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Essay

Ending RIMPAC, feeling peace

Reflections on trans-Pacific peace efforts in the midst of the largest military war-games exercise in Oceania.

in Militarism

Front page image: OKINAWA (Aug. 21, 2008), A CH46 helicopter transports Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133 to a bombing range off the coast of Okinawa. NMCB-133 is generating a plan to make the site more useable for Navy, Air Force, and Marine personnel after a survey team performed a site visit. U.S. Navy photo by Equipment Operator 2nd Class Jason Cummings


On June 24th, I was fortunate enough to celebrate Irei no Hi (慰霊の日, “day to console the dead”) at Jikoen Hongwanji, a day dedicated to memorializing peace through respect and commemoration for the 240,000 people who lost their lives in the Battle of Okinawa, which lasted from April through June 1945. Okinawa was the site of the only land battle in Japan during WWII and the battle resulted in the loss of a third of the local Okinawan population.

What distinguishes Irei no Hi from other days of remembrance is that its commitments extend to everyone—it not only honors the civilian victims of warfare, but also includes Japanese and U.S. soldiers, POWs, as well as the Korean and Taiwanese people subject to Japanese colonial occupation during this time who were swept into the violence of militarism. Irei no Hi reminds us of the precarious nature of life itself, as philosopher Judith Butler has written, and how our own fate is intimately bound to those of people we know, don’t know, and may never know.

In contrast to the relations that Irei no Hi seeks to cultivate and remember, RIMPAC 2018— the largest naval exercise in the world in which 26 participating nations coordinate military exercises and weapons training to control the Pacific and Indian Oceans—takes place again in Hawai‘i this summer. That Hawai‘i is coerced into serving as the host of RIMPAC reveals how, as demilitarization activist Kyle Kajihiro has written, “Hawai‘i is simultaneously a victim of American empire and an accessory in crimes of that empire.” What I find particularly absurd is that the theme of RIMPAC 2018 is “Capable, Adaptive, Partners,” which supposedly signifies an alleged commitment to partnership and camaraderie.

But what if the U.S. military industrial complex ceased to commit atrocities that, in fact, destroy relationships through the creation and continual perpetuation of settler/colonial legacies of alienation, inequity and genocide? What if instead of partnerships built upon the assumption of perpetual warfare and violence, we follow the example of Irei no Hi and prioritize peace over war, and honor the relations that have existed, continue to exist, and are yet to come?

Irei no Hi moves away from the devastating logics that encourage military spending and make perpetual enemies out of “others,” and instead exemplifies a model of relation that forces us to confront the reality that living necessarily means finding a way to live with others and assuming responsibility for a collective future.

On the morning of Irei no Hi, labor organizer Lisa Grandinetti said that peace requires that we first ask ourselves, “where does the pain we feel come from?” To answer this, we must confront the legacies of violence that persist into the present and the histories that we have all been force-fed by the industries of memory—memorials, museums, schools—that do the remembering and forgetting for us in narratives that uphold and are inseparable from structures of power. Having grown up in Hawaiʻi, I know how much the violence of complicity with war and occupation is willfully forgotten every single day in order to sustain the liberal fictions of multicultural paradise upon which so many local people’s sense of self rely.

And so in this economy of memory, where we must accept the possibility of forgetting, it is sometimes difficult for me to negotiate what it means to respect and remember those who acted—and still act—in the service of imperial aggression when that space in my limited memory could be saved for others. This tension has elucidated to me how peace is not always easy, but it is always necessary, and perhaps in a more just distribution of memory, narratives don’t need to compete. As Women’s Voices, Women Speak organizer and activist Terri Keko‘olani remarks on Pu‘uloa: “We always remember and respect the people who lost their lives on December 7. We don’t come [to Pearl Harbor] to disturb their stories but to remember that all of Hawai‘i suffered that day and to imagine a future where this can be a memorial for peace rather than war.”

The relationality that Irei no Hi highlights challenge us to consider what peace looks, and more importantly, feels like. As poet and demilitarization activist Aiko Yamashiro said at Irei no Hi, “there is political peace in Okinawa, but people still feel it [violence] happening; people and places are still suffering. There’s no peace unless we feel it in our personal relationships, in our families, with the ʻāina.” She discussed how her time with the International Women’s Network Against Militarism in Okinawa elucidated to her that peace is an active, daily practice—one, I would add, that requires vulnerability of us and reveals how, despite the totalizing power of the individualizing logics of capitalism and neoliberalism, it is our relations with the lives around us that constitute our very being in this world.

The violence and economic dependency that U.S. military occupation brings to Okinawa—whether its sexual violence against women or helicopters crashing on schools—should be familiar to those of us in Hawai‘i, where the destructive consequences of militarism are all too clear in the history of the illegal annexation and overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, as well as the bombing of Kaho‘olawe, the uranium poisoning in Pōhakuloa, and the desecration of Mākua Valley, Mōkapu, and Pu‘uloa at the hands of U.S. military training, amongst many other places.

In an era when the military industrial complex is trying to play us all by taking up discourses of environmental stewardship and care, it is imperative that our practices of peace, hope, respect, and remembrance don’t stop at our human relations, but extend to ‘āina as well. As Hawaiian independence organizer and scholar Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua has written, renewing our relationship to land through an active practice of aloha ‘āina requires that we center our kuleana to the places in which we reside, and for those of us descended from families who settled on these islands, this means “actively supporting Kānaka Maoli…to rebuild Indigenous structures that allow for the transformation of settler-colonial relations.”

An end to RIMPAC and U.S. military occupation is a crucial part of decolonization not just in Hawai‘i or Okinawa, but for all places in and across the Pacific afflicted by the violence of militarism. To paraphrase the social movement historian and scholar Robin D. G. Kelley, we have to think beyond the limiting framework of division that would have us believe that “Hawaiian issues” have nothing to do with those of us concerned with “Okinawan issues,” or vice versa. Instead, we must be attentive to what these movements are advocating, imagining, and building, because the decolonial, more-than-human world they’re striving for may just allow us to feel the peace that will free us all.


Sam Ikehara completed her B.A. and M.A. at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and is currently a PhD. student at the University of Southern California.

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