The high-pitched whine of aerials last night and a couple of pre-dawn firecrackers this morning served as warning of the fireworks free-for-all in store tonight. Koko isn't keen on snap, crackle, ka-boom and pop, so we’ll dig out of here before things get too wild and she turns into a trembling, slinking, miserable little pup.
Then come tomorrow, we’ll see the remains of the frenzy in the red paper, pieces of wire and other debris littering the roads, yards and beaches, washing into the ocean, settling on the reef.
It seems that everything connected with the military, even the observance of our nation’s independence, has its toxic residue.
Kyle Kajihiro, program director of the American Friends Service Committee and DMZ Hawaii, and Bob Nichols, a journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area, outlined the extent of the military’s dirty footprint on Hawaii on the recent KKCR show that Jimmy Trujillo and I hosted.
The U.S. has some 161 military facilities throughout the Hawaiian Islands, and as Kyle noted, they create “a toxic shadow that affects the surrounding communities.” Hawaii has 800 to 1,000 military-contaminated sites, many of them around Pearl Harbor.
While the contaminants at these sites all have environmental and human health implications — none of them good— what I found especially alarming was the revelation that the military also has introduced so-called “depleted uranium,” or DU, to the Islands.
For a more thorough understanding of just what this is all about, check out Bob’s article on the radioactive uranium that American weapons have unleashed in Iraq. The piece won a 2005 Project Censored award.
When weapons made with uranium components are shot or exploded, they create Uranium Oxide Dust (UOD). And as Bob explained on the radio show, the particles are so tiny, they can penetrate our skin and clothing, even protective gear that is intended to prevent radiation exposure.
Kyle said that documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and through litigation indicate the military engaged in classified weapons testing in Hawaii, including the Davy Crockett, one of the smallest nuclear weapons ever built.
These weapons were possibly used at the Army’s training facilities at Makua on Oahu, the island of Kahoolawe (which served as a bombing target for some 50 years) and the Big Island’s Pohakuloa, where “DU” has been detected. Additionally, Kyle said, evidence has come to light that the Army used weapons with uranium components at Schofield, also on Oahu.
“This goes against what the Army has said for many years,” he said. In other words, the military has consistently denied using these materials in Hawaii — until it got busted and the truth was revealed.
But just because the military’s dirty little secret is now public doesn’t mean that anything has changed. Kyle has attempted to learn more about the extent of radioactive contamination by filing numerous FOIA requests. They've all been ignored by the military, which is meanwhile seeking permits to avoid cleaning up its radioactive mess.
And that raises a key question: can microscopic particles that are easily blown about by the wind ever be cleaned up? And even if they could be, how much is being re-introduced by the troops and equipment returning from Iraq, where we know this stuff has been used?
That leads to another question: what is UOD doing to the health of American troops, the people of Iraq and the citizens and visitors of Hawaii? Bob said these particles cause cancer wherever they settle in the body, and other maladies as well.
But the military is using the same strategy of denial it followed when confronted with veterans sickened by Agent Orange — tested years ago in Wailua and used extensively in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia — and suffering from Gulf War syndrome.
What’s more, Kyle said Hawaii’s Congressional delegation has expressed absolutely no interest in the DU issue, and a bill that would have called for DU monitoring in areas around military installations died quietly in the state Legislature.
Meanwhile, even though the military has made numerous messes in Hawaii, most of which have never been cleaned and likely never will, it is still seeking to expand its presence in the Islands, especially on Kauai, which I wrote about for the Honolulu Weekly.
And why? Who is the big enemy we’re facing? It’s not Russia any more, and China could bring us to our knees simply by refusing to buy any more of our bonds.
Our huge standing military, and the activities it’s carrying out all around the world, is costing taxpayers a fortune. It’s also taking a huge toll on human lives, both our own soldiers, who are killed and maimed in combat and committing suicide at unprecedented rates, and the civilian populations that are increasingly being targeted.
So on this, the day set aside to celebrate America’s freedom from the tyranny of the British colonial power, it seems appropriate to re-examine the true price we're paying for having the world's largest military and remember the words of John Quincy Adams:
“We are friends of freedom everywhere, defenders only of our own.”