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.
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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is a staff writer 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. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the new book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America,
which has been a New York Times
best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.