Oahu, Hawaii

Along Oahu’s Waianae coast, it’s hard to tell whether the United States is conducting a war against terror or against the district’s impoverished Native Hawaiians, the state’s poorest, unhealthiest and least-educated citizens. The Army has for decades conducted live-fire training in the majestic valley of Makua, a green cathedral buttressed by ridges, flaring open from the mountains to the sea. During World War II the military evicted the mostly Hawaiian landowners. For decades, Malama (“Care For”) Makua, a nonprofit group, has sought to stop the training, which has ignited wildfires in an area rich in endemic species and ancient cultural sites. Waianae residents worry that toxic chemicals are polluting their air, water and fish. “My goal is to get the military out of Makua and help the land to heal,” says Manu Kai’ama, whose great-great-grandfather was evicted by the Army.

In early 2001 Malama Makua and Earthjustice won an injunction against live-fire training until the Army filed an environmental impact statement (EIS). After the September 11 attacks the groups agreed to allow limited live-fire training for three years. In February 2006 Federal District Judge Susan Oki Mollway denied the Army’s request for an extension, rejecting its claim that it lacked alternative sites to train soldiers who are to be sent in August from Schofield Barracks in Oahu to Iraq.

This small victory may seem insignificant, but it was hard fought and has widespread implications for the many other locales in which citizens are trying to stop a rampant military grab for island resources. These include plans to seize 25,000 acres on Oahu and 23,000 on the Big Island for training Stryker Brigades. (A Stryker EIS was filed, but training has been delayed pending a 9th Circuit Court decision on an Earthjustice challenge.) A Star Wars missile facility is sited on Kauai, and the University of Hawaii is considering a Navy-affiliated weapons research center on campus. Another Waianae valley, Lualualei, is occupied by a Navy surveillance facility. “We’re downwind of their million-watt antennas, their ordnance burning, their chemical weapons residue and depleted uranium shell fragments,” says Sparky Rodrigues, executive director of Malama Makua.

DMZ Hawaii (dmzhawaii.org), a coalition of Native Hawaiian and environmental groups, is forming alliances with citizens of the Philippines, Guam, South Korea and Okinawa seeking to reduce the expanding military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Commenting on the Pentagon’s 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, Michael Klare, professor of peace and world security at Hampshire College, says, “Preparing for war with China…is to be the future cash cow for the giant US weapons-making corporations in the military-industrial complex.” He points to the QDR‘s call for “a stiffening of present US combat forces in Asia and the Pacific” and the Navy’s plans for “its most extensive military maneuvers in the Western Pacific since the end of the Vietnam War.”

Hawaii receives more military spending per capita than almost any other state, thanks to Senator Dan Inouye, senior member of the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee. But all this spending isn’t benefiting Native Hawaiians. Thirty percent of Waianae students who enter high school do not make it to graduation. Those who do, lacking job prospects or funds for college, tend to enter the military, Rodrigues says, adding that a lot of returned veterans are homeless. All along the fifteen miles of Waianae’s bucolic coastal strip, the colorful tents of homeless families line nearly every beach but Nenehu, which sports a tidy colony of R&R cottages. Economics, says Rodrigues, “is where the military has tremendous impact–they get a cost of living allowance, and military dependents compete not only for homes but for work.” He points to a new subdivision. These new homes are being bought by military contractors and retirees, who are beginning to dominate community boards, making Hawaiians feel disenfranchised as well as dispossessed, Rodrigues says.

Makua is part of the Hawaii Kingdom’s ceded lands, which the state holds in trust for Native Hawaiians and has leased to the federal government for a mere $1 for sixty-five years. To preserve this status quo against challenges by Hawaiian sovereignty groups, the state and its Congressional delegation are trying to get Hawaiians recognized as a Native American tribe, which would have the effect of securing military occupation of the ceded lands in perpetuity. During public hearings for the Makua EIS, goodwill has developed between the community and Col. Howard Killian, garrison commander at Schofield. “We would like to open the valley as much as we can–it is a beautiful place,” Killian says. Unfortunately, he’ll be rotated out in a year. When asked where he plans to retire, “Hopefully, Hawaii,” he says. By then, though, he may be disappointed by the ruin of the natural beauty he has come to love.

“The Army promised to give Makua back after the war,” says Terri Keko’olani of DMZ Hawaii. “But by now we have to ask, Which war?”