Military as jobs program vs base conversion

President Obama recently announced plans for partial troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.  But the headlines should have read “Obama continues the wars”, a betrayal of promises to end the wars.  The responses from military personnel in Kaneʻohe were surprising:

Lance Cpl. Brandon Johnson, who just returned from Afghanistan last Saturday.”This war should be over,” Johnson said.Johnson, the married father of a 4-year-old daughter, has been in the Marines for four years. During that time, the infantryman has been deployed to Afghanistan twice and Iraq once, he said.”Pulling out is probably the best thing just because I’m sick of hearing about Marines dying. A few of our Marines died in country and, just, what’s the point,” Johnson said.

Another vet compared Afghanistan to Vietnam:

“We don’t learn from our history,” said Air Force veteran Tom Morse of Aikahi, who likened the situation in Afghanistan to Vietnam.Speaking outside Aikahi’s Drop In Cafe, Morse said, “If he’s (President Obama’s) gonna pull out 30,000, then pull out the other 70,000. That’s the way I look at it. We’re not winning, we can’t win over there. They know it.”

Still, Andrew Bacevich writing in Tom Dispatch finds evidence that “war fever” is subsiding in Washington. This should inspire us in Hawai’i to rethink the basis of Hawai’i’s military-dependent economic plan, or lack thereof.

As discussed previously on this site, the RAND corporation, a Department of Defense funded research institute, recently released a report on the economic impact of military spending in Hawai’i that was undertaken at the request of the Hawaii Institute of Public Affairs and the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii. But this economic strategy is shortsighted and costly to the environment, the cultural survival and human rights of Kanaka Maoli and Hawaiian nationals and the loss of resources and capabilities for long-term sustainability.

In “The Military as a Jobs Program: There are More Efficient Ways to Stimulate the Economy”, Ellen Brown of the Public Banking Institute argues that the military economy is not the best way to stimulate jobs.

Bases can become industrial parks, schools, airports, hospitals, recreation facilities, and so forth. Converted factories can produce consumer and capital goods: machine tools, electric locomotives, farm machinery, oil field equipment, construction machinery for modernizing infrastructure.


A 2007 study by Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier of the University of Massachusetts found that government investment in education creates twice as many jobs as investment in the military. Spending on personal consumption, health care, education, mass transit, and construction for home weatherization and infrastructure repair all were found to create more jobs per $1 billon in expenditures than military spending does.

The author cites the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) as an example of a successful conversion from military to civilian applications of personnel and technologies. However, the USACE is still part of the military, which biases its thinking, approach and culture. The attitude that engineering can solve anything with little public oversight has resulted in environmentally destructive projects such as altering and cementing streams or building breakwaters and jetties that destroy reefs or disrupt the flow of sand. Instead, a better solution might be to convert the USACE into an entirely civilian agency for public works that is more oriented to community collaboration, sustainability and environmental protection.

Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space has argued and campaigned for the conversion of Maine’s military-dependent shipbuilding industry into factories for the manufacturing of windmills to produce renewable energy.  Could the Pearl Harbor Shipyard be converted into a plant for production of renewable energy?  The recent article in the Honolulu Star Advertiser tries to rally for the shipyard with its jaunty headline “Navy industrial site shipshape”, but the article reveals how precarious the situation really is:

Six years ago this month, Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, the state’s largest industrial employer, barely escaped inclusion on a Pentagon list for possible base closure.

Today the shipyard is healthy and hiring. But defense cuts loom nationally, and one of the first victims, for the shipyard anyway, could be the military construction projects that are modernizing the 103-year-old yard and which are a key component of continued progress, officials said

It was largely Senator Inouye’s influence that prevented the closure of the shipyard, but how long can Hawai’i depend on him steering military spending to the islands?  It would be better to begin planning for converting the base into a facility that would better serve the long-term economic viability of Hawai’i.

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