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We need to ask hard questions about RIMPAC

What's the environmental cost of 48 ships, six submarines, and hundreds of aircraft?

From June 26-August 1, Hawai`i will be subject to a series of simulated war games, the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC). Held every two years, and involving 23 countries, RIMPAC is the largest series of maritime training exercises in the world. Contrary to what we will be told, this event will not create security for the U.S., for Hawai`i, or for any country who participates.

Ultimately, this grotesque display of billion-dollar weapons systems serves the profit interests of the “defense” industries and the politicians they bankroll. The military industrial complex does not care about the number of dead and maimed on either side of the gun. They do not keep us safe. On the contrary, they make us all more insecure and afraid of each other.

We need to ask hard questions about the environmental cost of 48 ships, six submarines, and hundreds of aircraft invading our shores. What is the carbon footprint of RIMPACʻs live-fire training, sunken ships, explosive ordnance disposal, and expended fuel? What are the impacts on the military personnel who are exposed to such toxins every day?

Womenʻs Voices, Women Speak (WVWS) is a Hawai`i coalition of grassroots activists working to raise awareness about the effects of US militarism. We promote a platform of genuine security for all, rather than the sham of “national security” or “regional security” we will be fed by RIMPAC.

As part of the International Womenʻs Network Against Militarism, we also work in solidarity with communities in Guahan (Guam), Korea, Okinawa, Vieques (Puerto Rico), the Philippines and the Marshall Islands. We demand that all our governments prioritize human needs over military spending and corporate welfare.

We work in solidarity with these women because like us, they are all fighting to protect their sacred sites from further military expansion. Like us, they want to protect and recover their land and way of life.

These struggles are particularly important for women and girls, who are at increased risk for rape and kidnapping when U.S. soldiers deploy. This is no exaggeration considering the DODʻs recent report on the epidemic of rape within the U.S. military. There have also been millions of orphaned children abandoned by U.S. soldiers who are left vulnerable to the worst kinds of exploitation and stigma.

Militarism also leaves toxic waste sites that leave women at high risk for reproductive abnormalities, including miscarriage and birth defects. Women are still doing the majority of caretaking for children, the elderly, the disabled and the environment, the majority of which is performed outside the wage economy. This labor doesnʻt register in national statistics of “GDP” or in the official costs of war. But women and children will pay the price for war and militarized peace, even though they never asked for this version of “security.”

Here in Hawai`i, communities have fought hard to have our voices heard. We ended live-fire training on Kaho`olawe and in Mākua Valley, which took massive community effort. Unfortunately, it has continued on an even greater scale in Pōhakuloa on Hawai`i Island and in Līhu`e, O`ahu, more commonly known today as Schofield Barracks.

RIMPAC is a marketing tool to sell the notion that the US military is a force to simultaneously revere and fear.  This “re-fear” campaign is the opposite of genuine security. Instead of respecting the will of communities, the US practices a policy of “we will do whatever we want because we can.” What other conclusion can be drawn from such huge expenditures, and such flagrant disregard for the environment and local communities?

Any attempt to critique the war agenda is routinely marginalized by the mainstream media. However, there is reason to believe that the tide is finally turning. Given the avalanche of data on the twin catastrophes of Iraq and Afghanistan, even Fox News has had to admit that Bush and Cheney were dead wrong. These are important facts to remember when the RIMPAC planes begin flying overhead, seducing our precious youth to enlist.

Of course it makes perfect sense that so many of our young people throughout the US and the “US Pacific territories” feel they have no choice but to join the military. The fastest growing jobs in the US are in the fast food sector. The costs for college tuition have grown faster than health care. The military recruits in our poorest neighborhoods, promising signing bonuses, exciting careers, education, housing and world travel.

But we need to help young people see the serious risk they face when they sign their lives over to the military. Returned soldiers suffer elevated rates of mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness and PTSD. In 2012, there were more military deaths from suicide than there were from combat action (394 vs 295), numbers that don’t factor in the high rate of suicides among veterans, 6,500 in 2012. Additionally, there is often great stress put on members’ families who may face a very different person returning home from the horrors of war.

RIMPAC glosses over these costs and instead focuses on the glory of being the “hero,” the “good-guy,” the alpha-male—imagery that only increases the shame around the difficult aftermath of war. None of which takes into account the many soldiers who never came home. All of these hardships are mirrored on the “other” side, with families in the occupied countries torn asunder as well.

RIMPACʻs version of “regional cooperation” means violent, brutal exercises on lands and waters in Hawaiʻi that participant nations will then carry home to engage in military deployment and dominance in their home regions. 

During the 2011 Asia/Pacific Economic Conference, then Secretary-of-State Hillary Clinton announced the “Pacific Pivot.” With this decision, excess U.S. military personnel were directed from the ravaged Middle East to our Moana Nui. This marriage of “free trade” and militarism portends another spectacle of disaster, another triumph of corporate imperialism over people power.

Please join WVWS as we and unite with communities around the world under one banner: “No bases anywhere.”

Kim Compoc and Shelley Muneoka are organizers with Womenʻs Voices, Women Speak. http://wvws808.blogspot.com/.

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