Senator Inouye Life is a Lesson of Human Rights in Hawai’i and the World
The day came many in Hawai’i couldn’t imagine; but, even more didn’t desire to face.
Senator Dan Inouye passed on to what he desired in his life – peace.
Dan had been involved in politics before Hawai’i was even a state in the union. Dan put his political science degree from University of Hawai’i at Manoa into full force. Dan won the first seat in the U.S. House of Representatives representing Hawai’i as our first full member taking the oath on August 21, 1959. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962 and was reelected nine times. On June 28, 2010, Dan was elected president pro tempore as the elected official third in the presidential line of succession. Quite a career for a person declared an enemy alien to end as an
enlightened statesman respected for his service to the nation.
Many of our lives in Hawai’i and the nation were touched by the silent action of Dan. Many were aware of his service in national affairs such as delivering the keynote address at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, serving in Watergate hearings and chairing the Iran Contra Affair. His legislation had an impact on our lives. Few were fortunate to spend significant time and accumulate memories loaded with pearls of wisdom through meetings.
I can recall three significant meetings at different stages in my life – student, young advocate and coordinator for Asia-Pacific leaders visiting Washington D.C.
I first met Sen. Daniel Inouye as an undergraduate at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. We had two things in common so I was fortunate enough to hear him speak and also meet in private as well. We both majored in political science and served as student senators. Our first time meeting, when I was on a national board of director for student government leaders, he said,”I like you my son has hair like yours it’s ok.” From there, we discussed important issues related to higher education and its importance. We also met at various functions on campus and the UH President home. Each time he would connect again and be available to listen to concerns of
My circle of conscience continued to grow including more and more of humanity. I assisted the peoples movement for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Timor Leste. The sovereignty movement for self-determination deserved our attention. I was fortunate enough to serve in various volunteer capacities from writing letters and visiting Congress to hosting Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and President Jose Ramos Horta. One role was meeting our elected officials in Washington D.C. to request their support for right of self-determination. During a cold winter visit, I received an even chillier reception. When meeting with Sen. Inouye’s foreign affairs staffer, when I requested a simple action for our brothers in the Pacific, she responded, “Democracy is a luxury.” I was shocked to hear that from our senior senator’s staff especially after his life experience. I followed the vote and also continued to put moral pressure to vote in the same spirit he did when he spoke out against Vietnam after My Lai massacre.
The final meeting took place recently and inspired me to share more about Inouye’s perspective on peace. I was coordinating a visit of the East-West Center Asia Pacific Leadership Program to Washington D.C. Sen. Inouye agreed to meet personally with 20 young professionals from all fields in the region. Dan flirted with females and greeted the gentleman with giddy flare. He was so personable making all of them smile and feel they made best decision in their careers by choosing to study in Hawaii. It was in his personal stories though that I had never read anywhere that my respect for him rippled. He told about first time he actually shot a person as a soldier. He reflected out loud that no person on this planet should have the right to end another’s life in the acts of war. I couldn’t believe his profound perspective on peace. He also shared another poignant point in the waning moments of the meeting that shaped his views on violence. He described a meeting where an enemy soldier reached into his pocket. Dan thought he was grabbing a gun. Dan struck him with the butt of his rifle to defend himself and fellow soldiers. When the hand emerged it was holding photos of a wife and children. Dan hung his head and said we have to be trained to dehumanize and fear each other. We must also teach respect and promote peace among humanity.
After each meeting, I wanted to take action to live up to the legacy of human liberation. For most of us, Dan didn’t speak often enough against injustice. When he did speak on horrors facing humanity and stand for freedom, his voice echoed across the nation. Dan’s voice must not be silent today and in the future. I will join with others interested to coordinate an annual Inouye Initiative in International Human Rights Law. The Inouye Initiative can take place in islands or international affairs. What matters most is issues are raised where necessary in the world for human rights. Dan faced discrimination being denied service in the United States of America. No one in the future should face any infringement on one’s freedoms.
A first Inouye Initiative in International Human Rights Law should be the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2013. A minority shamefully voted against the ratification in December even though Sen. Bob Dole rolled in a wheelchair encouraging passage of this valuable legislation. The
ratification should be dubbed the Dole-Inouye Dignity Bill.
While Inouye became only the 32nd person to lay in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, Sen. Dole visited his friend one more time. Dole went over with Sen. Harry Reid. When Dole arrived in the rotunda, he actually walked saying his old friend wasn’t going to see him in a wheelchair. Dole saluted Inouye one last time. While he wobbled on that day, both men have stood with those who couldn’t always speak and stand for themselves. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was drafted with the spirit of Nothing About Us Without Us. Both men
recognized its significance in the human rights movement of the United States of America.