation actually protected Hawaii from far, far greater evils. These potential evils would very likely have led to the complete destruction and eradication of the Hawaiian culture and its population in its entirely. Today, Hawaii is one of 50 united sovereign states forming the freest and most altruistic society on the Earth. America is not perfect, far from it, but it is the greatest cause for good for humankind. It is through this cause and the strength afforded by our union of states that enables our rich Hawaiian culture and history to be preserved for all perpetuity.