The End of an Era – Daniel Inouye

Even eighteen months later, the impact of the passing of Senator Daniel Inouye has yet to be conceived, let alone fully felt. Some of the recent support for Coleen Hanabusa may reflect a fear that Senator Brian Schatz may not be able to hold on to Inouye’s stream of Federal funding. Ikaika Hussey set out the facts of “what it means” in his article in the Hawaiʻi Independent “What Inouye’s passing means for Hawaiʻi.” Hussey’s article begins:

the entry to Senator Inouye’s office held a row of portraits on its wall, with Kamehameha I, Liholiho, Kauikeaouli, the rest of the Kamehameha dynasty, and the brother and sister who were Hawaii’s final monarchs. And at the end, a bare spot, just the right size for another frame … It wouldn’t be hyperbole to imagine Inouye’s visage in that space. 

Indeed, the Wall Street Journal called Inouye “The King of Hawaiʻi” (and all this time I thought it was my cousin). Between $173 million and $320 million in Federal funding is directly attributable to Inouye’s pushes for Federal spending in Hawaiʻi, earning him the nickname among Conservatives “The King of Pork.” But the full impact of what he and his generation has done is only appreciated tangentially, and has not been as fully documented as it should be. In this post, I merely attempt to review the historical background of Inouye and his portion of the “greatest generation.” While many Hawaiians, probably rightly, have criticized Inouye over the years (the Trask sisters most famously) for his support of the military-industrial complex in Hawaiʻi and globally, it is worth remembering the inspiring story of the 1954 revolution, of which he was the last representative.

The Young Captain Daniel Inouye

THE 442ND AND 100TH

World War II created a noted set of community heroes, many of Japanese ancestry, including Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga. Many AJAs, or Americans of Japanese Ancestry as they called themselves, were part of the 442nd [infantry regiment] and the 100th Battalion. At first, the US government, which was [rounding up] Japanese Americans on the US continent, did not allow AJAs to join the military. A group of AJAs from the University of Hawaiʻi formed an organization called the Varsity Victory Volunteers, in which they performed labor for the military effort without compensation. Convinced that the AJAs were loyal to the United States rather than Japan, the military allowed their enlistment, which they did in large numbers.

Daniel Aoki, a member of the 442nd, and later an aide to governor John A. Burns, describes the formation of the predominantly-AJA units:

The 100th was composed of men that were drafted before the war. And then unfortunately, when the war came, well, they took all their arms away and put them into labor battalions until they finally decided to get them all grouped together, and make them an infantry battalion, and send ʻem over to [Fort] McCoy [in Wisconsin] for training. But I presume that just one battalion, a Japanese battalion on top of that, theyʻll have difficult time trying to attch them to some, say, Caucasian outfit, right? And so, I think this is when they came up with the idea of developing an all-Nisei combat team. And they wanted to develop a full team of Japanese boys. And this is how the 442nd came about (PHS, 1986, 155).

Facing some of the most fierce fighting in Europe, some members of these units liberated concentration camps in Europe and suffered massive casualties. The 442nd and 100th Battalion became the most highly decorated units in American history.

After the war, many veterans were armed with the GI bill, which gave them the ability to attain a college education, and law school for some. This made them qualified candidates for public office.

Demographically, the immigrant population remained the majority of population, and Japanese Americans alone made up 45 percent of Hawaiʻiʻs population. A second generation of the immigrant population comes of age to vote in the years after the end of World War II. This also allowed for another major political change, the rise of the Democratic party, which culminated in the 1954 Democratic Revolution.

With  qualified candidates such as Inouye, Matsunaga, and the so-called “Great White Father,” John Burns, the Democratic Party reversed the Republicans’ decades-long hold on Hawaiʻi politics. With a well-organized campaign and unified voters, the working class which had already come together for the labor strikes, and a voting majority, the Democratic Revolution changed Hawaiʻiʻs power structure in ways that remain to the present day. Cooper and Daws (1985) relate the ways in which this new, rebellious set of politicians capitalized on the development boom set off by Hawaiʻi Statehood, becoming partners in “hui,” or development partnerships, and profiting personally from the building of apartments and commercial properties.

Hawaiʻi Congressional Delegate, Democratic Party Chairman and later Governor John A. Burns

In the weeks after the election of 1954, John Burns reflected on the meaning of the shift toward Democratic control. Burns said in November of 1954 that “the late President Grover Cleveland  … remarked on the annexation of Hawaii [sic] in 1898 that he was ashamed at how Hawaii had been made a Territory,” and that “on Nov. 2 … some of that shame was removed from the people of Hawaii.” Burns credited the ILWU with the victory, which he said would “free [Hawaiʻi] from domination of arbitrary masters and free from economic strangulation.”

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