The Hawaiian Islands are viewed by many as the Paradise in the Pacific, and it is the image promoted by the tourist industry.
But Hawaii has a very different dark side.
The Hawaiian Islands are one of the most militarized places in the world, and have a long history of illegal U.S. occupation.
In 1887, when Hawaii was still recognized world-wide as an independent nation, U.S. business interests put bayonets on Hawaiian King David Kalakaua and forced him to sign a revised constitution.
That constitution gave more power to U.S. nationals and exclusive use of Pearl Harbor to the U.S. Navy.
Six years later many of those same U.S. nationals orchestrated a coup to overthrow the Hawaiian government. U.S. Minister to the Hawaiian Kingdom John L. Stevens and troops from the USS Boston assisted in the overthrow of the government of Queen Liliuokalani.
The illegally U.S.-occupied nation of Hawaii was later illegally annexed to the U.S. in 1898 by a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress, not a treaty ratified by a two-thirds vote in the U.S. Senate as required by law.
Illegal statehood in 1959 followed illegal annexation. In truth, 130 years later, Hawaii remains an independent nation illegally and militarily occupied by the U.S.
Today in 2023, Hawaii has become the headquarters of the U.S. Empire’s Indo-Pacific Military Command (USINDOPACOM) covering more than half the Earth’s surface.
The HQ is located at Camp H.M. Smith on Oahu in the hills above Aloha Stadium. Oahu’s major military bases include Joint Base Pearl Harbor—Hickam (Navy and Air Force combined) on the southern shores of Oahu, Schofield Barracks for the Army in central Oahu, and Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe on the east side of Oahu.
Other major military bases include Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands on the island of Kauai, and the largest military base in all of Hawaii –the 133,000-acre Pohakuloa Training Area in the center of Hawaii Island at 6,500 feet elevation where the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, plus foreign countries, do live-fire training, bombing and shelling.
B-52 and B-2 strategic nuclear bombers fly non-stop from Louisiana, Missouri and Guam to bomb Pohakuloa as training for global nuclear war.
The military leaves a trail of pollution at its bases despite its false claims to be a good steward of the land. Pu’uloa (Pearl Harbor), once a fish and oyster breeding center, is now a Superfund toxic waste site. Millions of gallons of low-level radioactive waste have been discharged directly into Pearl Harbor.
Thousands of 55-gallon drums of radioactive solid waste from refueling of nuclear submarines have been dumped to the ocean floor off Oahu’s southern shores.
Old munitions by the barge-load have been dumped on reefs off several Hawaiian islands. Near Pearl Harbor, the Navy’s Red Hill fuel storage tanks have leaked, poisoning the drinking water of 95,000 people and threatening the aquifer of Honolulu and Hawaii’s major tourist center—Waikiki.
Many other sites all over Hawaii are contaminated with unexploded ordnance and military toxins, including depleted uranium radiation.
The entire island of Kaho’olawe was seized by the U.S. military and used as a bombing target for more than 40 years. A courageous movement of Native Hawaiians finally stopped the bombing in 1990 and more than $400 million was spent on clean-up of the toxic military mess. But extensive unexploded ordnance remains on the island and in near-shore waters.
In the 1960s the U.S. started to use depleted uranium spotting rounds for test firing the Davy Crockett nuclear weapon system. Confirmation came 40 years after the fact that such rounds were used on Oahu and Hawaii Island.
Also in the 1960s, the military leased state forest land on Hawaii Island to do “weather” testing. That was a lie. They were testing chemical and biological weapons in the Waiakea Forest on the east side of Hawaii Island that was the watershed for the city of Hilo. Included among the weapons tested was sarin nerve gas, so toxic that 1/50th of a drop can kill you.
In April and May 1967, in an experiment named “Red Oak Phase 1,” the U.S. Army detonated 155-mm artillery shells and 115-mm rocket warheads with sarin nerve gas. Hunters have reported that, more than 50 years later, nothing grows in portions of that rainforest where some of these military chemical/biological tests were conducted.
During the 1970s, there were reports of nuclear-weapon accidents on Oahu involving the release of radiation. At the time the number of nuclear weapons stored on Oahu was estimated to be over 3,000.
Nuclear secrecy prevented proper investigations of accidents. In the late 1970s a major nuclear-weapon depot was planned for construction at West Loch of Pearl Harbor, but no Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was going to be done because of nuclear secrecy. A peace organization—Catholic Action of Hawaii filed suit to require an EIS. The case was dismissed in the U.S. District Court for Hawaii but was reversed by the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Circuit Court said nuclear secrecy aside, the military could do a hypothetical EIS—IF there were nuclear weapons at West Loch, what would be the dangers and risks of accidents, planes crashing into the site, sabotage, terrorism, etc.
The military wanted no part of it. It appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and the court ruled that NO EIS, even a hypothetical one, was required. In short, people in Hawaii and elsewhere have NO right to know and nothing to say about nuclear bombs stored in their back yards. National security nuclear secrecy trumps all.
The Navy constructed new nuclear weapon storage bunkers at West Loch of Pearl Harbor to replace the nuclear-weapon storage facility at Waikele, located in Kipapa Gulch in central Oahu. The nuclear weapons at Waikele were stored in tunnels with encroaching urbanization above.
Ironically, nuclear weapons have a smaller explosive safety zone than conventional weapons because the zone is based only on the relatively small amount of conventional explosives contained within a nuclear weapon. Today the military is trying to create buffer zones around many of its bases to prevent safety-zone infringement issues. Ironically, the military is trying to co-opt environmental groups to lease the land outside of military bases to prevent development. Some of this land is likely already contaminated by military toxins blowing off site.
Overall, 6% of all land in Hawaii is controlled by the military. That is more than in any other state in the U.S. On Oahu, the most populous island, where Honolulu and Waikiki are located, the military controls more than 20% of the land.
And the military is now expanding “Special Ops” covert training outside of military bases on all the Hawaiian islands. Hundreds of Special Ops training missions take place annually on public and private lands, on beaches, in parks, and near-shore waters, each lasting from 4 to 96 hours, involving up to 46 people according to the military’s Environmental Assessment (EA).
In the EA done in 2018, the military drew a large rectangle over the entire island of Oahu and its surrounding waters to designate “Special Ops” training areas. Similar training is taking place on all Hawaiian islands but, at least according to the military maps, not as extensively as on Oahu.
Residents and visitors unknowingly are being used as props in Special Ops training. The details of one such Special Ops training that was planned for Mauna Kea County Park (now called Gilbert Kahele Park) on Hawaii Island, described the following: At night, troops in camouflage would come out of the Pohakuloa Training Area, cross the highway and walk up the slopes of Mauna Kea overlooking Mauna Kea State Park. They would set up camouflage surveillance. During the day military people dressed as armed civilian enemy combatants would mingle with park participants. The job of the surveillance troops was to try to distinguish who among the people in the park were the “enemy combatants.” Of course in a real life scenario, orders would likely be given to kill the enemy combatants.
Mauna Kea State Park is a midway stop when driving between the Hilo and Kona sides of Hawaii Island. It has restrooms, picnic areas, and a playground for children plus cabins for overnight camping. One of the concerns raised was about the possibility of families pushing their children on playground swings suddenly seeing someone with a gun (a plain clothes enemy combatant) in the park.
The situation could escalate quickly into violence. Our organization raised strong opposition to such training and this particular Special Op was canceled, so we were told. Whether it has since been reinstated, who knows. A Washington State court ruled against military Special Ops taking place in a park there. Special Ops take place in other parts of the U.S., including urban areas.
Living on Hawaii Island (the Big Island) for more than 40 years, I have focused on the 133,000-acre Military Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA), where live-fire training by all branches of the U.S. military and other countries has been going on for more than 75 years. PTA is the largest toxic site on Hawaii Island. Although the military likes to claim transparency, it has not released the number of live rounds fired in decades.
The last figure released in the early 2000s was that 14.8 million live-rounds are fired annually at PTA. As far as I know, a complete list of all the various weapon systems fired has never been released. What we do know, from observation, is the weapons systems include everything from small arms, howitzers, rockets and bombs of various sizes, from fighter jets, helicopters, killer drones, and strategic nuclear bombers. It is noticeable by the sounds of bombers that such training is increasing due to the rising tensions with China over Taiwan.
Commanders at PTA change every 2-3 years. The current commander, Army Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Kevin Cronin, will be leaving in June 2023. While in Hawaii, he has refused numerous requests to meet with our peace organization and answer questions. Cronin’s previous assignment was in Special Ops at NATO Headquarters in Belgium.
He had deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, places the U.S. military should never have been in the first place. Now he will be moving further west in the Pacific and Asia to what appears to be Special Ops work over China to maintain U.S. global domination.
In his wake, just like commanders before him, LTC Cronin leaves behind an increasingly toxic mess that the military has no intention of cleaning up. The so-called “military mission” is all that matters. The damage to Hawaii’s people and environment are part of the “collateral damage” that is part of the military’s standard operations. The commander’s job is to keep the lid on things: Prevent investigations, and pass the buck to the next commander.
Our organization has documented 57 present and former military sites totaling hundreds of thousands of acres on Hawaii Island that are now hazard areas. There may be many more such military sites used for bombing, artillery, live-fire ranges, testing of chemical/biological weapons, etc., that we have not yet discovered.
Live military ordnance has been found all over this island, in near-shore waters, off public beaches, in residential areas and school grounds. Civilians have been killed and injured by exploding military ordnance. Some unexploded ordnance can be set off by cell phones.
There needs to be a comprehensive, independent study of Pohakuloa and all present and former military sites to determine the full extent of the military’s toxic contamination. We need to find out what is coming off these bases, blowing in the wind, and into the water, too. Depleted uranium metal when hit with high explosives burns and creates DU oxide particles.
Inhaling depleted uranium dust oxide alpha particles is the most dangerous form of radiation, according to Dr. Lorrin Pang, M.D., a Hawaii resident who spent 24 years in the Army Medical Corps and has been listed among America’s Best Doctors. Dr. Pang says young children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable. Inhaling DU oxide particles not only causes various forms of cancer but can also cause genetic damage that can be passed to future generations.
On July 2, 2008, the Hawaii County Council passed resolution 639-08 on July 2, 2008, by a vote of 8 to 1, that called for eight actions, including stopping all live-fire at PTA, comprehensive and independent testing and monitoring, and clean-up of DU present at Pohakuloa. None of the eight actions called for has been done. The military has ignored the county’s call to action for 15 years. Millions of live rounds continue to be fired annually at PTA.
On April 20, 2023, PTA invited school children from all over the island and the general public to “Experience Pohakuloa Day” in the main base compound area. Although billed as an “Open House,” with the Army claiming that it was “Rolling out the Welcome Mat,” our organization was prohibited from entry to offer information on the bombing and toxins at PTA.
We were forced to stand outside the main gate where it is difficult to hand out information to moving vehicles entering. Inside, from press reports, it was all fluff talk about recycling, stewardship of the land, and partnership with the community. It was like German officers describing Auschwitz during the Nuremberg trials as “A FAMILY CAMP.” Outside the main gate during the Open House event, our radiation monitors registered readings several times background levels.
Our organization says enough! It is time to Stop the Bombing of Pohakuloa! Cancel the military leases of state land and stop the use of other lands simply taken by presidential or governor’s executive orders. Make the military clean up its toxic mess, and return the land to the Hawaiian people. The military bombing of the land is the ultimate form of desecration and directly conflicts with the spirit of Aloha that is at the heart of Hawaii.
Bombing is NOT the way to world peace or to protect the environment. Hawaii, and the world, need more Aloha, not more war and training for war. Peace is a victory for all.
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About the Author
Jim Albertini is a former Catholic School teacher and long-time peace and social justice activist since the U.S. war on Vietnam.
He is the founder of Malu ‘Aina Center for Non-violent Education and Action, an all volunteer non-profit organization focused on peace, justice and sustainable organic farming on Hawaii Island.
Jim has done research on the use of depleted uranium at Pohakuloa Military Training Area. He is the co-author of the book “The Dark Side of Paradise: Hawai’i in a Nuclear World.” There is a wide range of information (including the above book for free) on the website .
Jim can be reached at email@example.com.