December 7, 1941 | Agent Robert L. Shivers

 Agent Robert L. Shivers and Shizue “Sue” Isonaga, a Japanese American schoolgirl he and his wife had informally adopted.

The world changed when the Japanese bombed American battleships at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The United States was hurled into a world war, thousands of men joined up to fight, women poured into the workplace, and Japanese Americans faced a rising tide of prejudice and fear.

For Robert L. Shivers, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Honolulu office, those first few minutes of war began with a phone call. Shivers connected with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover while the bombs were still dropping:

“The Japanese are bombing Pearl Harbor. It's War.
You may be able to hear it yourself. Listen!”

Agent Shivers immediately placed the Japanese consulate under guard and seized thousands of coded documents. Over the next 48 hours, several hundred Japanese Hawaiians were arrested and detained. During the course of the war, over 2,000 men and women of Japanese descent were arrested in Hawaii. No charges were ever filed against them.

Hawaii’s treatment of Japanese Americans was admirable when compared to that of the U.S. mainland where 120,000 Japanese American men, women, and children were sent to internment camps for the duration of the war. Agent Shivers is one of several Hawaiians who fought against the mass internment of Japanese on the islands. Shivers may have been motivated to face off against the combined pressure of the Army Chief of Staff, the Secretary of the Navy, and the President of the United States; in part because of a Japanese American schoolgirl he and his wife had informally adopted, Shizue “Sue” Isonaga. Years later, Isonaga described Shivers’s conflict, and quoted him as saying, “I can’t send someone like Sue and thousands and thousands like her to a camp.”*

Forced to retire for health reasons in 1944, Shivers was honored by the Hawaii territorial government for his “sympathy, sound judgment, and firmness.”


*Sue Isonaga video interview,