U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye has spent his life fighting wars.

As chairman of the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee, the World War II Medal of Honor winner finds himself in the position of funding operations he personally opposes. He was one of 23 who voted against the Iraq war, for example.

“I think the soldiers understand, even if I voted against going to war in Iraq, once we decided, as chairman of the committee, I said we need to do everything we can to make certain these guys come home,” he told Civil Beat in an interview Monday. “And that means best equipment.”

The senator touched on a range of issues connected to the use of American might, from accusations of a lack of patriotism against those who oppose conflicts to using democracy to justify foreign wars. Asked about the action in Libya and whether the War Powers Act should be invoked, Inouye talked about the authorization vote for the Iraq invasion.

“Twenty-three of us tried to say we should apply the War Powers Act,” Inouye told Civil Beat in an interview Monday. “When it comes to something like this, sometimes the words ‘patriot,’ ‘patriotism,’ they are grossly and horribly misused. That if you vote against defense, you’re not patriotic. To be patriotic, you have to be for defense. I don’t look at it that way.”

The War Powers Resolution passed in 1973, despite then-President Richard Nixon’s attempt to veto it, as a way to limit the president’s power to start wars. Inouye was in his 40s, and had already been a U.S. Senator for half a decade when his position on the Vietnam War changed.

“When My Lai happened, old folks and babies were being slaughtered,” Inouye said. “I said, ‘Oh, we’ve gone too far.’ That was the fundamental basis for my being opposed to it.”

The senator said he’s one of a tiny percentage — “not even double-digit” — in Congress privy to the highest classification of intelligence. He says it means he would have to seek treatment in a military hospital, not a civilian hospital.

“It has to be done at a military place,” Inouye said. “I go to Walter Reed, Bethesda, just in case I talk in my sleep.”

Today, he said he doubts the justification given for many foreign wars.

“If we follow the policy that whenever a country threatens ‘democracies,’ and went to war, we’d be fighting all over the globe,” Inouye said. “And I don’t think we should.”

Inouye suggests much of the American attitude toward the cost of military actions is a form of denial. In Congress, he says many people refuse to associate the costs of war with the greater budget, and fail to connect the country’s financial problems with its entangling affairs.

“That’s one of the major causes of our financial problems,” Inouye said. “Even today, in our debates, we speak of the budget. They don’t speak of the war. They don’t put it together… I’ve tried to put them together. No, they don’t want it. And people don’t take the trouble of adding those two together.”

Nearly a decade since he voted against the resolution to go to war in Iraq, Inouye states his objection proudly. Only 12 of the 23 who voted “no” are still in the U.S. Senate. Many of the 23 have retired or moved onto other political posts, two of them became governors, two others lost in Senate re-election bids, three of them died.

Inouye is accustomed to change, and has said many good-byes. At 86, he says he understands democracy will always be out of reach.

“I’ve come to a realization that Democracy is not a goal, it’s something way out there,” Inouye said. “A vague goal. We strive toward that, and in the process you’ll make a lot of mistakes.”

DISCUSSION: *What do you think about the senator’s perspective on U.S. involvement in foreign wars? Share your thoughts.

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