Soldier in Hospital to Senator in Power : 23 Votes
Why Sen. Inouye’s 2002 vote against the Iraq War should have persuaded more of his colleagues to also take that brave stand.
If this story were told in a novel, many people would read the book promo, roll their eyes about the unbelievable plot and move onto something more credible.
Three soldiers meet at a Michigan hospital while convalescing from serious injuries near the end of World War II, and then years later serve together in the Senate. Oh, and one of the soldiers is the son of a Japanese immigrant father and a mother whose parents were from Japan. He loses most of an arm serving in the U.S. military in Italy at a time when his nation imprisons many of his fellow Japanese-Americans in internment camps.
Farfetched, but in this case, true.
Philip Hart (1912–1976) of Michigan arrived first in the Senate, winning his seat in 1958.
Daniel K. Inouye (1924–2012) of Hawaii won his Senate seat in 1962.
Robert Dole (1923–2021) followed, landing his seat in 1968.
In an article posted by AARP in 2018, Dole recalled his time in the hospital with Inouye.
“Danny was evacuated just a week after I suffered my own combat injuries on an Italian hillside. Our battlefields were only a mile apart. We first met weeks later in Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle Creek, “ Dole said. “Danny arrived there ahead of me. He weighed just 93 pounds and was now missing his arm, but he was upbeat and optimistic. His surgeries were complete, and he was rehabilitating. I was laying on a stretcher. My surgeries were yet to come.”
Dole said Inouye’s injuries derailed his dream of becoming a doctor. Dole told his friend about his plan to run for political office, “starting locally in Kansas and working my way up to the Senate, and hopefully higher.”
So Inouye followed what his friend called “the Bob Dole plan,” and served in the Senate
“He was not partisan. He worked with everyone, and he never said a bad word about a colleague,” Dole recalled in the AARP article.
I fear that people reading this blog have never heard this story.
Indeed, many likely have never heard of Inouye, despite his serving more than 50 years in Congress and long serving as one of its most powerful members. He wielded his clout quietly, working behind the scenes on major deals that shaped the budget and the policies of the military. It’s fair to say few in Congress knew more about the operations of the Pentagon than Inouye. While affable, he was far from a peacenik.
So it should have mattered greatly to his colleagues when Inouye voted “no” on Oct. 11, 2002 on a resolution that paved the way for the long war in Iraq. The measure passed 77–23, with Inouye in the minority. A year later, Inouye detailed his reasons for voting against the resolution.
“Voting on a resolution to send our young men and women to war is one of the most difficult issues any politician has to face,” Inouye said in an October 2003 floor speech. “I voted against going to war for five main reasons.”
Inouye then summarized these reasons:
-the lack of a compelling case that attacking Iraq was in vital national interest.
-his doubts that the classified information presented to the Senate offered conclusive evidence that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein provided a threat to the American people or that he would use weapons of mass destruction if he possessed them.
-doubts that Hussein’s regime was aligned with al-Qaida terrorists or was in any way involved with the September 11 attack on the United States.
-a lack of a well-thought-out plan for dealing with postwar Iraq.
-concern that attacking Iraq amid strong opposition from U.S. allies would cast the nation “as the aggressor in this conflict and deal a terrible blow to our international reputation and prestige,” Inouye said.
On this Memorial Day, it’s important to note that Inouye made these arguments in a 2003 speech while trying to rally his Senate colleagues to provide funding for the war in Iraq.
Once the troops were committed to this invasion, Inouye fought for them. Indeed, few if any people who served in Congress have worked as hard for the needs of the military as Inouye did.
“Our principal responsibility as senators is to protect the people of this great nation. Particularly, it is my belief we must fight for those who defend us. I have often said less than 1 percent of our population protects all the rest of us by wearing our nation’s uniform,” Inouye said in his 2003 speech. “I will say once again, I strongly believe it is our sacred duty to serve them. We simply must support the men and women willing to serve in harm’s way.”
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Few rational people doubt now that Inouye was right in voting against the measure authorizing force in Iraq.
Ahead of the 20th anniversary of that vote, I plan to post a series of short essays on Medium looking at why Inouye and 22 of his colleagues cast the right vote on that resolution. I want to explore what allowed them to stand firm when many people sought to whip up support for an invasion.
I’m posting this introduction to my 23 Votes series on Memorial Day for a reason.
In the United States, civilians have a duty to those willing to serve in the military — — to keep them from falling needlessly into harm’s way. People serving in the military need to follow orders. That’s how that system works. It’s our job to ask questions about the orders the military is charged with executing.
There are unfortunately times when nations must go to war or support allies facing war. We’re witnessing that now. Ukraine must defend itself against Russian attack. Ukraine needs and deserves the financial support of the United States.
But we Americans need to be well informed so that we can tell our senators to stick with reason and fact when unfounded war cries are in the air.
We need to take the time to find credible sources of information so that we can recognize poor arguments for war and ask our senators to do the same. We need them to do the kind of soul searching Inouye did ahead of these votes. We need to help our senators to be brave enough to take a tough vote when passions run high, as happened with the 2002 vote on Iraq.
So on this Memorial Day, consider honoring the military by supporting a good credible news organization.
Subscribe to a publication that seeks to inform the public, and not to the ones that try to make people angry in order to get more clicks. Help fund journalists who can do the kind of reporting needed to expose flawed arguments for wars.
How can you tell if a news organization deserves your support? The nonprofit American Press Institute offers helpful tips on evaluating coverage. Also many chapters of the nonprofit League of Women Voters have posted resources on media literacy. Full disclosure here. I’m a journalist and a paid member, although inactive volunteer, of the League of Women Voters of Miami-Dade County.
If you want to read more about the senators who voted against the resolution on the war in Iraq, please sign up to get emails of my Medium posts or subscribe to the Substack newsletter I plan to launch in July.