Pacific Pacifism

Pacific Pacifism War & Peace
Image courtesy of Dallas Nagata White

RIMPAC exercises. Image courtesy of Dallas Nagata White.

In the wake of the Inouye era of federal spending in Hawai‘i, the United States military has a renewed strategy in the Pacific. With a pivot towards Asia, and in consideration of the Trans Pacific Partnership and forthcoming RIMPAC exercises this year, debates are renewed regarding pacifism and war—debates that have occurred at the signing of constitutions, on the beaches of Kaho‘olawe, in the arched spans of the H-3 highway, and recently at protests throughout rural Hawai‘i.

The connections between the expansive militarization of Hawai‘i, tourism, and the interests of American multi-national corporations aren’t only being made by Guy Fawkes-masked anarchists or half-baked online conspiracy theorists but by the brightest minds in modern Hawai‘i. Their thoughts will frame the debate of the archipelago’s relationship with war in the next several decades.


When Senator Daniel Inouye passed away in 2013, eulogies commemorated his deep concern for economic wellbeing. As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Inouye steered billions of dollars to the state over the long course of his illustrious career, shaping the present contours of modern Hawai‘i. “Incalculable” was the descriptor used in his obituary in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. The savvy, quiet way that Inouye steered mass federal military investment to programs ranging from the Polynesian Voyaging Society to education is truly incalculable. Brian Schatz, hand-picked by Governor Neil Abercrombie to assume Inouye’s seat, was given the monumental task of maintaining those investments. In the race for U.S. Senate this November, one can only hope the debates between Schatz and current U.S. Representative Colleen Hanabusa will raise the issues of perpetual military growth in the islands.

Rest assured, the U.S. military is not going anywhere. O‘ahu military installations include Navy bases at Pearl Harbor and Camp H.M. Smith, Hickam and Bellows Air Force bases, Army hubs at Fort Shafter and Schofield Barracks, and the Kāne‘ohe Marine Corps Base; Hawai‘i Island has the 132,000-acre Pōhakuloa Training Area; and Kaua‘i hosts the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands. Together, these represent the largest collection of military personnel and equipment in the world.

According to the 2014 federal budget, annual spending across the archipelago as a result of military-industrial complex is estimated at $8.8 billion. This includes $2.4 billion in contracts for construction, supplies, and services, generating some 102,000 local jobs. In the wake of decades of opposition to the Marine base in Okinawa, as many as 2,700 Marines and their families are planned to be relocated by 2026, prompting Governor Abercrombie to offer state land and capital in Hawai‘i as a way of developing initiatives to house additional troops and minimizing Pentagon investment. This summer, for the first time in its 43-year history, the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) war games on O‘ahu will include China and Brunei along with the other 23 participating nations. Debates continue regarding the resumption of live-fire training in Mākua Valley and the tons of unexploded ordnance on the “target island” of Kaho‘olawe.

Prior to stepping down as Secretary of State last year, Hilary Clinton called this rearming a “pivot to the Pacific.” In January of 2014, admiral Harry B. Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, called Hawai‘i the “gateway to America’s re-balancing in the Pacific” in a speech at the Hawaii Military Partnership Conference. What it boils down to is this: the containment of the military and corporate interests of China. Journalists and academics have noted a growing nationalism in Japan and China and the use of increasingly masculine language of valor, patriotism, and honor, eerily reminiscent of Western Europe a century ago and what the historian Margaret MacMillan calls “toxic nationalism.” What is truly terrifying are the threats of a 21st century Cold War and the versions of hell that go along with the rhetoric: proxy wars, mutually assured destruction, national resources squandered on preparation for battles that no one shows up to. The opposition to those 20th century realities shaped an American generation.

None of this is without concern to pacifists who have voiced opposition to militarism in the islands for over a century. The history of American military is inscribed in the history of Hawai‘i and is reiterated in entire sections of state and university libraries; stories that rival anything fictionalized in Russian literature. College courses discuss the Reciprocity Treaty of 1887, in which King Kalākaua was forced to cede Pearl River Lagoon (as Pearl Harbor was called then) to the United States in exchange for duty-free sugar (the result of the aptly named Bayonet Constitution), the bombing of that lagoon-turned-military base by Japan, and the expansion of that site to create U.S. Pacific Command.

This expansion has quietly increased in recent years. Hawai‘i’s most recognized living pacifist, Haunani Kay Trask, addressed this in her essay in The Superferry Chronicles, which chronicled the 2007 Superferry debacle and the historical connections between the military and corporate interests that led up to it. “Euphemistically called a transformation in military documents, it is nothing less than the largest military land grab since World War II,” wrote Trask. “In terms of percentage of land controlled by the military, O‘ahu is on par with Guam, Okinawa, and other colonial military outposts.” Today, in Hawai‘i, the military controls nearly 231,000 acres—that’s 5.6 percent of total land area in the state.

“It is on the Big Island, however, that the greatest land theft in half a century is taking place under the guise of the Army’s claim that it needs 98,840 acres of ‘contiguous land’ in order to carry out maneuvers,” wrote Trask. “The military already controls 109,000 contiguous acres at the Pokakuloa Training Area. If, and when, its long-term plans for Pohakuloa are accomplished, it will have increased its control of Hawai‘i land by almost 50 percent in one fell swoop.” The military has not yet acquired all the land it sought, but debate continues regarding the use of depleted uranium shells and the degradation of endangered species, reminiscent of Kaho‘olawe’s battles 30 years prior.
The War Stories We Tell


Modern academics are presenting new lenses with which to view Hawai‘i’s contentious military history. After a decade of academic research, American studies professor Vernadette Vicuna Gonzales recently published Securing Paradise: Tourism and Militarism in Hawaii and the Philippines. Growing up in the Philippines and the United States, she reflects on her own youthful admiration of American valor in family trips to see military installations. “My father, a World War II buff, brought the whole family to the rotunda where MacArthur—the archetypal Joe—was buried,” she writes. “The photograph was souvenir proof not merely of a family holiday but also of a middle-class American leisure practice that was simultaneously an act of identification with militarized U.S.-Philippine relations.”

In her research, however, Gonzalez found an entirely different picture of the American military. “Somehow, violent U.S. interventions have been absorbed into an alternative narrative of American benevolence: once-rival Japan has been transformed by virtue of nuclear annihilation, occupation, and reconstruction into a cooperative ally; the trauma of the Vietnam War is today rearticulated as an economic victory for capitalism; and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation carries out the neoliberal dictates of Washington, D.C. in the region it comfortably refers to as the site for its ‘Pacific Century,’” referring to the ideology that the 21st century would be dominated by countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The heart of Gonzalez’s historical analysis lies in the ways the military quite literally paved the way for tourism in the Pacific, and in that the continued presence of the military in both the Philippines and the former nation of Hawai‘i are based, in part, on the stories we recite to ourselves of valor and sacrifice at the sites of violent death turned photo opportunities. The narratives of American bravery and local death at places like Bataan and Pearl Harbor were, and still are, used to facilitate the expansion of tourist economies.

It was these narratives of martial heroics, Gonzalez argues, that former Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos (a deflective title—Marcos was in fact a dictator) used to propel his ascendancy, allying himself with the liberating Americans while smoothing out critiques of authoritarianism. In her critique, lionized Inouye does not go unscathed either. But for Inouye, of course, the history of the war was plainly seen. A folded shirtsleeve and a left handshake that crossed his body were ample reminders of what he and his peers in the highly decorated 442nd Infantry Regiment sacrificed for America.

Gonzalez also deconstructs that great, expensive victory of the Inouye era: the H-3 Freeway. “Like many colonized economies, Hawai‘i first systematically built roads to facilitate the extraction of capital,” she explains. “As a modern scenic highway distinct from territory-era roads, the H-3 was born under the joint aegis of defense and tourism [and] represented another moment in a centuries-long process of dispossession and dislocation that was being actively contested on many fronts in the 1960s and 1970s.” That the construction of the highway took 38 years and resulted in the charting of much nearly forgotten cultural history (though that is also contested) is claimed as something of a victory for those who advocated for an adherence to the state’s requirement to document the environmental and cultural sites the highway traversed.


Gonzalez breaks down the confrontation in Hawai‘i-specific terms: “The emergent Native sovereignty movement’s presence in the 1980s and 1990s catapulted [the H-3] into the public eye and amplified what began as a spontaneous action into a long-term occupation that prioritized indigenous cosmology as the defining term of the latest anti-H-3 action.”

In Securing Paradise, the scholarship is dogged, the coverage ample, and the index beyond reproach. But Gonzalez acknowledges that certain elements of her argument are missing, namely that of pacifism as a morality play. “It is actually the rare politician that asks, “Do you want to live in a militarized state?’” she says. “Just asking that question is a significant risk to a political career. And if you’re a political animal, to survive here, you have to be militaristic. They see the only ways to funding as the ones that Inouye that shoveled the path to.”

Protesting on the streets of Kaua‘i 

The connections between anti-corporate battles and military battles are not always apparent, i.e. what does militarization have to do with genetically engineered crops? What does war have to do with labor organizing? Where Gonzalez connects militaristic influence to tourism and its subsequent effect on inequality, Christine Ahn, visiting senior fellow of the Oakland Institute and co-chair of Women De-Militarize the Zone, relates militarism to attacks on labor and local laws that protect consumers and the vulnerable. Her main source of contention is the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership, a massive trade agreement between 12 countries that make up approximately 40 percent of the world’s economy, which the Obama administration is currently attempting to fast track through Congress.

“‘This is not mainly about trade,’” writes Ahn in an article she titled “Open Fire and Open Markets,’ quoting Lori Wallach of Public Citizens Global Trade Watch. “‘It is a corporate Trojan horse. The agreement has 29 chapters, and only five of them have to do with trade.’ More than 600 corporate lobbyists representing multinationals like Monsanto, Cargill, and Wal-Mart have had unfettered access to shape the secret agreement, while Congress and the public have only seen a few leaked chapters.”

Ahn amends columnist Thomas Friedman’s quote, “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist,” with her own analysis: “The Asia-Pacific Pivot, a one-two neoliberal-militaristic punch, packs both,” she writes. Cleverness granted, these high-minded political market discussions could mask how the Trans Pacific Partnership might play out around the world. It is already happening on the streets of Hawai‘i.

Over the summer of 2013, Hawai‘i Island and Kaua‘i became the surprising ground zero for the largest populist protests on the islands since the 1970s, where in the wake of the sugar industry’s demise, large agribusiness quietly took control of fertile soils to test their products. After simmering for several years, the discussion of pesticide use and GMO labeling for the public came to the fore, and residents of Kaua‘i took to the streets with handmade signs in support of a bill to disclose pesticide use, report genetically engineered crops, and create buffer zones between pesticide-sprayed fields and public areas like schools, hospitals, and homes. “I do not believe Bill 2491 is the correct and legal path,” Kaua‘i Mayor Bernard Carvalho pled to his colleagues on the county council after they passed the bill. “We are not placed in these positions to be a hero or pave the way for other communities.”

Part of the beleaguered mayor’s argument was that challenging corporate interests was a recipe for diminished funds. To enforce new laws would mean admitting that the counties are doing a shoddy job of enforcing current state and federal environmental laws, in part because of egregious understaffing. The Kaua‘i county council disagreed and overrode the mayor’s veto.

In January, three of the five corporate agribusiness giants growing on Kaua‘i foreseeably struck back. DuPont, Syngenta, and Agrigenetics Inc. filed suit in federal court, claiming the Kaua‘i law unconstitutional. The lawsuit against Kaua‘i represents more than audacity. Cases could drag out for years, taxing county corporation counsel’s ability to handle the filing, research, and cold-blooded litigation tactics of well-funded multinational corporations, forcing counties to spend untold sums on outside law firms.

It is of note that the mere threat of suit from multinational corporations impinges on democracy. This is how militaristic and corporate intimidation works at the state and local economic level—through confidential memos and concerned phone calls from the attorneys, in which democratic decisions are presented as wars of attrition more than cunning, battles over bottom lines rather than communal mores. When local leaders see themselves limited to two bad choices—to either rebuke their constituencies or to face the economic wrath of diminished federal funds or corporate power—the edifice that produces these choices needs restructuring. These false dilemmas will continue to get people onto the streets of Hawai‘i, resetting local democracy with creativity and homemade signs. To quote Martin Luther King, Jr., “Demonstrations have a creative effect on the social and psychological climate that is not matched by the legislative process.”

Corporations did not always have this sort of power. Until three decades ago, governments could pass laws to protect citizens, the environment, and domestic firms with little threat of outside legal challenge. Corporate “rights” to sue governments for public interest regulations that may hamper their investments first appeared in little-known bilateral investment treaties. Twenty years ago, corporate lawyers embedded them in the North American Free Trade Agreement. They now proliferate in investment agreements and even some national investment laws.

These corporate rights are the crux of the Trans Pacific Partnership. “Yet the TPP excludes China, which has become the second largest economy in the world and is poised to outpace the U.S. economy in a matter of years—a fact that is none too pleasing to U.S. elites accustomed to unrivaled hegemony,” writes Ahn. “By increasing U.S. market access and influence with China’s neighbors, Washington is hoping to deepen its economic engagement with the TPP countries while diminishing their economic integration with China.” This integration hits home: A significant number of goods pass through Honolulu Harbor on the way to the U.S. mainland, waters controlled by U.S. Pacific Command.

What can be missed in these numbers of troops, investments, and construction projects are the democratic choices those numbers represent. By looking to the past, skeptics like Trask, Gonzalez, Ahn, and the protesters of recent years articulate alternate choices for the future of Hawai‘i. Albert Einstein’s 20th century observation continues to have 21st century application: You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war. To argue that economic aggression, inequality, and war are not intrinsically tied is to disregard the lessons of history.

A hike overlooking the Kāne‘ohe Marine Corps base on the east side of O‘ahu is an appropriate site to consider a contentious future. Ascending to World War II-era pillboxes that once held gun emplacements in preparation for potential invasion, hikers can trace the footsteps of soldiers who cleared a path to overlook the base and expansive valleys below. At one hollowed-out bunker is a spray-painted American flag with Xs replacing stars. Around the flag are the names of countless locals, Non-Aligned Movement lovers, and passers-by, adorning the abandoned fortification with new mythology. On a surprising number of days, the Ko‘olau Mountains and the trade winds collide in clouds; slanting rays dapple the contours of the roads and trees below. As if lined by silver, the peaks rise up like old religious paintings meant to signify providence, grace, or the company of ghosts. If we continue down the same path, the future of Hawai‘i may look much like its past, a rusted bunker now the site of travel and photo opportunities, evidence of a war no one showed up to.

My Cart Close (×)

Your cart is empty
Browse Shop