The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, February 6, 2022 as part of the “Raise Your Hand” column in the Insight section.
By: Mahina Amoy, Kamehameha Schools c/o 2021 | Dartmouth College c/o 2025
As I rang up the next customer at Bath and Body Works, I asked how her day was going. She replied, “Hard and exhausting.” Concerned, I discovered her family, like so many others, was forced to temporarily relocate due to the Red Hill disaster. She joked about grabbing more aromatherapy products for her stress as she shared her disbelief at the Navy’s inability to take responsibility for their actions and refusal to shut down fuel tanks.
This frustration has been echoed by many dismayed at the Navy’s carelessness and dishonesty. Sentiment worsens when people recall that the latest debacle harkens to an unfortunately similar occurrence in 2014, when an estimated 27,000 gallons of fuel leaked from Red Hill into the same aquifer. While many then felt reassured by the state’s claims that a permanent solution would follow, public trust has since deteriorated. The repeated failure of the military to manage its largest crises in Hawai’i necessitates a genuine reckoning of the military’s role in Hawai’i that is long overdue.
Put simply, locals have had enough. From the transformation of sacred Kaho’olawe into a desolate bombing range to the harsh discrimination and mistreatment of local Japanese Americans enforced by military personnel following the Pearl Harbor attacks, the military’s track record in Hawai’i is littered with instances of shameless breaches of public trust. Against this historical background, it is clear that Red Hill is just the latest instance of the military disregarding local priorities and values.
That the military’s values do not align with local values is further reinforced by actions of its personnel. For instance, large military beach parties that blast loud music and leave rubbish behind create a stigma that characterizes military individuals as irresponsible and disrespectful to the people and places who host them. Compounded with instances like Red Hill, many locals now see those in the military as no different than ignorant tourists, and who would blame them? At its extremes, some have even called for demilitarization.
The military brings millions of dollars into Hawaii, but failure to inculcate a sense of respect in military personnel has created a crisis worse than Red Hill.
— Mahina Amoy
This existing animosity is unfortunate, since the military brings in 7.2 billion dollars annually in direct expenditure that benefits local interests. Moreover, the military works directly with universities to hire recent local graduates. In fact, about 90% of the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard’s over 5,000 employees are locals. The military also willingly offers to power local homes by housing large-scale renewable energy projects that otherwise would never have been built due to local “not in my backyard” protests. The military brings millions of dollars into Hawai’i, but failure to inculcate a sense of respect in military personnel has created a crisis worse than Red Hill.
Beyond economic interest, local families also have military connections who are proud to serve, and there are thousands of military personnel who do not fit in the contemporary caricature. These are all things we should return to and celebrate.
I am one among many who are grateful to those who have dedicated their lives to protecting our country, but this does not excuse the military from paying that same gratitude to the local communities that host them. Left unattended to, the issue will only intensify and spill into further anger and distrust. Unfortunately, the Pentagon’s recent decision to appeal the Red Hill ruling proves that even this disaster has not changed its tone or view of Hawai’i. To rectify this, military leaders must no longer turn a blind eye to the failure to remediate relationships between military and local communities. The fate of our water, people, and communities depend on it.
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