Overview of Military in Hawai’i


I ka wa ma mua, ka wa ma hope
In the past, the future (Native Hawaiian proverb)

For more than a century, the U.S. has treated the Pacific Ocean as an “American Lake.” As a primary target of U.S. foreign policy during the 1898 Spanish-American War, Hawaiʻi was a pivotal site for imperial expansion, enabling the colonization of the Philippines and Guam.  Today, Hawaiʻi is the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Command, the center of U.S. military power in the Pacific.  Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) scholar Kaleikoa Kaeo has compared Hawai‘i to the head of a monstrous heʻe, an octopus with tentacles stretching across the Pacific into Asia.  Through the Pacific Command, Hawaiʻi maintains its position as the center of the network of bases through which the U.S. deploys surveillance and enacts hegemony across the Pacific.

The militarization of our islands is not new; rather it is the intensification of a continuing process of imperial formation in our region. The process is ongoing—it is not “done” and therefore can be undone. Epeli Hau‘ofa challenges us to flip the colonial paradigm of the Pacific as a vast, empty space to be filled, policed and controlled. He calls for a different geographic imagination of the Pacific as Oceania, or Moananuiākea (the deep, vast ocean); a space full of histories, peoples, relations, and potential. We urge peace movements within the U.S. to pay more attention to the Pacific, incorporate these issues into your agendas, and support demilitarization/decolonization efforts in the region.

At the current historical juncture, Hawai‘i is the location of approximately 118 military sites, over 200,000 acres, about 6% of the islands’ land and 23.1% of O‘ahu, the most populous island where Honolulu is located. At these bases, the military carries out various operations via land, water, sky and cyberspace. Bases continue to morph in size and use based on innovations of military artillery, such as air-water vehicles like the Osprey.  But the bases are also integrating to address cuts in the Department of Defense budget.

Discourses promoted by the State of Hawai’i highlight that such facilities bring jobs and federal funds for major infrastructure building (i.e. roads, freeways, housing).  Because of this, the majority of the population in Hawaii passively accepts militarism.  In reality, the military produces economic dependence, especially in working class and low-income communities.  Youth accept the military as a viable career option because of limited alternatives for economic and class mobility.  This results in common sense notions that accept the idea of the military as an institution protecting security and safety.  Therefore, many people are not aware, or convinced, that a different order, other than a militarized one, is possible. How can decolonization address such ideological conditions?

Some Key Issues We Work On:

1. Oppose Military Expansion
A recently announced Washington policy dubbed the “Pacific Pivot” continues a legacy of Western imperialist powers asserting control over the Pacific and Asian region.  This policy operates hand in hand with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, deregulating economic trade between the U.S. and Pacific and Asia nation-states. In response, we address the following local issues:

The Osprey: We oppose implementation of the MV-22 and H-1 Aircraft Project proposed by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.  An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) only raises concerns about the project’s impacts, including effects on nearby residential areas, schools, and the environment, and issues of noise and safety, which the EIS fails to address. The Project also fails to address Native Hawaiian community concerns about the use of sacred lands. We support Native Hawaiian communities’ right to invoke Section 106 of the National Historical Preservation Act and demand that consultation procedures address concerns regarding the identification and protection of Native Hawaiian sites as defined by Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners and experts.  We demand that the State conduct a full and thorough investigation with significant input of community members and allies before any further implementation of this project.

Pohakuloa: The military is in the process of expanding its facilities at Pohakuloa on the island of Hawai‘i. For more information, see the OHA documentary: Pohakuloa: Now that you know do you care? at http://vimeo.com/63867248. The following website documents the cultural sites and impact areas at Pohakuloa: http://kipukadatabase.com/apps/pta/. Further, there are significant concerns about depleted uranium (DU) present at Pohakuloa Training Area as well as Schofield Barracks on O‘ahu. Additional unbiased studies are warranted to understand the hazards from DU present on active training ranges.[2]

Pagan Island: Pagan Island, the “Crown Jewel” of the Marianas, is slated for environmental devastation, this time by a proposal from the U.S. Military to use it for “live-fire training” which includes everything from artillery to bombing.[3]

Aegis Missile System Pacific Marine Range Facility on Kaua‘i: As a node for Command Control Information, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Kaua‘i functions as a hub for information and decisions regarding military facilities and technologies in the Pacific region. This facility is one of the main testing and training areas for U.S. Missile Defense and other emerging technologies. This entails the use of drones, lasers and hypersonic airplanes.

Makua: Makua Valley is a topic of longstanding controversy between environmental groups and Native Hawaiian activists and cultural practitioners on one side and the U.S. military and State of Hawai‘i on the other.  A sacred place according to Native Hawaiian mo‘olelo (stories), the valley has been the subject of a lawsuit pressed by community group Malama Makua, and a judge has ruled to halt live-fire training until the military studies environmental hazards and the destruction of Native Hawaiian cultural sites. Rumors are circulating that the army will return Makua within the next few years.  Right now, it is imperative that we dream and envision alternative future for this place to ensure that its return signifies a meaningful step in self-determination for Native Hawaiian people.

2. Address Militarization of Schools
Military recruiters circumvent normal privacy protections for students through laws such as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the Armed Services Vocational Battery (ASVAB) tests, and other methods of data mining. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are typically overrepresented in the U.S. military, an exploitation of marginalized communities amounting to a “poverty draft.”
Militarization of Hawaii’s Schools:

  • According to the United States Pacific Command Website, since 2000, $58 million from Department of Defense money funds teacher training, computers in the classrooms, facility upgrades and other initiatives. As part of the militarization of schools, a military liaison develops and implements a strategy to facilitate partnership between the Department of Education and the U.S. military within the State of Hawaii Board of Education (the Joint Venture Education Forum). Further, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) is commonplace in Hawaii’s schools, considered an academic subject alongside Language, Math and Science. Students can also apply for Hawaii Youth ChalleNGe academy of the National Guard which “provides opportunities for At-Risk/Non-Traditional Students to Learn Life Skills, to become Productive, Responsible, and Successful Citizens, while working towards their High School Diploma.”

Hawai‘i Peace and Justice (HPJ) has established a partnership with a local high school to organize a Peace and Justice Club on campus.  A community mentor builds students’ consciousness about militarism in their school and community. Students learn organizing skills through leadership development programs. The Opt-Out campaign raises awareness that, under No Child Left Behind, student names and contact information are given to military recruiters.  Students have organized “Opt Out” events to spread awareness about these issues and spoken at student assemblies to make this information accessible. They produced a PSA and wrote articles to spread this information:  https://peaceandjusticeclub.wordpress.com/actions/opt-out-campaign/. They have also planned other events, such as one collaboratively organized with a Micronesian student group addressing racism against and between immigrants.

3. Develop and Promote Epistemologies of Resistance

To begin understanding decolonization, we need to understand how colonialism works. In a 2013 presentation at University of Southern California, Hope Cristobal described the elements of colonialism in Guam, and we see that colonization in Hawai‘i entails similar processes. Colonialism operates through these mechanisms:

  • Injection of Americanization into the education system to colonize minds
  • Dispossession and contamination of land, to be used for military operations that keeps settlers “secure” rather than for indigenous purposes
  • Displacement of people and erasure of Indigenous spaces
  • The taking of resources without compensation, resulting in conditions in which the colonized are forced to pay for resources funneled through colonizer’s infrastructure and regulation systems
  • Military research studying local cultures and languages to penetrate and implement deeper control over the population

To summarize, militarization is colonization. Further, our society is now organized around racial hierarchies that structure capitalism, producing divisions between people of color that prevent us from working in solidarity with each others’ struggles. Migrants, often moved by coercive means, aspire for success within a racialized power structure.  In building a foundation for alternatives, we must link anti-imperialist, anti-racist, indigenous, and labor struggles.

Understanding these issues, how can we exercise an epistemology of decolonization?  We argue that we must return to what we have and who we are; exercise sustainability; tell our stories; think outside western imaginations; remember “indigenous privilege”; strengthen our culture; build our communities and families, including those that are hanai (adopted); and form alliances across Pacific. The renewal and reclamation of our languages, as well as cultural practices like voyaging, both brings us back to our geneology that connects us to the rest of the Pacific and helps us combat colonialism. As indigenous people, it is imperative that we carve out a space to call our home.

Steps for Action

  • We suggest that a demilitarization/decolonization education curriculum be collaboratively developed through partnerships between U.S. peace activists and relevant progressive venues in the U.S. By working collaboratively, we can address how the U.S. military occupies land and coerces people everywhere, setting an example for development and progress in places around the world.  In order to work together in the Pacific, it is necessary that we face how all of our people and neighbors are sucked into this fallacy, and develop our knowledge base to help us gain the tools to take action to confront this.
  • We would like to bring together brightest minds for speaking tours as part of this public education campaign to intervene on the normalization of militarization. We would like to raise consciousness at an everyday level, so that people in Hawai‘i and the U.S. recognize the militarized system in which they are participating, and the urgency for constructing a different imagination regarding freedom and security in order to internalize this possibility and work toward these goals.
  • We also recognize the necessity of creating a broad agenda that addresses the militarization of Hawai‘i and the Pacific to bring more attention to this issue and foster collaborations.
  • [1] By Ellen-Rae Cachola, Kyle Kajihiro, Terri Keko‘olani, and Laurel Mei Turbin as members of Hawai‘i Peace and Justice

    [2] http://kamakakoi.com/actions/?visibility=public&type=petition&id=1

    [3] http://savepaganisland.org/