Pentagon Takes Aim at Asia-Pacific, and deploys mercenary social scientists

Recently, versions of the same op ed piece appeared in both Guam and Hawai’i newspapers by James A. Kent and and Eric Casino.  Kent describes himself as “an analyst of geographic-focused social and economic development in Pacific Rim countries; he is president of the JKA Group (”  Eric Casino is “a social anthropologist and freelance consultant on international business and development in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.”

The authors argue that Guam and Hawai’i should capitalize on the U.S. militarization of the Pacific and remake our island societies into “convergence zones” to counter China’s growing power and influence in the region.   They write:

Because of their critically important geographic positions at the heart of the Pacific, Hawaii and Guam are historically poised to become beneficial centers to the nations of the Western Pacific, the way Singapore serves countries around the South China Sea. In the 19th century, Hawaii was the “gas and go” center for whalers. In the 20th century it was the mobilization center for the war in the Pacific.

The writers even invoke the uprisings in the Arab world to encourage Guam and Hawai’i citizens to step up and take the reins of history:

Citizen action has shown itself as a critical component in the amazing political transformation sweeping the Middle East. It is time to change the old world of dominance and control by the few — to the participation and freedom for the many. The people of Hawaii and Guam will need to navigate these historic shifts with bold and creative rethinking.

“Change the old world dominance and control by the few – to the participation and freedom for the many”?   You would think that they were preaching revolution.  But its quite the opposite.   In the Guam version of the article, they attempt to repackage the subjugation of the peoples of Guam and Hawai’i as liberation, part of the neoliberal agenda of the upcoming APEC summit:

The opportunity to capitalize on these trends is aligned with the choice of Hawaii as the host of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November.

Furthermore they encourage the people of Guam and Hawai’i to partake in and feed off of the militarization of our island nations while denigrating grassroots resistance:

The planned move of a part of the Marine Corps base must take place in a manner that builds Guam into a full social and economic participant in the power realignments and not just a military outpost for repositioning of American forces. Citizen unrest in Guam would sap U.S. energy to remain strategic and undermine its forward defense security.

So, while they exhort the people of Hawai’i and Guam “to navigate these historic shifts with bold and creative rethinking,” in the end, they are just selling the same old imperial and neoliberal arrangements imposed by foreign powers that the people of Hawai’i and Guam have had to contend with for centuries.

So what is the point of the op ed?  It makes more sense when you understand the history and context of the authors.  Both Kent and Casino are part of James Kent Associates, a consulting firm that has worked extensively with the Bureau of Land Management to manage the community concerns regarding development of natural resources in a number of western states.  In 1997, the Marine Corps hired JKA Group to help counter resistance from the Wai’anae community to proposed amphibious assault training at Makua Beach, or as they put it to help “sustain its training options at Makua Beach in a cooperative manner with the community, and to be sure that community impacts and environmental justice issues were adequately addressed. JKA engaged in informal community contact and description by entering the routines of the local communities.”

They were essentially ‘hired gun’ social scientists helping the military manipulate the community through anthropological techniques:

Prior to JKA’s involvement, the NEPA process was being “captured” by organized militants from the urban zones of Hawaii. The strategy of the militants was to disrupt NEPA by advocating for the importance of Makua as a sacred beach. As community workers identified elders in the local communities, the elders did not support the notion of a sacred beach-“What, you think we didn’t walk on our beaches?” They pointed to specific sites on the beach that were culturally important and could not be disturbed by any civilian or military activity. As this level of detail was injected into the EA process, the militants were less able to dominate the process and to bring forward their ideological agenda. They had to be more responsible or lose standing in the informal community because the latter understood: “how the training activity, through enhancements to the culture, can directly benefit community members. Therefore, the training becomes a mutual benefit, with the community networks standing between the military and the activists.”

So community members active in the Native Hawaiian, environmental and peace movements are “organized militants from urban zones of Hawaii”?   The military uses similar language to describe the resistance fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan.   In a way, their methods anticipated the use of anthropologists in the battlefield in the “Human Terrain System” program.

What they don’t report on their website is that they failed to win over the community. Opposition to the Marine amphibious exercises was so strong that PACOM hosted an unprecedented meeting between Wai’anae community leaders on the one hand and CINCPAC, the Governor, and other public officials on the other.  As preparations were made for nonviolent civil resistance, CINCPAC canceled the exercise in Makua and moved the amphibious landing to Waimanalo, where the community also protested.

It seems as though JKA Group has been contracted by the Marines once again to help manage the community resistance to the military invasion planned for Guam and Hawai’i.  So the people of Hawai’i and Guam will have to resist this assault “with bold and creative rethinking.”  One such initiative is the Moana Nui conference planned to coincide with APEC in Hawai’i in which the peoples of the Asia Pacific region can chart our own course for development, environmental protection, peace and security in a ways that “change the old world dominance and control by the few – to the participation and freedom for the many.”

On the topic of the militarization of the Asia-Pacific region, I recently spoke with Korean solidarity and human rights activist Hyun Lee and community organizer Irene Tung on their radio program Asia Pacific Forum on WBAI in New York City.

Pentagon Takes Aim at Asia-Pacific

Last month, the Pentagon unveiled the first revision of the National Military Strategy since 2004, declaring, “the Nation’s strategic priorities and interests will increasingly emanate from the Asia-Pacific region.” Join APF as we discuss the implications of the new document.


  • KYLE KAJIHIRO is Director of DMZ Hawaii and Program Director of the American Friends Service Committee in Hawaii.

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