Memorial Day, JA Vets, Senator Dan Inouye and the Filibuster

Members of the United States Senate this week agreed to a momentary truce in the battle over the “filibuster” – a procedure used for centuries as a way to ensure checks and balances in our government by ensuring that the voices of the minority are not trampled by a ruthless majority.

(Yes, you’re reading the right column. We’ll get to how all of this relates to Hawai‘i soon.)

The truce in the Senate was brokered by 14 members, one of which was Daniel Inouye from Hawai‘i. This was interesting, considering that Sen. Inouye generally keeps a low profile on the national scene, preferring to work in the background for the good of the Aloha State.

But it did make sense.  Sen. Inouye, the third most senior member of that body, arrived in Washington during times of perhaps more political civility in Congress.  The year was 1959, the same year that Hawai‘i achieved statehood. He was the new state’s first Congressman and served until 1962, when he was first elected to the Senate.

“Our democracy has emerged triumphant from one of the greatest challenges it has ever faced,” Senator Inouye said about the filibuster truce. “Democracy is not simply majority rule. It is the protection and respect of the minority–for as history has shown time and time again, today’s minority frequently becomes tomorrow’s majority.

“In the United States Senate, one of the protections the minority enjoys is a right now known as the filibuster: the right to debate and discuss an issue until all the facts are known. Forty-two years ago, I stood and made my first speech as a Senator to save the filibuster–but at that time, I sided with the Republican minority against a Democratic majority.”

Many people in Hawai‘i sometimes forget the historical roles Sen. Inouye has played during his career and the significance of his ascension to national politics.

In 1962,  a few months before Sen. Inouye was elected to the Senate, a Congressman from New York, Leo O’Brien, commemorated the third anniversary of Hawai‘i’s admission to the Union by reminiscing about Inouye’s arrival on the national political scene.

“Tuesday last was the third anniversary of the admission of Hawaii,” said O’Brien as recounted in Sen. Inouye’s biography. “Today is the third anniversary of one of the most dramatic and moving scenes ever to occur in this House. On that day, a young man, just elected to Congress from the brand new state, walked into the well of the House and faced the late Speaker Sam Rayburn.

“The House was very still. It was about to witness the swearing in, not only of the first Congressman from Hawai‘i, but the first American of Japanese descent to serve in either House of Congress. ‘Raise your right hand and repeat after me,’ intoned Speaker Rayburn.

“The hush deepened as the young Congressman raised not his right hand but his left and he repeated the oath of office.

“There was no right hand. It had been lost in combat by that young American soldier in World War II. Who can deny that, at that moment, a ton of prejudice slipped quietly to the floor of the House of Representatives.”

Senator Inouye lost his right arm during a battle in Italy as a member of the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the famed “Go for Broke” regiment of Japanese American soldiers.

More than 650 men from the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team never came home. They died in hospitals or on battlefields. Another 3,500 were wounded.

Memorial Day is a time for us to honor those Nisei and all Americans who have fallen in service to our country. But there are some who feel that when Congress designated the holiday as the last Monday in May, creating a three-day weekend, it made it easier for people to be distracted from the spirit and meaning of the day.

In 2003, Sen. Inouye introduced S. 70, a bill to authorize the re-designation of May 30 as Memorial Day. It has yet to be acted upon.

Spend Monday learning more about the sacrifices made by Japanese American veterans. Visit the website of the Go For Broke Educational Foundation at http://www.goforbroke.org. And consider attending “NOTICE TO ALL,” the California Conference on the Internment of Japanese Americans is sponsored by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program (CCLPEP) – California State Library.

“CCLPEP is the first program officially sponsored by a State agency that recognizes and truly supports projects that inform Californians about the Japanese American experience during World War II. Through these projects, thousands of individuals across all regions of the State have gained a sensitivity and awareness of how important it is to protect our civil liberties, especially in time of war,” said Diane Matsuda, the former program director of CCLPEP.

If you would like general information or if you have questions, email info@CCLPEPconf.org or call 415.567.5505. Visit the conference website http://www.CCLPEPconf.org for the most current information.

Keith Kamisugi and Kyle Tatsumoto are da Two Japanee Bruddahs. Visit them on the Web at http://www.twojapaneebruddahs.com. Or e-mail them at wot@twojapaneebruddahs.com.

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