Danny De Gracia: The Navy Needs To Make Red Hill A Priority - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

In the three decades since the end of the Cold War, military contamination of the environment across the globe has come to light as one of the most frustrating challenges to face the former superpowers of the United States and Russia.

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Toxic chemicals, radioactive waste and disruption of ecosystems have underlined the fact that even in the absence of conflict, the machines of warfare are often maintained and deployed with a hidden cost to the environment that we will all pay over decades, if not centuries.

The topic of U.S. military forces in Hawaii and their impacts on both the environment and the local population has always been a sensitive one. The roots of Hawaii’s large military presence date as far back as the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which, at the time, forbade signatory nations from building any new bases in the Pacific as a means of arms control.

Because the U.S. already had existing fortifications in the Hawaiian islands, the treaty did not forbid the expansion of these bases, or the buildup of weapons and troops there. This large, forward deployed presence put Hawaii in the target sights of every competing Pacific military power for a preemptive strike, and ultimately resulted in an attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy on Dec. 7, 1941.

In 2014, when I had the opportunity to speak with Center for Strategic and International Studies scholar and military expert Edward Luttwak about the implications of the attack on Pearl Harbor, he mentioned that the Pearl Harbor attack fearfully seeded in the minds of U.S. planners the concept of “first strike decapitation.”

Under this theory, U.S. military forces must be deployed in such a way as to ensure that even under a withering, well-executed surprise attack, a retaliatory strike can still be delivered in short order that prevents American interests or territories from falling to an enemy force.

As a result, the attack on Pearl Harbor in the post-WWII era entrenched the need to add even more military presence to the Hawaiian islands, first as a defense against the Soviets during the Cold War, and now, as a deterrence against China in our modern era.

Not surprisingly, in the wake of the Red Hill fuel contamination crisis, the rationale given for foot-dragging in shuttering the facilities is suggested to be national security related. The long-range, strategic airlift and/or tanker aircraft as well as the guided missile destroyers based on Oahu require fuel to be able to deploy at a moment’s notice, and several war games have already revealed that in the event of war with China, the U.S. will need to scramble ships with minimal delay to reach the fight in time.

But using national security or even war preparation as a justification for poor environmental controls over a U.S. military facility is an absurd argument. In reality, what this smells more like is that Navy leadership places a higher value premium on their ships and less attention to detail to shore-based facilities, and even their personnel stationed there.

Now before you go crazy and draft me another hate email in response to my observation, one must understand that leadership and attention-to-detail have been in severe decline within the U.S. Navy over the last few decades. The recent Navy environmental fiascos here in Hawaii are just the latest in a string of embarrassing events that the service has faced across the world, including the fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard, the destruction of the USS Miami nuclear submarine by arson, the sloppy response to the Covid-19 outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, and even the “hiding” of the destroyer USS McCain to avoid offending a president.

The Navy has shown it can move fast on major initiatives when it wants to. Now it needs to make Red Hill a priority. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Navy officers have lamented the fact that the service has fallen prey to a superficial yes-man attitude that, while accomplishing their mission in the most superficial sense, leaves both personnel and equipment burned out.

Lt. Commander Aaron C. Manchant warns in an essay written for the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings Magazine:

“But more recently, as the Navy has prioritized operating with a short-term time horizon, can-do culture is showing its flaws. The expectation that crews will respond to every tasking with a can-do attitude is creating a long-term readiness deficit and, in some cases, putting sailors at risk.”

Navy forces in Hawaii, as well as the Pentagon leadership, need to change their attitude about Red Hill and the way the environment is impacted here. National security is not the reason the tanks are leaky and the Navy is slow to shut them down; the reason is incompetent leadership consisting of senior officers who have minimal imagination and impatient desires to get promoted and move to another assignment.

In the Afghanistan war, the Navy was so concerned about civil-military relations that they sent Provisional Reconstruction Teams of engineers to build brand new schools, bridges and clean water systems among other things for the local population. Here in Hawaii, are we to understand that American citizens are of such minimal importance that the Navy feels free to wreak environmental harm and maintain shoddy facilities?

We should also be concerned about the fact that locals have an increasingly souring view of the military. If left unchecked, what begins as cynicism and frustration towards local military can eventually devolve into rage and anti-American sentiment that can be exploited as information warfare by foreign powers. The same enthusiasm that our Navy shows to win trust and pacify community emotions abroad needs to be demonstrated here at home in Hawaii.

And no, it should not take years to defuel or shut down Red Hill and build an alternate facility elsewhere. This can be done in months – if it were actually a priority.

The U.S. military has built megastructures under wartime conditions on short orders when enthusiasm and necessity were involved. Are we really to believe that Red Hill can’t be shut down quickly, or that daily operations can’t be conducted with competence and with regard for the environment here in Hawaii?

U.S. military leadership is supposed to be about dynamic results. So get it done, Navy, and stop screwing up Hawaii.


Read this next:

The Defueling Of The Red Hill Storage Facility Is In This Admiral's Hands


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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.


Latest Comments (0)

The comment "Because the U.S. already had existing fortifications in the Hawaiian islands, the treaty did not forbid the expansion of these bases, or the buildup of weapons and troops there." is not correct. The area to which the Washington Naval Treaty non-fortification clause applied was the subject to extensive negotiations during the Conference, however the presence of existing fortifications was not a determining factor in the boundaries of the zone. For example Hong Kong and the Philippines, with existing fortifications were included in the non-fortification zone, whereas Singapore and Hawaii not.

DavidChessum · 1 month ago

The US military, and the Navy in particular, has worn out it’s welcome. I would wager that a majority of the population now thinks that the military needs to be much more tightly monitored and controlled, and that the State should stop giving them sweetheart land deals.

paulo · 1 month ago

Amen. Navy brass, take heed.

Nonna · 1 month ago

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