Thursday, September 2, 2010

Jon Letman: "In Search of Real Security: A Closer Look at Our Basic Needs in a Time of Crisis"

Many thanks to Koohan Paik for sharing news about this hopeful dialogue taking place in Hawai'i. The filmmaker and author participated in a panel addressing genuine security last month.

Jon Letman covered the event, "In Search of Real Security, Part One: A Closer Look at Our Basic Needs in a Time of Crisis" for The Hawaii Independent. Truth Out reposted the two-part series.

Letman points out that the U.S. militaristic public policy that spends trillions of tax and borrowed (from China and other foreign nations) dollars on military escalation and perpetual wars has resulted in less, not more security—while creating suffering for many millions of people and environmental devastation in its planetary wake.

Koohan, Kyle Kajihiro of DMZ Hawai'i and the rest of the panel explored the overwhelming issue of our time—How do we shift from rule by a destructive, fearful, toxic culture of war, death, environmental destruction, and economic predation to rule by a constructive, healthy culture of life-affirmative policies and institutions?

Although written from a Hawaiian-American perspective, the issues and insights apply to everyone because U.S. militarism, network of bases, perpetual wars, and unreasonable anxiety over "security" affects the entire world:
“Politics isn’t a game. It’s making this country better and what people represent. It’s a massive jobs program. For example, building the infrastructure of this country, and it’s not just the highways, it’s public transportation. It’s taking the money, from spending money on war in Iraq and Afghanistan and bringing it back home because there are major wars at home, people are struggling.”

—Amy Goodman, August 23, 2010
Lihue - Ours is a nation obsessed with security. Two months after the bitter sting of the 9/11 attacks, the federal government formed the Transportation Security Administration and, one year later, the Department of Homeland Security. In the decade that has followed we have been pounded with talk of security in every aspect of our lives: from computer security and private home security to food and energy security, national security, nuclear security, and global security.

(A Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) vehicle during a Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) military exercise on Kauai in the summer of 2008. Photo: Letman/The Hawaii Independent)

Yet as we approach our ninth year of war and occupation in Afghanistan and our eighth in Iraq, Americans have seen security at home eroded by financial collapse, a neglected infrastructure, a hemorrhaging job market, anemic social services and public health care crisis, volatile energy and food markets, and the complex realities of climate change.

In the face of home foreclosures, bankruptcy, and unemployment with many Americans’ income flat or falling and funding for basic civil institutions like public schools, libraries, and parks in decline, the question screams: “What is real security?”

When parents cannot keep their jobs, children cannot go to school, and families cannot stay in their homes, who in America today feels secure?

Typically in the United States, “security” is viewed in terms of freedom from violence, war, or the threat of terrorism. Throughout Bush’s two terms, Americans were incessantly told that preemptive war and victory in Iraq and Afghanistan were “vital to our national security.”

But if America’s embrace of militarism and a vast new untrackable surveillance culture is meant to reassure citizens that their security is being protected, at a minimum, Nidal Hassan, Faisal Shahzad, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, and Najibullah Zazi have all demonstrated that sending well over 1 million U.S. troops to fight and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, and spending over one trillion dollars on two wars since 2001 has not made us more secure, but less.

During the Cold War, President Dwight Eisenhower said: “We need an adequate defense, but every arms dollar we spend above adequacy has a long-term effect upon the nation and its security.” On another occasion, Eisenhower was quoted saying, “We will bankrupt ourselves in the vain search for absolute security.”

Following the September 11 hijackings, America’s airports were swept up in a new atmosphere of absolute insecurity. Quickly, and with almost no resistance, Americans were tossing out baby formula and toothpaste, removing shoes and belts and being swabbed for explosive residue every time they boarded an airplane.

At home and in the office we learned that our computers, telephones, credit cards, financial transactions, retail purchases, library visits, email and internet activity, and telephone calls were all fair game for surveillance. By 2010 untold thousands of ordinary American citizens had been added to terrorist watch lists and “no-fly lists” as a growing number of airports began using full body x-ray machines to project what are effectively nude images of us to security screeners all in the name of security.

As of August 2010, over 4,417 Americans have died in Iraq and 1,244 have died in Afghanistan. These numbers are dwarfed by the poorly recorded hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in those countries and a whole new generation of war veterans who have been severely injured, permanently disabled or driven to suicide. In January of this year the Veterans Affairs Department reported that suicides by male veterans (18 to 29 years old) between 2005 and 2007 had increased by 26 percent.

Like his predecessor, President Barack Obama regularly talks about security as it relates to the military in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan and at 770 U.S. military facilities in 39 countries around the world.

Speaking before 2010 graduating cadets at West Point, Barack Obama said: “You go abroad because your service is fundamental to our security back home.” In an earlier speech also at West Point, Obama called success in Afghanistan a “vital national security interest...”

Other politicians from Hawaii, like Obama, may talk about “living aloha,” but the word “security” is never far from their lips.

In his opening statement at a hearing on the 2011 Department of Defense Budget this June, Sen. Daniel Inouye said: “We need only to look at words spoken and actions taken ... by North Korea, Iran, and China to be reminded that our national security challenges go beyond those of irregular warfare.”

Sen. Daniel Akaka, who serves on committees and sub-committees overseeing Department of Homeland Security affairs, recently spoke about the importance of foreign language proficiency and cultural awareness as a vital tool for protecting national security. At a Senate hearing on the need to improve foreign language skills among Foreign Service officers, Akaka said, “Threats to our national security are becoming more complex, interconnected, and unconventional.” Language shortfalls, Akaka warned, “will continue to undermine our country’s national security.”

Republican Congressman Charles Djou, who won a special election in May after his two Democratic opponents split the vote, includes the following passage on his campaign website: “Hawaii has a unique and critical role in our national security. Our island chain is home to key military bases and stations, thousands of military personnel, and various strategic operations ... America must maintain its strong military and Hawaii must retain its central role in military preparedness...”

Last month, Inouye and Akaka joined Djou in voting for an additional $37 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only Rep. Mazie Hirono (2nd Dist.) voted against the war funding bill.

Earlier this month Hirono briefly participated in a community forum on Kauai entitled “In Search of Real Security for Kauai.”

The panel discussion, organized by the Kauai Alliance for Peace and Social Justice, invited Rep. Hirono to join four speakers from Kauai and Oahu for an evening of ideas and discussion of how to pursue real security in an era of economic distress, social dislocation, climate change, and perennial militarism.

The forum opened with filmmaker and author (The Superferry Chronicles) Koohan Paik of Kauai sharing the stage with community organizer KipuKai Kualii.

Paik and Kualii discussed real security in terms of government spending priorities with an emphasis on the militarized state of Hawaii and how they say that money could be better used.

Paik, born in California but raised in South Korea and Guam before moving to Kauai in 2000, spoke of the importance of viewing Hawaii from a Pacific island perspective.

“We always hear Hawaii being described as ‘out in the middle of nowhere’ or as ‘the most isolated place on the planet,’ but these descriptions are from a staunchly continental perspective.”

“The ocean,” Paik said, “connects us all into a single blue continent.” Stressing the cultural, historical, and linguistic ties between all Pacific peoples, Paik said, “We need to see the connection between Hawaii and all the Pacific islands because the military certainly does. Part of the [U.S.] military’s build-up on Guam is a missile defense shield hooked up to a network that includes the Pacific Missile Range Facility [on Kauai], Kwajalein [Marshall Islands], Vandenberg Air force Base, and Okinawa.”

Paik, who recently wrote on militarism in Guam and the Pacific, said the militarization of the Pacific (which she points out ironically means ‘peace’) is antithetical to real security for the people whose environment, culture, and well-being is adversely impacted by the military.

“If we think of ourselves [in the Pacific] as separate, we will always be a small, disempowered population, isolated and in the middle of nowhere,” Paik said. “But if we think of ourselves as connected by the ocean, we can be a viable political block.”

Paik said real security and sustainability won’t come until people in the Pacific detach themselves from militarism, corporatism, and what she calls the “colonial thinking that power and abundance come from outside rather than within.”

During her presentation, Paik cited statistics and examples of how she said a militarized Pacific did not serve the interest of its people.

According to the National Priorities Project, the United States has spent more than $1,070,000,000 (one trillion, seventy billion dollars) on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. This works out to nearly $3.5 billion for the people of Hawaii alone. After her talk, people approached her and said they didn’t realize how much was being spent on the military.

Real security, Paik said, will come when Hawaii is not dominated by military spending but instead supports more immediate human needs—health, education, preservation of the environment, sustainable energy, and fostering a culture the builds rather than destroys.

“We cannot continuously expand as if the earth’s resources are infinite,” Paik said. The result of placing the military as a top priority, she explained, is to leave ordinary people fighting amongst themselves, scrambling for whatever scraps are left.

Paik’s address was followed by Kualii, who suggested “real security” would come by addressing immediate community needs, specifically poverty, un(and under)-employment, hunger, and affordable housing...
Read the rest of "Part One" here. The rest of Letman's coverage, "In Search of Real Security, Part Two: Societies, Like All Living Things, Need Air and Light to Live" focuses on a prescription for a healthy, sustainable, genuinely secure society
“Your Majesty, please…I don’t like to complain,

But down here below, we are feeling great pain.”

- Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle
Lihue - A discussion on Kauai in August explored the impacts of a U.S. economy too intensely focused on its military operations overseas. Real security, it was said, will come when Hawaii is not dominated by military spending but instead supports more immediate human needs: health, education, preservation of the environment, sustainable energy, and fostering a culture the builds rather than destroys.

(A Kauai farmer, pictured at Kukuiula outdoor market, grows food for local markets. Photo: Jon Letman)

Invited by the Kauai Alliance for Peace and Social Justice, organizers of a community forum on the meaning of real security on August 7, Congresswoman Mazie Hirono (D—District 2) arrived during the second speaker’s presentation. Bisecting a discussion that examined how militarism affected real security for Hawaii’s people, Hirono gave her own short presentation in which she briefly addressed education, creation of green jobs, the BP oil spill, GMO crops, the Akaka Bill, and her vote against the request for an additional $37 billion in war funding. Hirono, who is running for reelection in November’s midterm election, said she had “serious and growing concerns about funding for the war in Afghanistan.” She added that she did not think peace would be brought to the region through the military.

Security, Hirono said, also means economic, food, and energy security and that the way to become more secure is through education.

“We need to enable our kids to be able to think critically and in an environment that is supportive,” Hirono said.

After answering questions, without hearing the speakers before or after her, Hirono departed, leaving American Friends Service Committee Hawaii program director Kyle Kajihiro to offer his thoughts on the meaning of real security.

“What once gave life is now a toxic place for exporting and planning wars.”

Kajihiro examined security in terms of militarization and how it impacts Hawaii. He said he wants to challenge “the myth that empire equals peace and security...”

“Look at Ke Awalau o Puuloa, what is now called ‘Pearl Harbor,’” Kajihiro continued. “This is a perfect example of a threat to real security under military occupation. What once was a food basket for Oahu with 36 fish ponds has become a giant toxic ‘Superfund site.’ What once gave life is now a toxic place for exporting and planning wars.”

Kajihiro went on to revisit the history of 20th century American and Japanese militarism in the Pacific, describing what he called the disastrous outcomes of the false premise that a loaded gun can somehow bring security. He suggested an alternative to the current model would be one based on meeting human needs and working toward a healthy, clean environment that sustains life.

The very notion of security in the United States today, Kajihiro explained, is based on the pursuit of something absolute and unattainable.

“In order to have our humanity intact, we have to have dialogue and openness and that requires some risk,” Kajihiro said. “To paraphrase theologian Dorothee Sölle, ‘societies, like all living things, need air and light to live.’”

The casualties can be seen in Hawaii from injured war vets to Hawaii’s “homeless” who are overlooked by a society obsessed with achieving a false sense of security through its military at any cost, even its own people.

Kajihiro was followed by the final speaker of the evening, Andrea Brower, co-director of Malama Kauai, a non-profit organization that works toward innovative and sustainable solutions for the island.

Brower acknowledged the relatively small turnout for the forum stemmed, in part, from a combination of people feeling powerless or lacking the belief that they are sufficiently informed to participate.

“In a capitalist worker economy where the cost of living is so high, people are tired from working two, even three jobs. It makes people blank out,” Brower said. “To really examine the problems of the world can feel like everything is unraveling.”

“We need to reinvigorate our culture with compassion and a sense of connection to other people on the planet ...”

Brower said that problems can appear so vast and complex that people can’t imagine how they can do anything to effect change and as a result disengage or tune out.

To remedy that, Brower suggests people consider their own passions toward positive social transformation and ecological renewal and commit themselves to working toward the ideas and values they hold. Brower said contributing to positive change can take many forms including volunteering, politics, media, education, or something as simple as growing one’s own food in a home garden.

“If every person on this island was engaged in contributing to our community and to the land and committed to positive social change in a way that inspired and excited them, I think we would be on a different path,” Brower said. “I think we need to reinvigorate our culture with compassion and a sense of connection to other people on the planet, to recognize our common humanity...”
Read the complete article here.

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