Daniel Inouye: A Genuine Hero

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I have no special standing to speak on the career of Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who died yesterday at age 88 -- apart from his having been in public office for the entirety of my conscious life. David Graham did a very good appreciation of Inouye last night on our site. (Wikipedia photo of Lt. Inouye, at roughly age 20.)


But on the principle that you should never pass up the opportunity to give a deserved compliment; with the knowledge that we've come reflexively to view all politicians as unprincipled corner-cutters (a perspective Americans have held through most of our long history); and with the understanding that Inouye's bravest exploits were long enough ago that many Americans would never have heard of them, I wanted to direct attention to the character and dignity of this man.

His bravery during the Second World War was of both the physical and the moral variety. Physical, in the episode for which he won the Medal of Honor. The details of what he did, as set out in the Medal of Honor citation, are almost incredible. His moral courage lay in volunteering to serve, in a segregated Japanese-American unit in the European theater (the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team), at a time when tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans were being interned as alleged security threats.

Inouye was most clearly in the public eye during the Watergate hearings, which themselves occurred before most of today's U.S. population was born. He was dignified, fair-minded but probing, and non-showboating, in the way we would like to think our senators should always be. Jim Webb, a fellow decorated and wounded combat veteran who served with Inouye these past six years in the Senate, released this statement last night, which rings true.
I deeply regret the passing of Senator Inouye, for whom I had enormous respect as a famed soldier, a principled public servant, and a United States Senator who broke new historical ground with his service.  He was a leader whose dignity and judgment caused him to be listened to by politicians of both parties and of all political philosophies.  He will be remembered as one of the great Senators of the post-World War Two era.  I am grateful for having had the opportunity to serve alongside him.

It is worth recognizing and remembering people who have played positive roles in national life. Their examples might do some good.

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UPDATE:  Thanks to George Conk for pointing me toward this TPM appreciation of Inouye last night. Conk has video of Inouye's other most prominent moment in the national spotlight, during the Iran-Contra hearings. 
Senator Inouye first got my attention in his confrontation with Oliver North (and Brendan Sullivan).  His closing statement is a masterful 'we come not to bury Caesar but to praise him.'  I've got the video and text links here.

I was living in Southeast Asia during the Iran-Contra hearings, which in those days before worldwide 24/7 cable news meant that I never actually saw them. Inouye's statement on North, shown in video here, is genuinely gripping.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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