Outpost of Empire
The militarization of Hawaii and its effect on our economy and collective psyche is often overlooked. Activist Kyle Kajihiro wants to change that
On Friday, August 6, beginning at 6pm, Maui Peace Action will hold a Hiroshima Remembrance Day at UH Maui College, commemorating the 65-year anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb “Little Boy” on the Japanese city. The keynote speaker will be Kyle Kajihiro, director of the anti-war American Friends Service Committee Hawaii.
Ahead of his Maui appearance, we asked Kyle to discuss the legacy of Hiroshima, the militarization of Hawaii and the current state of war and peace.
The title of your talk is “Remembering Hiroshima As An Act of Liberation.” Explain what you mean by that.
The world has been held hostage by nuclear terror since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As the country with the largest nuclear arsenal, the U.S. has used nuclear weapons as the ultimate “big stick” to intimidate, threaten and coerce other countries to do its bidding. In this way, the U.S. uses nuclear weapons the same way that a robber uses a loaded gun to get people to do something. Whether or not the gun is fired, it is still a form of assault.
Today, more than ever, the danger of nuclear weapons hangs over humanity. The nuclear survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been an important voice for peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. Yet commemorations of these horrific events can become too safe if they don’t address the urgent issues of our time. Remembering Hiroshima must be an act of liberation from nuclear terror and passivity; it should reignite our commitment to the political and moral project of nuclear disarmament and demilitarization.
Do you think we’ll see another nuclear weapon used in our lifetime?
I think nuclear weapons have been used many times to terrorize countries without necessarily launching and exploding them. But I am optimistic that the tide of world opinion is against nuclear weapons and will prevent their active use in our lifetime.
For those who don’t know, explain, in broad terms, how Hawaii came to be such an important place, militarily, for the United States.
The U.S. invaded and occupied the independent Kingdom of Hawai’i primarily to establish a forward military base in the Pacific as a stepping stone to Asia. From the point of view of American imperialists, once the genocide of American Indians and the taking of their land was completed, the next logical step was to take Hawaii, then the Philippines, Guam and other Pacific nations and extend “manifest destiny” to Asia. The U.S. military still uses Hawaii and its other Pacific island colonies as outposts of empire.
What would you say is the most common misconception about—or unknown aspect of—the military presence in Hawaii?
I think most people don’t realize the social, environmental or cultural costs and impacts of the enormous military presence in Hawaii. The impact of the military on land is huge. The military controls nearly a quarter of the island of Oahu, most of it crown and government lands of the Hawaiian Kingdom that were wrongfully taken. On these lands are more than 800 documented and reported contamination sites that include depleted uranium, chemical weapons, lead, mercury, PCB, solvents and unexploded ordnance.
As with tourism, when people question the wisdom or necessity of the state’s military bases, proponents cite the economy: where would we be without those military dollars? How do you respond to this?
The military economy is so enormous that it has distorted our development in Hawaii in ways that I would argue have been detrimental to the long-term health of our economy. In many ways, the military-tourism economy is like a fast food diet. You can get plenty of calories from a fast food meal, but if that was the only food you ate, it would eventually make you obese and sick. Fast food diets are also addictive because of the sugar “high” that gives a temporary sense of wellbeing.
The overreliance on tourism and militarism as the only two pillars of the economy have resulted in destructive patterns of overdevelopment, the atrophy of other productive capabilities such as agriculture or clean energy production and the failure to invest in sectors such as education and environmental restoration that are necessary for a sustainable future. There is also the hidden environmental, social and cultural costs of militarism. In a military economy some people get paid, often very well, while others pay the price of lost land, culture and health.
What’s your take on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Obama Administration’s strategies and policies thus far?
Despite all the hype about change, the Obama Administration has pretty much followed the failed policies of the Bush Administration. The cost of the wars have just exceeded $1 trillion. The recent Wikileaks disclosures are revealing the disastrous human cost of Obama’s policies.