The Niihau Incident: An exceptional Act of Bravery

History prefer legends to men, prefers nobility to brutality, soaring speeches to quiet deeds. History remembers battles and forgets the blood. Whatever history remembers is always a fraction of the truth.

Most of us know the story of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but few people know the story of the Niihau incident, when a nearby island became the unlikely site of one of the strangest and most forgotten events of the beginning of the war.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese staged an infamous surprise attack on the Naval base at Pearl Harbor. During the fight Japanese fighter pilot Shigenori Nishikaichi’s plane crash-landed on Niihau, a small island inhabited by native Hawaiians, where he was unofficially taken prisoner by the suspicious locals. A few Japanese people lived on Niihau, and after communicating with Nishikaichi and learning of the invasion, they helped him make a daring escape. He then managed to get a hold of weapons and wreak havoc on the islanders for the better part of a week. The siege ended in bloodshed after Nishikaichi and one of his conspirators were attacked and killed by one of the native men and his wife. The man threw Nishikaichi against a stone wall and fractured his skull, but only after being shot three times by the desperate Japanese pilot.

This young pilot was only 22 years old at the time. Patriotic to his country, smart and resourceful. he never gave up even when all hope was lost. He was staring death in the face but he chose to die fighting. The Japanese see his act as noble. His story is an ultimate example of patriotism and bravery.

He was smart enough to convince his abettors to betray the very people they have been living with for a long time. He must have been very convincing.

The incident and the actions of Nishikaichi's abettors contributed to a sense in the American military that every Japanese, even those who were American citizens or otherwise thought loyal to the United States, might aid Japan, and ultimately may have influenced the decision to intern Japanese Americans through World War II. The actions of the Niʻihauans were widely celebrated in the United States; Ben Kanahele, the native hawaiian that killed Nishikaich was decorated for his part in stopping the incident.