“David Malo, a celebrated Native Hawaiian historian wrote these prophetic words in 1837:
‘If a big wave comes in large fishes will come from the dark ocean which you never saw before, and when they see the small fishes they will eat them up; … such has always been the case with large countries, the small ones have been gobbled up.’
This prophesy has sadly been the history of the Asia-Pacific region. Large countries have gobbled up small countries. Bloody wars, nuclear disasters, and social and ecological ruin have followed. For more than a century, the U.S. has treated the Pacific ocean as an “American Lake” and Pacific islands as mere stepping-stones for the westward march of “Manifest Destiny” to the Asian prize.
Ke Awalau o Pu’uloa (Pearl Harbor) remains at the center of U.S. power in the Pacific. What was once a marvel of sustainable aquaculture and agriculture and an abundant food basket for the people of O’ahu has been disfigured into a source of war and ecological disaster. A life-giving treasure has become a toxic Superfund site with more than 740 contaminated sites identified thus far.
Like the droplets of oil that bubble up from the sunken tomb of the USS Arizona, the mythic ‘Pearl Harbor’ continues to bleed the trauma of WWII, staining our vision of the present and future. As a war memorial, Pearl Harbor valorizes and reproduces myths of America’s innocence and redemption through militarization and war. Hawai’i, the U.S., and the world are still held hostage to this myth. The result has been a plume of militarization emanating from our island to engulf peoples and lands of Moana Nui.
To borrow another metaphor coined by Kanaka Maoli scholar-activist Kaleikoa Kaeo, the military presence in Hawai’i can be imagined as the head of a monstrous he’e or octopus, with tentacles that strangle our brothers and sisters across the Pacific. Hawai’i is simultaneously a victim of American empire and an accessory in crimes of that empire.
America’s bid for “full spectrum dominance” extends from the bottom of the sea to the heavens above, from space to cyberspace. Sensor grids on the sea floor off Kaua’i and radar, antenna and optical tracking stations on the peaks of our sacred mountains are the eyes and ears of the he’e. Supercomputers and fiber optics are its brains and nervous system. Cut off the arms of a he’e, and it grows back. After the expulsion of US military bases from the Philippines 20 years ago, the tentacles of US troops have once again invaded Mindanao. To stop a he’e, you must neutralize its head.
According to the 2010 Base Structure Report, the combined military services in Hawaiʻi have 113 military installations (6 large, 5 medium and 102 small installations and other sites), occupying 230,532 acres. The main islands are completely surrounded by military defensive sea areas, and the entire archipelago is surrounded by 2.1 million square miles of temporary operating area.
Militarization has destroyed Native Hawaiian sacred sites, cultural resources and native ecosystems. It has poisoned our environment and threatened our health with a toxic cocktail of contaminants. It has fostered an economic dependency that verges on addiction and distorted our sense of cultural identity and social priorities.
After 9/11, Hawai’i experienced the largest military expansion since WWII. Despite numerous protests and legal victories, the Army seized 25,000 acres of land and stationed 328 Strykers in Hawai’i. Missile defense programs and congressional earmarks fuel a military-industrial gold rush on Kaua’i, cutting off access to some of our best beaches and drawing Hawaii into a dangerous nuclear dance. Even economic stimulus funds have been hijacked to boost construction of military housing and other facilities.
In spite of overwhelming odds, people continue to resist. And sometimes we win. For the fans of Star Trek, you may recall the Borg expression “Resistance is futile.” This is what the masters of empire would have us believe. We must flip this message to proclaim that “Resistance is fertile!” Our resistance unleashes our creative and productive energies. It helps people to overcome fear and despair to open up new unforeseen possibilities for change. Okinawa, Jeju and Guahan exemplify the creative power of peoples’ resistance to transform their societies.
A Kanaka Maoli voyager Atwood Makanani once gave me advice about our organizing efforts. “You gotta haku,” he said. “Haku” means to braid or compose. At first I was puzzled, but now I think I understand. Just as Pacific peoples can braid fragile fibers into the strongest cordage to move massive objects and lash together their buildings and voyaging canoes, let us haku our struggles into an unbreakable cord much stronger than its individual strands. Let us make a net big enough and strong enough to restrain the powerful and dangerous fishes that threaten to swallow us all.”