“Space Invaders: Star Wars in Hawai’i”

By Katy Rose

American Friends Service Committee Hawaii Area Program and DMZ-Hawai’i / Aloha ‘Aina network

April 17, 2009

Hello to all here today at this important gathering of resistance and hope. I bring you a warm greeting from all of our sisters and brothers in Hawai`i, who continue to stand up for a liberated, just and peaceful world. I am Katy Rose, and I represent the Hawaii Area Program of the American Friends Service Committee and the DMZ Hawai`i/Aloha `Aina network.

My brief talk today will focus on three key themes:

  • the historical context for the militarization of Hawaii;

  • the effects of  militarization on the life of the land and its people;

  • and the broad, beautiful and challenging landscape of resistance to militarization and empire in Hawai`i.

The staggering enormity of the US military presence has made Hawaii both a casualty of and an accomplice to the building of US empire.  The dispossession of Native peoples’ lands and culture, and the creation of an economic system dependent on military spending, have combined to entrench the US military’s position in Hawaii.  At the same time, the glaring contradictions between the military’s hold on land, resources, and the imagination and the fundamental injustices it perpetuates create fertile ground for creative resistance and restorative justice movements.

The impact of militarization in Hawai`i must be understood by examining Hawaii’s position as a nation under occupation by the United States.

So many people consider Hawai`i to simply be a dream vacation destination and the 50th state of the United States that it startles some to hear it described as an occupied nation. But a quick overview of the history of Hawai`i complicates its image in the popular imagination:

When westerners first arrived in Hawai'i, the Kanaka Maoli people had a thriving and sophisticated civilization. The Hawaiian Kingdom rapidly developed into a modern cosmopolitan society and gained recognition as an independent nation state by 1843. But the tide of haole (white foreigners) settlers from Europe and the U.S. wrought cultural and economic changes that undermined the traditional land tenure, economics, religion and social organization of Kanaka Maoli.   In order to secure favorable terms of trade for Hawaiian sugar, this powerful settler-capitalist class staged a coup d’etat and granted the U.S. exclusive access to a port at Ke Awalau o Pu`uloa – commonly known today as Pearl Harbor. When in 1893 Queen Liliuokalani tried to restore the constitution and the rights of her people, U.S. troops invaded and propped up the haole settler conspirators that took control of government. 

The Hawaiian people resisted and defeated two treaties of annexation to the US. But in 1898, with the onset of the Spanish American War, the United States seized Hawai`i through a congressional joint resolution to establish a military outpost in the Pacific.  The US military build-up in Hawai`i began its steady march toward global dominance and local dispossession of Native lands and self-determination.

The impact on the Native people of this history of colonization cannot be overstated. According to University of Hawaii American Studies professor David Stannard, between 1778 and 1900, the Kanaka Maoli population fell by approximately 90%, from 800,000 to 37,000. Today, the Native people of Hawaii have the shortest life spans, the lowest income levels, the highest incarceration rates, and the highest rate of homelessness in Hawai'i, among other sobering statistics. In response to this assault, Kanaka Maoli have renewed their struggle for independence and cultural survival.

One of the key fronts of this struggle has been the Hawaii demilitarization movement, which I will discuss in greater detail in a moment.

Military Impact:

Demilitarization activists in Hawai`i have conceived of the military apparatus in Hawai`i as a giant he`e, or octopus. The brain of the beast is the headquarters of PACOM (Pacific Command) on O'ahu. Its eyes and ears are the many telescopes, the radars, and the sonar that span the island chain. Its tentacles reach across oceans to bases in Korea, Japan, Okinawa, the Phillipines, Guam, and beyond.

And its excrement is strewn everywhere, including the 749 toxic sites yet identified in Ke Awalau o Pu`uloa. This once unparalleled breadbasket for the Native Hawaiians is now a giant Superfund site - a place of deep contamination and toxicity, where fishermen are warned with signs posted at the water's edge not to eat the fish they gather.

The US military occupies approximately 250,000 acres (95,627 hectares) of land in Hawaii, including close to a quarter of the most populous island of O’ahu. It controls many times that area of ocean and sky. The total military population of Hawaii, including active duty troops, their dependents and retired military personnel has reached about 17% of the population of Hawaii, while Native Hawaiians make up about 20% of the population, in their own homeland.   The lands occupied by the military are the former homelands, agricultural watersheds and sacred sites which once sustained the Hawaiian people who now suffer such high rates of homelessness and disease.   A fundamental insult embedded in this occupation is the way in which  the very source of life is used to perpetrate violence and occupation around the globe.

The center for missile-defense testing and development in Hawaii is the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, the island on which I live. Spanning 8 miles of coastline on Kauai’s hot and dry west side, PMRF is a magnet for the defense contractors like Lockheed Martin who have set up shop nearby. Testing at the site has created consternation from a range of groups and individuals, who have raised concerns about the steady expansion of the facility onto surrounding Native lands, the dubious effects of secretive underwater testing on marine life, the potential that the facility’s presence on Kauai increases the island’s value as a target, and the deeply troubling fact that rockets are launched from a pad built atop the sacred dunes and burial sites of Nohili.

According to the PMRF website:

"PMRF is the world's largest instrumented multi-environment range capable of supporting surface, subsurface, air, and space operations simultaneously. There are over 1,100 square miles of instrumented underwater range and over 42,000 square miles of controlled airspace."

Programs at PMRF include:

  • Various Missile Defense systems including the Navy's AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense System (also known as Sea-Based Midcourse), the Army's Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), and the Ground-based Midcourse Defense extended test range, which encompasses Kodiak, Vandenberg, Kwajalein and Kaua'i, and the giant Sea-Based X-band (SBX) radar that spends much of the time in Pearl Harbor for repairs.

  • Recently, the Navy expanded its Hawaii Range Complex to include 2.1 million square miles of temporary operating area.  The activities in the range include biannual Rim Of the Pacific (RIMPAC) multinational exercises and annual Under Sea Warfare Exercises (USWEX).  This is a playground for the more exotic weapons in development such as air-breathing hypersonic weapons, unmanned aerial and surface vehicles, microsatellites, and directed energy weapons.

  • PMRF is also a key research and development test facility for futuristic Network Centric warfare systems.   The controversial University Affiliated Research Center (UARC), a classified Navy research lab at the University of Hawai'i, originated as an attempt to establish a Network Centric Warfare test-bed at PMRF.

  • On Maui, the Air Force operates a Supercomputer center and optical tracking station, crucial links in the missile defense network.

  • On O'ahu, the military has several tracking stations and radar systems at Ka’ena Point and in the Waianae mountains that play an important role in missile defense tests.  Another aspect of "full spectrum dominance" includes extensive surveillance technologies such as the National Security Agency (NSA) signals-intelligence network, the shadowy Echelon system.  In a hardened concrete facility buried deep under the pineapple fields on O'ahu, the NSA Regional Signals Intelligence center captures and analyzes electronic communications signals. This program will eventually move to the expanding Naval Communications center in central O'ahu.


Widespread acceptance of the military presence in Hawai'i is based on a number of interlocking factors which  function like hooks in the community's flesh, complicating the potential for disentanglement from militarism.

Perhaps the hook which digs deepest is the popular mythology of "defense."  The idea that militarism in Hawai'i is purely defensive and necessary for our security is reinforced by the iconography of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the attacks of September 11, 2001.  One way that missile defense strengthens this hook is its portrayal as promoting a kind of bloodless war - nothing more than a clinical battle of machine against machine in outer space,  creating a cloak of security for the US.

A second hook is economic dependence.  Hawaii's two main economic engines are tourism and the military.  Military-related employment, including construction of base housing and other infrastrucure, as well as revenue to local vendors for goods and services, pumps billions of dollars per year into Hawai'i's economy.  Hawai'i Senator Dan Inouye has used his status as a war hero and a senior senator on the defense appropriations subcommittee to secure a veritable open pipeline of military spending to Hawai'i, bolstered by the imperative of constant incremental technological improvements needed to stay one step ahead in the missile-defense arms race. Military funds are used as a form of social control over various sectors of the community, including many of the agencies that serve Kanaka Maoli. It can buy compliance or be withheld to punish disloyalty.

A third hook is fear and a sense that resistance is futile.   Particularly since 9/11, the threat of the military's power looms behind any notion of resistance to it.  Even when the military has been compelled by environmental law to undergo public hearings, it has manipulated these systematic controls in attempts to avoid accountability and further disempower and drown out the voices of community resistance. People become easily discouraged by attendance at public hearings where their input is not seriously considered.  The fear of  military retaliation to resistance also creates a feeling of helplessness and dependence.  One Hawai'i activist used the analogy of domestic abuse to describe this dynamic.  Our fear of the military's might shifts to dependence on the military for protection from outside threats.

One of our first tasks has been to huli (overturn) the myths that hold us hostage and draw out the contradictions imbedded in the "social hooks" of militarism.

We have challenged the notion that the military presence actually keeps Hawai'i safe at all.  The Hawaiian sovereignty movement has exposed the contradiction that the U.S. as an occupier cannot be a protector. Activists point out that the US military presence is a provocation to other countries and increases the chances of Hawai'i becoming a target for attack. After all,  it isn't entirely clear that it is Hawai'i that the military seeks to protect in any case.  Indeed, during World War 2,  the military had a "scorched earth" plan ready for Hawai'i in the event of a Japanese invasion.   On a deeper level, the movement challenges the notion of security as it is defined by the US - is there anything less secure than having the basic necessities of sustainable life destroyed by the very entity claiming to ensure our security?

We have challenged assumptions about the military's economic benefits by highlighting the true, often hidden costs of militarization.  Kanaka Maoli-led resistance has reframed the debate about the military economy in terms of loss of access to land, sacred sites  and resources,  and the cumulative effects of such dispossesion on Kanaka Maoli social health.  Significant direct actions at PMRF, for example, have challenged the military for access to sacred sites as a primary focal point of resistance.

Looking at the miltary economy in a strictly dollars-and-cents manner, however, presents  challenges to coalition-building in the communities affected by military spending.  Working class people with limited income opportunities in Hawai'i- and the labor unions that represent them -  are often stridently pro-military in Hawai'i.  Thus, natural allies against oppression and exploitation are often deeply divided when it comes to militarization.  This is a challenge and an opportunity to organize creatively for an alternate economic future, where no worker will need to choose between a family-supporting job and the health of her community.  Deep investigations into the ways that Hawaii's political and economic elite directly benefit by our dependence on the military-industrial complex can lead to a more popular criticism of  military expansion.

Finally, Hawaii demilitarization and independence activist Ikaika Hussey warns us about the “fluidity of empire” --- the way that the successful compression of military ambitions in one region is met by expansion in another.   He reminds us that it is imperative to embrace cross-border solidarity as  “a primary mode of operation” for the world-wide demilitarization movement.  Our work here today strengthens that project, and for that I extend our heartfelt gratitude for this opportunity to join with you in common cause.

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