UPDATED 9/10/11 10:30 a.m.

Although it is 5,000 miles and four time zones away, Hawaii will always be linked to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

UPDATED That’s because the last time the United States experienced an assault on its territorial soil, it was on Dec. 7, 1941. 1 Before that you’d have to go back to Fort Sumter in 1861.

Hawaii residents also died when the Twin Towers collapsed, and if you visit Magic Island in Honolulu you can see the trees that were planted in their memory.

Now it is 2011, and the country and its media outlets are in full reflection mode. There are also reports of possible attacks timed to coincide with the anniversary.

Here are three observations on the impact of 9/11 on Hawaii.


  1. Though less well known, there were other enemy attacks on American territory during World War II. In 1942, for example, the Japanese invaded and occupied Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.
     

On Tourism

Shortly after that infamous Tuesday morning, commercial air traffic was halted across the country. Arguably, no place in America was more affected by this than our remote islands, and no industry suffered more than tourism.

A photo that was published in a local newspaper a few weeks after Sept. 11 showed only pigeons roaming near the intersection of Kalakaua and Monsarrat avenues in Waikiki. (Note: The photo that accompanies this article is from 2008.)

Hawaii’s visitor industry went on to weather a very rough October and November. The winter season that begins just before Christmas and lasts until just after New Year’s did not pack hotels and beaches as it traditionally has.

But, Hawaii tourism actually recovered more quickly than anticipated. By spring 2002 travelers were booking more flights and reserving more rooms and rental cars, and in just a few short years the state would post record levels of visitor arrivals and spending.

The reason? Hawaii was seen as a safe destination, comfortably within the boundaries of the U.S. That message was promoted in the West Coast, the East Coast and Japan, the three top tourist markets for Hawaii.

(Ironically, one of the top news stories from the summer of 2001 concerned shark attacks, although the media appears to have given the issue far more coverage than was warranted from a few isolated incidents.)

On Politics

Because of 9/11, the popularity of President George W. Bush went from below 50 percent to around 90 percent practically overnight.

In 2002, local Republican politicians also enjoyed a resurgence, perhaps helped by the perception that Republicans tend to be stronger on national security than Democrats. It was the year Hawaii elected its first GOP governor, Linda Lingle, who initially managed to increase her party’s representation in other elected offices.

Lingle and then-Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris led 9/11 remembrance services at the memorial that was constructed on the grounds of Honolulu Hale. Radio host Michael W. Perry, a conservative, emceed the events.

(This year, Mayor Peter Carlisle is scheduled to lead a Remembrance Walk Sunday afternoon. As of late Friday, Gov. Neil Abercrombie was not scheduled to attend any events that day, but the Honolulu Star-Advertiser is expected to publish his personal remembrance of the day on Sunday.)

Lingle was also a strong supporter of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and she attended funerals of Hawaii-based service members killed in both theaters.

By the fall of 2004, Lingle was Bush’s campaign chair in Hawaii and she campaigned for him on the mainland. Vice President Dick Cheney actually flew to Honolulu just days before the general election because Hawaii — traditionally one of most Democratic states in the union — was believed to be swinging rightward. And one of John Kerry’s daughters campaigned here as well.

Kerry ended up taking Hawaii, 54-45 percent. But for the GOP, that was notably better than the 37 percent Bush and Cheney earned in 2000 against Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, who won 55 percent of the vote. (Ralph Nader took 6 percent that year.)

Hawaii’s rightward turn did not last long.

The same year that Bush-Cheney seemed strong locally, Republicans lost five seats in the Hawaii Legislature and have yet to recover. Charles Djou wants his former congressional seat back, and Lingle may run for U.S. Senate. But both are emphasizing bipartisan credentials and the ability to reach across the party aisle to pass legislation.

On Destiny

The final impact on the 2001 terrorist attacks was to turn America’s attention away from the Pacific and East Asia and toward the Persian Gulf, the Middle East and Central Asia.

(Ironically, President Bush actually campaigned to reduce our military presence overseas, and the first foreign policy crisis of his new administration involved a U.S. spy plane being held by China.)

In many critical ways, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor determined Hawaii’s future for the next half century. Hawaii became the central American military command center for the Pacific, and Japanese Americans, labor groups and Democrats overthrew Republicans and the plantation-era oligarchy.

That legacy continued through 9/11 and to the present day. But, despite the rise of China and India, America’s focus remains primarily on Central Asia.

That could finally be changing, illustrated by the convening of leaders from member nations of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Honolulu this November.

But the attacks and subsequent foreign wars continue to impact the islands. Hawaii-based soldiers continue to fight and die, while the cost of paying for those wars has contributed in no small part to a planned reduction in defense spending.

Only five years ago Hawaii fought successfully to have a Stryker brigade based on Oahu so soldiers could train here and on the Big Island to prep them for combat.

Today, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee — Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, a World War II veteran — can no longer guarantee hefty earmarks for local projects, many of them military.

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