A Surplus Of Future Problems
Wednesday - November 23, 2005
As I sit down to write this week’s “Mostly Politics,” my mind is on a talk I’m giving this weekend to the M.I.S. Bonen-kai at the Natsunoya Tea House.
M.I.S. stands for the War Department’s Military Intelligence Service during World War II. It ran a service language school to train linguists in the “interpretation, translation and interrogation” of Japanese prisoners. Before the war was over, more than 6,000 second-generation Japanese-Americans joined and served in the war against Japan.
That took courage. Neither their fellow citizens in the United States nor the citizens and soldiers of their ancestral home entirely trusted the M.I.S. boys.
Still, they served in the front lines with all-Caucasian units, lonely Japanese faces in GI garb. From Guadalcanal through the China-Burma-India theater to Okinawa they interrogated Japanese prisoners who regarded the AJAs as inu - dogs. They listened to Japanese radio traffic, and the intelligence they gathered forewarned United States Pacific forces of Japanese fleet and troop movements.
Nineteen Japanese interpreters died in the Pacific war.
So I take talking to these proud veterans very seriously indeed. My local Rotary/Exchange/professional association talks: “Eh!” But these fellows ... well, they deserve the best I’ve got.
Which, I fear, isn’t very good. They want me to talk about Hawaii’s future. I’d like to tell them that - from the barstool I sit on - it looks bright.
But I’m not at all sure that I can. Consider Hawaii’s public schools, from which most of the M.I.S. boys graduated. They need help - big-time help - and I’m not talking about multi-layered new report cards or mandated state and national No-Child-Left-Behind exams. They need more money - lots more.
This year the money’s available, a $600 million state surplus. My hope is that Gov. Linda Lingle will begin her state-of-the-state address this January with an appeal to the Legislature to spend much of that surplus on repair and maintenance of Hawaii’s public schools.
The rest? How about reducing class sizes? High school teachers responsible for 150 students a semester - some with special needs, others whose second language is English - are asked to do the impossible. Make the goal four classes of 25, eventually of 20, per semester and you have an environment in which education may happen.
Or consider the beauty of the place. In their youth, the 80ish M.I.S. boys knew a Hawaii of less than half-a-million population that was largely agricultural and asyet-not inundated by automobiles and tourists.
Now there are more than 1.2 million of us, plus more than 7 million annual visitors.
The result? Autos clog our streets and highways. Garbage overflows our landfills - and no community, from Kahala to Kahuku, welcomes a new one.
We have to deal with both problems: not for environmental reasons, not to shorten our own commute time. No. We have to solve both in order to preserve the beauty of the place and to shorten the touring time of those 7 million visitors.
Beauty is all we have. I wish people came to Hawaii to enjoy the rich diversity of our people, to savor the meeting of so many cultures: Polynesian, Asian, European, American. But that isn’t it. They come for the beauty of the place: sand, ocean, mountains and tropical foliage. Mess that up, and we’re done.
So Mayor Mufi Hannemann and the City Council have to make countywide recycling work, and the mayor, governor, council and state Legislature must deal with our transportation crisis.
Or consider the homeless. Thanks to a three-decade-long national social policy that favors prison construction over public housing, homelessness is epidemic across the country. In Hawaii, an estimated 6,000 people - men, women and children - are without a home.
That’s unconscionable, particularly in a self-congratulatory society like our own that talks constantly of “aloha” and “ohana.” Aloha should mean that everyone resident in our Islands has a place to call home.
The homeless, of course, are poor and frequently mentally or physically ill. As a constituency, they possess little political power. And thus all of us, with whatever influence we have, must speak for them - repeatedly and endlessly - to the feds, the state and the counties.
Whoa! Garbage, traffic jams, education spending and the homeless. Those M.I.S. boys sure aren’t going to invite me back.
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