“Your Majesty, please…I don’t like to complain,
But down here below, we are feeling great pain.”
– Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle
Lihue – A discussion on Kauai in August explored the impacts of a U.S. economy too intensely focused on its military operations overseas. Real security, it was said, will come when Hawaii is not dominated by military spending but instead supports more immediate human needs: health, education, preservation of the environment, sustainable energy, and fostering a culture the builds rather than destroys.
Invited by the Kauai Alliance for Peace and Social Justice, organizers of a community forum on the meaning of real security on August 7, Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (D—District 2) arrived during the second speaker’s presentation. Bisecting a discussion that examined how militarism affected real security for Hawaii’s people, Hirono gave her own short presentation in which she briefly addressed education, creation of green jobs, the BP oil spill, GMO crops, the Akaka Bill, and her vote against the request for an additional $37 billion in war funding. Hirono, who is running for reelection in November’s midterm election, said she had “serious and growing concerns about funding for the war in Afghanistan.” She added that she did not think peace would be brought to the region through the military.
Security, Hirono said, also means economic, food, and energy security and that the way to become more secure is through education.
“We need to enable our kids to be able to think critically and in an environment that is supportive,” Hirono said.
After answering questions, without hearing the speakers before or after her, Hirono departed, leaving American Friends Service Committee Hawaii program director Kyle Kajihiro to offer his thoughts on the meaning of real security.
“What once gave life is now a toxic place for exporting and planning wars.”
Kajihiro examined security in terms of militarization and how it impacts Hawaii. He said he wants to challenge “the myth that empire equals peace and security.”
To remain in a constant state of warfare, even in the absence of open hostilities, is to build on the threat of violence for the purpose of maintaining control and to suppress dissent, Kajihiro said. The impact of war stretches from Afghanistan and Iraq to Makua Valley and Schofield Barracks on Oahu where soldiers train and perfect their craft. “If the people of Hawaii don’t take action to stop these illegal wars, we become [not only] accessories to these crimes,” Kajihiro said, “but also their victims.”
“Look at Ke Awalau o Puuloa, what is now called ‘Pearl Harbor,’” Kajihiro continued. “This is a perfect example of a threat to real security under military occupation. What once was a food basket for Oahu with 36 fish ponds has become a giant toxic ‘Superfund site.’ What once gave life is now a toxic place for exporting and planning wars.”
Kajihiro went on to revisit the history of 20th century American and Japanese militarism in the Pacific, describing what he called the disastrous outcomes of the false premise that a loaded gun can somehow bring security. He suggested an alternative to the current model would be one based on meeting human needs and working toward a healthy, clean environment that sustains life.
The very notion of security in the United States today, Kajihiro explained, is based on the pursuit of something absolute and unattainable.
“In order to have our humanity intact, we have to have dialogue and openness and that requires some risk,” Kajihiro said. “To paraphrase theologian Dorothee Sölle, ‘societies, like all living things, need air and light to live.’”
Kauai Fresh green house. Between 2006 and 2010 Hawaii residents receiving emergency food assistance from food banks increased by nearly 40 percent to a total of 14 percent of Hawaii’s population. (Photo: Jon Letman)
The casualties can be seen in Hawaii from injured war vets to Hawaii’s “homeless” who are overlooked by a society obsessed with achieving a false sense of security through its military at any cost, even its own people.
Kajihiro was followed by the final speaker of the evening, Andrea Brower, co-director of Malama Kauai, a non-profit organization that works toward innovative and sustainable solutions for the island.
Brower acknowledged the relatively small turnout for the forum stemmed, in part, from a combination of people feeling powerless or lacking the belief that they are sufficiently informed to participate.
“In a capitalist worker economy where the cost of living is so high, people are tired from working two, even three jobs. It makes people blank out,” Brower said. “To really examine the problems of the world can feel like everything is unraveling.”
“We need to reinvigorate our culture with compassion and a sense of connection to other people on the planet …”
Brower said that problems can appear so vast and complex that people can’t imagine how they can do anything to effect change and as a result disengage or tune out.
To remedy that, Brower suggests people consider their own passions toward positive social transformation and ecological renewal and commit themselves to working toward the ideas and values they hold. Brower said contributing to positive change can take many forms including volunteering, politics, media, education, or something as simple as growing one’s own food in a home garden.
“If every person on this island was engaged in contributing to our community and to the land and committed to positive social change in a way that inspired and excited them, I think we would be on a different path,” Brower said. “I think we need to reinvigorate our culture with compassion and a sense of connection to other people on the planet, to recognize our common humanity.”
Asked if Hawaii can claim real security now, Brower was clear: “No, definitely not.” She pointed to global sustainability challenges from oil insecurity, economic insecurity, militarization, resource depletion, and climate change as forces which compromise true security in destabilizing and unpredictable ways.
But Brower cited a long list of areas where greater security could be fostered by changes to local agriculture, energy use and production, construction and waste disposal practices, public transportation and stronger community networks.
Kalo loi on Kauai’s north shore. (Photo: Jon Letman)
A few ideas that Brower suggested would lead to real security for Kauai included the full enforcement of Hawaii’s water right laws; incentivizing soil restoration; support for the development of local food processing facilities; a greater emphasis on eating locally-grown food; expansion of farmer and garden education programs; the creation of smaller, community-owned energy systems; and the production of more local building material and a revision of building codes to allow for its use.
Organizers of the forum estimate the turnout was between 50 and 60 people. A public event related to GMO crops one week later drew roughly twice as many people, yet forum participants and organizers of the real security forum were not disappointed.
Raymond Catania with the Kauai Alliance for Peace and Social Justice said participation was consistent with national trends. “Some people asked, ‘aren’t you just preaching to the choir?’” Catania said. “But it is important to preach to the choir so they can sing to the community.”
“It was good Kauai Alliance did this because I don’t think anyone else has,” said community organizer KipuKai Kualii. “I do think there is value in this type of discussion in that it motivates people.”
Kajihiro agreed: “We need more conversations that reframe security in this way. The question of security has not been asked from the viewpoint of ordinary people. Real peace and security is something we can have through solidarity, rather than force of arms. Real security will not be gained through threats to others.”
“Today we have so much power and technology that is supposed to make us secure, yet it achieves the exact opposite. It’s a dead end approach,” Kajihiro added. “We need to step back from the abyss. We need to figure out a different way to relate to each other on this small planet.”
The three-and-a-half hour forum was unreported by local media.