I shot 8-inch howitzers at the Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island in the early 1990s. These cannons could shoot large shells up to thirty miles. I was an enlisted “cannon crew-member” (13B) and lived at Schofield Barracks on Oahu for two and a half years.

Twice a year my U.S. Army unit would deploy to PTA for six-week training drills. We lived in “hooches” at PTA at 6,000 feet, slept in tiny cots, and spent our time driving in Humvees and five-ton trucks through dust up to a foot thick on the roads.

It was actually kind of fun.

After leaving the army, I went back to college and then to law school. During my last year of law school at UCLA I took a class called Terrorism and the Law, which included readings by various scholars and critics, including Noam Chomsky. It was eye-opening.

Then, during the first week of my first job as a lawyer in Santa Barbara, California, 9/11 happened. Our worlds all changed.

In the years after 9/11, I continued to read avidly and learn more about U.S. foreign policy. I learned how the U.S. steadily transformed in the last part of the 19th Century and through the 20th from a non-interventionist nation of idealists to a highly aggressive empire (Stephen Kinzer’s books “Overthrow,” “The True Flag” and “The Brothers” are excellent on this history).

I learned how the U.S., after defeating the Soviet Union in a long-term ideological and economic battle, became the first “hyper-power” that the world has ever seen, with no real rivals.

I learned how power corrupts and how the U.S. foreign policy establishment has been corrupted by its status as a hyperpower.

Soldiers conducting a month-long exercise at the Pohakuloa Training Area in 2012. Is live-fire training at PTA in the best interest of Hawaii and the nation?

Flickr: 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Div

I learned how most Americans simply don’t follow the details of U.S. foreign policy and go along with what our leaders say we should do when it comes to foreign wars, just or unjust. It’s not hard to induce voters to rally around the flag by hyping external threats – like happened in the Iraq War in 2003 and many other conflicts that the U.S. has started on false arguments.

I learned how the U.S. has bases and troops in over 150 nations around the world and has spent over $6 trillion on war since 9/11 alone. We are the most powerful nation the world has ever seen. By far.

I learned – and here’s where it comes back to PTA – that the U.S. military is more about serving empire and corporate interests than it is about protecting American citizens. And that has been the case for some time now.

PTA is the largest land-based training area in Hawaii. Army and Marine troops train there.

But is PTA necessary for protecting the United States? Is PTA good for Hawaii? For the aina?

Depleted Uranium

I learned from long-time Big Island activist Jim Albertini that PTA has grown in size over the years through various acquisitions. This land climbs up Mauna Kea to the 6,800 foot level and up Mauna Loa as high as 9,000 feet, with more than half of that area regularly bombed in live fire exercises.

U.S. Army maps state that “All of PTA should be considered a Dud Hazard Area,” presumably because of stray shots or past military exercise areas. Depleted uranium weapons have been used at PTA and it is unknown how much DU residue remains in the area.

So why is there not more activity attempting to limit or eliminate PTA and its live-fire exercises?

To this former soldier who is now opposed to aggressive empire building and the corruption that empire brings, it seems that the harm done by the U.S. military every year at PTA dwarfs any potential harm to the aina caused by the telescopes on top of Mauna Kea.

Two long-time protectors warrant mention here for their activism against PTA: Clarence Ku Ching and Maxine Kahaulelio, both of whom have struggled in the courts to bring some justice to these issues.

Is PTA necessary for protecting the United States?

Protectors, please turn your gaze to PTA. Why aren’t the Protectors more active in raising awareness about PTA and pushing back on long-term leases?

As a recent Community Voice by college student Jun Shin described, a court ruling from First Circuit Court Judge Gary Chang earlier this year found that the state of Hawaii had not lived up to its duty to protect the environment at PTA. Chang found that the state “breached its trust duty to malama aina with respect to the lands the state leases to the U.S. Army.”

This is a big legal hook to hang a hat on.

The primary leases are up for renewal in 2029. That’s 10 years to defeat that renewal.

Let’s get started.

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