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Nation Under The Gun: Militarism and Resistance in Hawai'i

Militarism and colonialism are inseparable forces which have shaped modern Hawai'i. Over a hundred years since the U.S. military participated in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai'i in 1893, militarism continues to distort the cultural and political environment like a magnet pulling at particles of iron. Militarism in Hawai'i is the product of "manifest destiny," the racist ideology which drove the U.S. expansion into the Pacific and the Caribbean in the nineteenth century. Located at the crossroads of Asia-Pacific commerce and military routes, Hawai'i's geopolitical importance makes it a centerpiece of U.S. military strategy.


Today, Hawai'i is the "linchpin" of U.S. military strategy in the Asia-Pacific region and the command center of what Walden Bello calls "a transnational garrison state." From its headquarters in Honolulu, the Pacific Command (U.S.PACOM) and the Commander-in-Chief U.S. Pacific Fleet (U.S.CINCPAC) manages a vast network of overseas bases and enforces U.S. hegemony in the Asia-PacifIc region. Hawai'i has also served as the staging area for the U.S. to launch its wars in Vietnam and Iraq.

U.S.PACOM has 300,000 military personnel in the theater (one fifth of the total U.S. active duty military force), including 100,000 forward deployed forces in the western Pacific. U.S.PACOM oversees 105 million square miles, 43 countries, and over 60% of the world's population. In 1998, the military had 47,064 active duty personnel and 85,350 dependents stationed in Hawai'i. Together the military population made up 11% of Hawai'i's 1,193,001 residents. By comparison, the K...naka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) population was 220,748, or 18.5 per cent of the total population.

The current status of U.S. military forces in Hawai'i reflects the convergence of a number of factors. With the break up of the Soviet Union, the U.S. has shifted its posture from the Cold War Soviet threat to a so-called "terrorist threat" from the Third World. Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee wrote, "The Asia/Pacific region is the geopolitical center of the struggle for world power...Pursuit of economic advantage has largely replaced ideology as the driving force of foreign and military policies." At the same time, U.S. economic interests in the region and pressures from inside the military-industrial complex have driven the military to seek out new enemies such as China and North Korea to justify the proliferation of forces and new weapons in the region.

For the colonized peoples of the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. military represents a global "super-cop" which suppresses insurgencies and local conflicts that might destabilize conditions for transnational capital. While U.S. colonies are told that the military presence is for their protection, the military's actual function is to maintain order and protect U.S. interests, often in spite of the local population. The military also maintains U.S. hegemony in the Pacific through support of foreign militaries, like the murderous Indonesian military, which has been linked to the slaughter of over 200,000 East Timorese with the help of hundreds of millions of dollars INA


The central conflict between indigenous Hawaiians and the military is over the control of land, an issue which is intrinsically tied to the question of sovereignty and cultural survival. The military expropriated and occupied the richest and most strategic locations, including important religious sites, fishing, farming, hunting, and gathering areas.

As a result, Hawai'i is one of the most densely militarized regions under U.S. control, with the military controlling 205,925 acres, or roughly 5% of the land. On O'ahu, the most densely populated island, the military controls 85,718 acres out of 382,148 acres, or 22.4% of all the land. Statewide, the combined armed services have 21 installations, 26 housing complexes, 8 training areas, and 19 miscellaneous bases and operating stations.

The largest percentage of the military's land holdings are made up of so-called "ceded lands." In 1898, nearly 1.8 million acres of former national and crown lands of the Kingdom of Hawai'i were illegally taken by the United States. In 1959, when Hawai'i was admitted as a state, the military retained control of approximately 180,000 acres of ceded lands, while the rest reverted to the state. The law required surplus lands to be returned to the state after World War II, but with the exception of Kaho'olawe and Barber's Point, very little has actually been returned. Today, the military controls approximately 112,173 acres of ceded land, representing 54% of its land holdings.

Militarization has also impacted Indigenous Hawaiians access to Hawaiian Home Lands. The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 set aside 187,000 acres for Native homesteading. A 1983 Federal-State Task Force concluded that 13,580 acres of Hawaiian Home Lands were improperly withdrawn through presidential executive orders. Of these improperly transferred lands, 1,356 acres in Lualualei were removed from the Hawaiian Home Lands inventory and turned over to the Navy. In 1999, under a land swap agreement to settle the improper transfer, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands received 580 acres at Barber's Point in exchange for the land at Lualualei. Although the land at Barber's Point was supposedly more valuable than the Lualualei parcel, 770 acres were lost from the Native land base through this deal between the state and federal governments.


The militarization of land in Hawai'i negatively impacts the cultural survival of Native Hawaiians, whose genealogy, spirituality, and livelihood depend on having direct and vital connections to the land. By displacing K...naka Maoli from their homelands, militarism in Hawai'i perpetrates cultural genocide. Statistics illustrate the legacy of colonization: 40% of the homeless or houseless are K...naka Maoli; 31% of K...naka Maoli receive annual incomes less than $4000; 32% drop out of high school; only 5% have college degrees; and approximately a third of welfare recipients and persons in prison are K...naka Maoli. K...naka Maoli have the lowest life expectancy (5 years less than all other groups in Hawai'i), and the highest infant mortality and suicide rates. In 1998, out of a total of 197,673 acres of Hawaiian Home Lands, only 40,703 acres, representing 6,547 homestead awards, were actually used by Kanaka Maoli homesteaders. Between 1920 and 1990, approximately 30,000 K...naka Maoli died while waiting for homestead land. As of June 1998, there were 29,702 applicants on the waiting list.

Military uses of the land conflict with fundamental Hawaiian values of aloha '...ina (love for the land) and m...lama '...ina (to care for the land). Typical environmental impacts include the destruction of ecosystems and protected species and contamination by solvents, organic compounds, fuels, explosives, chemical weapons, heavy metals, radioactive substances, and unexploded ordnance. Large scale construction projects associated with the military have destroyed agricultural lands and cultural sites. As a result, traditional and customary practices such as farming, fishing, hunting, gathering and worship have been irreparably harmed or extinguished in certain areas. The following are some examples of military impacts on the '...ina (land).

- At Mfkapu, site of a U.S. Marine Corps Base at'ohe Bay, hundreds of iwi - ancestral bones- were unearthed and displaced by military housing.

- After a twenty-year struggle, the controversial H-3 freeway was completed, the most expensive roadway ever built in the United States. Paid for by U.S. defense funds, it destroyed important archaeological sites in H...lawa Valley and'ohe.

- Ke'awalau o Pu'uloa (i.e. Pearl Harbor), once the center of one of the most productive agricultural and aquacultural systems in Hawai'i with over 36 fishponds in production, was destroyed by the dredging of the Pearl Harbor Naval Station. Today, Pearl Harbor is one of the most contaminated military installations in the nation, with six Superfund sites, and contaminants that include lead, TCE, mercury, and petroleum. Furthermore, Navy ships have flushed radioactive cobalt and chemicals into the harbor. Subsistence fishermen in the harbor, which include mostly Hawaiian, Pacific Islanders and Filipinos, are at the greatest risk of exposure to toxins.


Despite the military's enormous power, militarism could not exist in Hawai'i without collaboration, or at least acquiescence from the local community. A key factor in the maintenance of militarism in Hawai'i is the high degree of economic dependency on military expenditures. In their single-minded pursuit of military funds, government officials and business leaders have glossed over the "hidden" costs of militarism, and have been willing to trade the long term economic security of the people of Hawai'i for short term economic gains. This dependency has skewed the economic and social priorities of the State, stifled economic diversification and sustainability, and in the process, has made Hawai'i more economically vulnerable to decisions and events far beyond the control of the people of Hawai'i.


Because of the military's overwhelming presence in Hawai'i, resistance to militarism was relatively individualized and spontaneous until the 1970s, when an organized movement against the military occupation of certain lands first emerged in Hawai'i. Emboldened by Third World liberation struggles and the U.S. Civil Rights, ethnic power and anti-war movements, and inspired by the Hawaiian cultural renaissance, Kanaka Maoli and progressive activists began to push for a more radical, anti-militarist and anti-colonialist agenda. The various elements of the movement came together in the effort to free Kaho'olawe. As communities began to demand access and control over their lands, new conflicts with the military materialized, including Nohili, Mfkapu,, Pu'uloa, Waimanalo, M...kua, Pfhakuloa, and Lualualei.

Kaho'olawe and M...kua are two examples of how the K...naka Maoli movement has resisted militarism. The first example of Kaho'olawe is important because it was critical to the development of the Hawaiian movement. The second case describes the ongoing struggle over M...kua and reveals opportunities as well as the complexities and challenges for demilitarization and sovereignty.


In the 1970s, Kaho'olawe became a potent symbol of Kanaka Maoli cultural revival as well as anti-imperialist struggle in the emerging Hawaiian movement. The island is considered to be kinolau (a physical form; an embodiment) of Kanaloa, god of the sea, and thus sacred to K...naka Maoli. The Navy bombed Kaho'olawe relentlessly for over thirty years, which caused severe damage to the ecology and cultural sites.

Beginning in 1976, the Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana (PKO) staged bold land occupations during scheduled Naval exercises to protest the bombing and to assert Kanaka Maoli cultural rights. That same year, PKO also filed a lawsuit against the Navy. These actions politicized many K...naka Maoli, and made the phrase "aloha '...ina" (love for the land) a slogan of the movement. In addition, international solidarity was critical in the campaign, including the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific movement's efforts to force foreign governments to withdraw from joint military exercises on Kaho'olawe.

In 1977, two young activists "disappeared" crossing the channel between Kaho'olawe and Maui: George Helm, the president of the PKO and a musician, and Kimo Mitchell, a commercial fisherman and National Park Service manager. While many suspected foul play, their disappearance increased the sense of urgency in the movement and generated wider support.

After discovering a wealth of prehistoric sites, archaeologists confirmed what K...naka Maoli had said all along, that Kaho'olawe is culturally and spiritually important to Hawaiians. This led to a 1980 consent decree which required the Navy to limit its use of the island and begin cleaning up certain areas. It also allowed PKO to have monthly access to the island. Following the consent decree, the entire island was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1990, President Bush ordered the discontinuation of Kaho'olawe as a training range. The Kaho'olawe Island Conveyance Commission recommended that the island be returned to the state. Congress later appropriated $400 million to clean up and restore the island. In 1993, a state law created the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) to oversee clean up, restoration and resource management. This statute also specified that the island would eventually be incorporated into a Native Hawaiian nation upon recognition from the U.S. government.

In 1998 the Navy began to clean up unexploded ordnance (UXO). The clean-up calls for removal of UXOs from 100% of the surface area and to the depth of four feet in selected areas. However, with just three years left under the clean-up plan, only 400 acres have been cleared, out of a total of 28,600 acres. Although the Kaho'olawe movement succeeded in winning the return and partial clean-up of the island, some have criticized the movement for having compromised its stand against militarism in order to cooperate with the Navy and Congress on clean-up and restoration. The lessons of Kaho'olawe are very relevant to the continuing struggle to free M...kua Valley, a live-fire training area located on the west side of O'ahu.


K...naka Maoli occupied M...kua for at least 1,000 years and consider it to be wahi pana (sacred area). M...kua means "parents" in the Hawaiian language, suggesting its genealogical significance to K...naka Maoli. The valley contains at least three documented heiau (temple) sites and numerous other ancient sites, while the beach contains many burials. Waters offshore were important fishing grounds and the protective walls of the valley, a training area for traditional martial arts. M...kua also contains a critical habitat for numerous native species.

In the 1930s the military began using the valley as a gun emplacement. Subsequently, the military expanded into the entire valley during World War II, evicting several hundred residents and destroying their homes. Former valley residents recount how the military painted a white cross on a M...kua church and bombed it for target practice. Although the military was supposed to release the land after the war, none was returned. In 1964, over the objections of Hawai'i's Governor, President Johnson signed Executive Order 11166 designating 3,236 acres Of the valley as a training facility. The state then leased an additional 1,515 acres to the Army for 65 years for a mere dollar.

Military exercises at M...kua have included ship-to-shore and aerial bombardment, amphibious assault, mortar, napalm and rocket training, and ordnance disposal. Many fear that toxic chemicals from the explosives contaminate the soil and groundwater. Large fires have caused serious harm to endangered species and human settlements. Recently, in 1995 a fire scorched over half of the valley's 4,700 acres and burned the shelters of families living across the highway.

In the 1970s, as the movement to free Kaho'olawe was building, activists and residents of the Wai'anae area began to push for the return of M...kua. In modern times, Hawaiian families have used M...kua beach as a temporary residence, a pu'uhonua (refuge; sanctuary) for homeless families, who see the beach as a place to heal their lives. These settlements have been under assault by the military and the state. Since the 1970s, the state has carried out at least three mass evictions of Kanaka Maoli families from the beach. The last eviction took place in June 1996 when the state, complying with terms set by the military, evicted over 280 people and arrested sixteen. This has made M...kua a symbol of resistance and sovereignty, and has also exposed the contradiction of Kanaka Maoli poverty and homelessness alongside the military occupation of Hawaiian lands.

In 1997 activists won major victories, blocking two Marine Corps amphibious landings at M...kua. On Easter morning, an interfaith prayer service on the beach stopped a scheduled exercise. Then, in the fall, the Marines announced another amphibious landing only days after a memorial service for popular Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was held at M...kua. The community, outraged at the Marines' arrogance and disrespect, braced for a confrontation. Cultural practitioners built two religious altars on the beach, and groups held demonstrations and prepared for civil disobedience. After holding an unprecedented meeting with about thirty community members at Camp Smith, Admiral Prueher, CINCPAC, ordered the military exercise be relocated.

Community groups have made progress in other areas. The Army has stepped up its environmental protection programs, including propagation and out-planting of endangered species. The Army also established a Kanaka Maoli advisory committee to develop protocols for access to religious shrines. In 1998, activist groups M...lama M...kua and Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit to compel the Army to do an environmental impact statement for all of its activities in M...kua, in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. In an out-of-court settlement, the Army agreed to halt live-fire training until it completed an environmental assessment. There has been no live-fire training in M...kua for nearly two years.


Although the military is deeply entrenched in Hawai'i, conditions and circumstances are constantly in flux, creating opportunities for demilitarization.

The Kanaka Maoli sovereignty movement has the greatest stake in demilitarization, and will probably continue to be the most direct and potent challenge to militarism in these islands. Land-based struggles will probably continue as the main mode of resistance in the near future because these struggles confront injustices most directly. However, struggles over economic and environmental justice may also become more prominent.

Nevertheless, planning for demilitarization requires accurate information. As a first step, independent parties should conduct a true accounting of the costs and impacts of militarism. The military must be made to disclose all pertinent environmental, economic and social data that may be necessary to assess the true impacts of its presence. Community groups could use this information to educate the public and policy makers and to agitate at every opportunity.

Beginning with areas that pose the greatest risk to health and the environment, the military should clean up all lands that it has contaminated, and must be held to the "polluter pays" principle. Clean up funds should help to employ and retrain workers who are transitioning out of military-dependent jobs. Furthermore, the Department of Defense should prepare contingency plans for the reduction and withdrawal of its forces, in anticipation of the day when the military must ask permission of a sovereign Hawaiian nation even to exist in Hawai'i.


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