Editors Page: On Inouye’s Passing

Hawaii loses more than just its senior senator.


When Sen. Daniel Inouye passed in December at age 88, it both was, and was not, a shock. His most recent hospital stay seemed to be lasting awfully long and I confess (how strange that this feels like a confession) I started approaching writers for an article about how Hawai‘i would fare in the future knowing that we’d lost Sen. Dan Akaka to retirement and wouldn’t have Inouye in office looking after us for much longer under even the best circumstances. That future arrived just days later, no longer a “what if?” scenario.

With our lead time, this issue was the earliest in which we could publish something on Inouye’s passing. A disadvantage, in a way, as we watched other outlets do extensive biographies of Inouye’s storied life, but an advantage in another way, as we had time to reflect. Neal Milner, professor emeritus of political science at UH Manoa, has written an important article, on page 34, with insights into what Hawaii can expect in terms of federal attention and dollars, and what our newest senators, Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, should do to begin establishing the kind of seniority Inouye possessed.

We also sought out a personal reflection from Gov. Neil Abercrombie; not an Official Statement from the Governor’s Office type of thing, but a more candid testimonial on the man and his career.

I think what I’ll miss most about Inouye is what he brought to his career in public service as a World War II veteran. It wasn’t just his seniority that helped him bring so much military spending to Hawaii. I’m sure it helped that he was a genuine war hero from Hawaii in a conflict that began, for America, with an attack on bases in the Islands. He had a specific relationship to Pearl Harbor and the military in Hawaii that no one can replace.

We can’t, unfortunately, elect many World War II veterans anymore—the median age of that group is now about 94—or many people from that generation at all, veteran or not. What a shame. Possibly the last generation of actual adults this country will ever produce (and I say this as a 44-year-old who owns an Xbox). You know how everyone has been commenting on Inouye’s terrific, statesmanlike speaking voice? That’s what grown-ups used to sound like.

Today’s Congress is light on veterans. According to the Huffington Post, the 113th Congress now in office has the fewest number of veterans of any time since World War II. This isn’t too surprising when you consider that, in 1945, we had 12 million active-duty military personnel; today there are about 1.47 million.

Tulsi Gabbard, who served in Iraq and represents Hawaii’s second Congressional district, is one of the few, and is one of the first female combat veterans in Congress.

I wish more veterans would run for office. Whether they tilt in my direction or not politically, I think they understand something about the nature of public service that a lot of people don’t, including a lot of people in government jobs. The hours are long, the pay crappy, you absolutely can get fired or demoted for underperforming and, when the real work is at hand, that work shoots back.

We may never replace Inouye, but I like to think there are others out there who share his love of country.

Did you know? Only three World War II veterans remain in Congress, one in the Senate, two in the House of Representatives.


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Honolulu Magazine November 2019
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