A Hawaii‘i Supreme Court judge’s life in review

I RESPECTFULLY DISSENT: A BIOGRAPHY OF EDWARD H. NAKAMURA
By Tom Coffman (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2012, 184 pp., $14.99, paperback)

I RESPECTFULLY DISSENT: A BIOGRAPHY OF EDWARD H. NAKAMURA

I RESPECTFULLY DISSENT: A BIOGRAPHY OF EDWARD H. NAKAMURA

Hawai‘i Congressional delegates like Daniel Inouye, Hiram Fong, Daniel Akaka, Patsy Mink, Mazie Hirono and others are almost instantly recognizable household names for many mainland Nikkei. In all likelihood, unless one is a “political junkie,” labor historian, or native to the Islands the name Edward Nakamura will most likely not ring a bell.

This accessible biography of Edward Nakamura is a wonderful, insightful, nuanced and timely introduction into the world of Nakamura, but also into a political world about to be transformed from colonial-like control of the Islands by the elite white Republican plantation class prior to World War II. That was all about to change with Nikkei generations coming of age, like Nakamura, who grew up poor, but survived the war and being part of 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, he like thousands of other Nikkei, took advantage of the G.I. Bill and attended University of Chicago Law school. His trajectory was about getting into the “pipeline” of local politics, it was working with labor at a time when the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) was gaining strength and organizing in Hawai‘i, forming coalitions with Democrats to challenge the control of the Island from white plantation Republican control.

Much of the book is devoted to Nakamura’s tireless efforts working on behalf of the “average guy” on many health, employment and arbitration issues that were ahead of their time. His goal was always to be fair and low key about his accomplishments. He eventually rose to be appointed a regent of University of Hawai‘i and ultimately to the Hawai‘i Supreme Court. He never entered politics, realizing early on that many go into politics “to do good” and end up doing quite “WELL” for themselves.

This is a cautionary tale of what can happen when the “oppressed overthrows the oppressors” (replacing white Republicans with Japanese American Democrats). After the last elections, with so many diverse Asians from both the mainland and Hawai‘i winning, no doubt many Asian American are in a celebratory mood,  as well as they should be. However, reading about Hawai‘i’s politics should bring sobering insight into the realm of politics, and a singular man who knew his values, what he was all about, and stood tall.

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