Spark Matsunaga

#165 in the Moʻolelo series

“If we want peace we must educate people to want peace.”
Senator Spark M. Matsunaga

I teach at the Spark Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at UH Mānoa. Matsunaga, a US Representative and Senator for 28 years, long advocated the creation of a Department of Peace to sit alongside, balance out, and perhaps at times counteract, the Department of Defense, which was called the Department of War (or the War Department) from 1789 until 1947. He managed to have an institute of peace founded at UH, and the United States Institute of Peace in Washington. The institute founded by Matsunaga was originally called the University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Peace, but was renamed in Matsunaga’s honor after his death at the behest of Senator Daniel Inouye, his longtime colleague in the Senate.

Matsunaga was nearly an architype of the Nisei 442nd soldier who went into politics with the 1954 Democratic Revolution. I say nearly because he was an officer who had completed college before the war (most were enlisted men who went to college afterward on the GI Bill).* Instead, he was already leading a company stationed on Molokaʻi at the time that Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was put in charge of the island when martial law was declared in December, 1941. (See “Hawaiʻi Under Martial Law”).

Spark Matsunaga, 1916-1990

According to the archives of the US House of Representatives, which has an extensive article on Matsunaga:

But after the Battle of Midway in June 1942, the Army removed Matsunaga from command and shipped him and other soldiers of Japanese descent to Camp McCoy in Monroe County, Wisconsin. “Oh, my heavens, that was a sad day,” Matsunaga later said.5

At the camp, while the soldiers continued training, Matsunaga helped organize a petition to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to allow the troops to prove their loyalty in battle. In early 1943, the government relented and allowed the formation of the 100th Infantry Battalion and later the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which entered combat in Italy. Matsunaga was wounded twice traversing a minefield, causing severe damage to his right leg. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Italy before being released from active duty in 1945 at the close of the war.

After the war, Matsunaga officially changed his first name to Spark, but kept the name Masayuki.

Often called “Sparky,” Matsunaga was born Masayuki Matsunaga on Kauaʻi in 1916. His parents were first-generation immigrants from Japan, who initially worked on a sugar plantation. His father was injured at work and became a Shinto priest.

Matsunaga was a staunch advocate for civil rights throughout the 1960s, as well as for the rights of Interred Japanese Americans during World War II (or as he would have called them, AJAs – Americans of Japanese Ancestry – see “Japanese Internment in Hawaiʻi”).

According to the Matsunaga Institute:

In 1986, the University of Hawai’i Institute for Peace was established. From the beginning, the Institute was an academic community designed to develop and share knowledge about the root causes of violence, conditions of peace, and uses of nonviolent means for resolving conflicts.

After the passing of Hawai’i Senator Spark M. Matsunaga in 1990, it was proposed that the Institute be renamed in his honor. Senator Matsunaga worked tirelessly over his career to establish the United States Institute for Peace, and provided inspirational guidance in the development of the University of Hawai’i Institute for Peace curriculum and research priorities. The new name acknowledges Senator Matsunaga’s vision to institutionalize humanity’s concern for world peace, starting at a local level.

Until recently, the director of the Matsunaga Institute was Maya Soetoro-Ng, who holds a PhD in Education and is the sister of President Barack Obama.

Along with John Burns and Daniel Inouye, Matsunaga can be thought of as the third architect of the Democratic Revolution, the effects of which we still live with. Of the three, Matsunaga is by far the least known.

*The UH “AJA” students who made up the Varsity Victory Volunteers were a major part of the 442nd story.

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