The September 11th attack
Column on unpatriotic spirit draws Islands' ire
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Karen Spears Zacharias looked around the quiet streets of Waikiki, where she was stranded after the nation's airports shut down. Once home in the Oregon bureau of the 44,000-circulation Tri-City Herald, Zacharias blasted the unpatriotic spirit of the place in her Sunday newspaper column.
A "rock surrounded by salt water," she wrote, "was about the last place on earth I wanted to be stranded during a national crisis."
Zacharias was met yesterday by one angry phone call after another and at last 50 equally nasty e-mails all from Hawai'i. In the six years of her column, "Perch from the Porch," Zacharias said she has never gotten such a rude reception for something she wrote.
"I was really surprised," she said. "Not by the patriotism of Hawaiians. That didn't surprise me. I'm surprised, I guess, that so few of them were polite."
Zacharias' column in a relatively small newspaper based in Kennewick, Wash., shows not only how quickly word spreads about Hawai'i, but also how fiercely people feel about the Islands' response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
One of the more gentle responses came from John Pescador of Mililani, who works for the state as a web developer.
"I want to tell her, 'If you base all of Hawai'i on Waikiki, can we base the whole of Washington on you? Does that mean (the people there) are all ignorant?' "
The column focused on three soldiers gathered around a flag-waving man in Waikiki, who all wondered about the absence of American flags in Waikiki. She quoted one of the men as calling the atmosphere "almost anti-American."
Kimo Kaleiwahea of Makiki is in the Navy reserves and has seen some of his buddies preparing for war. "Everybody in my circle talks about it a lot and expresses their sympathy and their mourning," said Kaleiwahea, who was offended by the column. "Everybody wants to show their support by donating blood or displaying a flag. We now have to defend our soil. We're all in this together. Now is not the time to be dividing ourselves based on perception."
Zacharias, 44, was on O'ahu with her three teenage daughters for a visit and to research a forthcoming book about life in Hawai'i in the 1960s, when she lived here with her father, an Army sergeant who was killed in Vietnam.
Like thousands of others after the terrorist attacks, Zacharias was trapped in Hawai'i when the nation's air traffic was shut down.
"Some folks back home heckled me," Zacharias wrote in her column. "'Oh yeah, poor baby, stranded in Hawai'i.'
"I wanted to tie up those folks with leis and put them in a sauna full of fat men strumming ukuleles. And no Mai Tais allowed.
"I wasn't the only person disillusioned with life in paradise.
"... The spirit that prevailed in Waikiki was not a patriotic one. Corner chatter continued to focus on surfing and snorkeling conditions and tan lines.
"Maybe that's just one of the reasons passengers aboard Hawaiian Airlines Flight 26 burst into a round of applause and yelps of cheers when the pilot touched down in Portland shortly before midnight last Sunday. We were all relieved to be back in Mainland America."
But yesterday, Zacharias said she wasn't writing about all of paradise, all of Hawai'i or even all of O'ahu.
She said she was only focusing on Waikiki, and in particular, on people she met on the streets who felt businesses weren't waving the flag or talking about the tragedy, worried they would scare away tourists.
"Now," Zacharias said, "I guess the Hawaiians want to take away my grass skirt and coconuts. Either that or wrap me in a poi leaf and barbecue me."
Reach Dan Nakaso at email@example.com or 525-8085.