About the Author

Naka Nathaniel

Naka Nathaniel has returned to regular journalism after being the primary parent for his son. In those 13 years, his child has only been to the ER five times (three due to animal attacks.)

Before parenting, Naka was known as an innovative journalist. He was part of the team that launched NYTimes.com in 1996 and he led a multimedia team that pioneered many new approaches to storytelling.

On 9/11, he filmed the second plane hitting the South Tower. His footage aired on the television networks and a sequence was the dominant image on NYTimes.com.

While based in Paris for The New York Times, he developed a style of mobile journalism that gave him the ability to report from anywhere on the planet. He covered the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and was detained while working in Iran, Sudan, Gaza and China. He is one of a handful of Americans who has been in North Korea, but not South Korea. He worked in 60 countries and made The Times’s audience care about sex trafficking, climate change and the plight of women and children in the developing world.

Besides conflict, The Times also had Naka covering fashion shows, car shows and Olympics. He did all three of those events in the same week (Paris, Geneva and Turin) before going to Darfur to continue reporting on the genocide (it was the fifth of sixth trips to the region.)

Naka lives in Waimea on the Big Island and his writing for Civil Beat will initially focus on his reflections on moving home.


If not money, perhaps there could be an exchange for the best education practices and funding from the country’s top school system.

It’s gifting season and I have an idea for one of the greatest gifts the older generations in Hawaii can give to younger generations. 

In my column last week, I proposed that there should be a partial handover of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 2041, tied to the renewal of the military’s leases of state lands that are set to expire in 2029. 

In reading comments on Civil Beat, social media and emails, I noticed that those raised primarily in the Cold War of the 20th century had some difficulty grappling with the idea of shrinking the military’s footprint. Doing so, to many of those minds, jeopardizes national security and exposes us to external threats. 

Those raised primarily in this century were more excited at the possibility of rehabilitating the heart of Oahu and re-integrating Pearl Harbor into everyday Hawaii.

Integrating Pearl Harbor

I was enthused by the excitement some had for this idea. As it happens, I wrote part of the column after departing from Austin.

Austin’s emergence from Slacker-topia to digital dynamo is due in part to the conversion of Bergstrom Air Force Base into Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. As a college student in Austin in the early ’90s, I never thought in a million years that I’d be able to fly direct from central Texas to Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines. Now Austin is thriving despite being stuck in the middle of retrograde Texas.

Another base conversion I saw close up was Fort McPherson, just south of Atlanta’s downtown, becoming home to Tyler Perry’s studio complex. Atlanta has a very diversified economy and the explosion in film and television production was turbo-boosted by the media mogul converting the declining Army base into a dynamic economic engine in an urban core. 

Austin has been thriving despite being in the middle of Texas. (Chad Blair/Civil Beat/2019)

Thinking about Atlanta and Austin gets me and others excited for what could happen next with Pearl Harbor. Honolulu could truly become the capital of the Pacific if Pearl Harbor were re-imagined.

“While I can’t see the Navy and Air Force handing back every square foot of its bases, there are definitely parts that could be returned to the state and the people,” one commenter wrote last week. “Some of the most valuable lands (waterfront) are in the hands of the military and we all know $1/year is ludicrous. Even more than the monetary compensation, Hawaii is far too scared to be blowing up, or conducting live fire drills on. Take that mission to the mainland and keep it there, demilitarize and clean up places like Makua and return unneeded, unused lands back to the state and ultimately the people.” 

Pearl Harbor isn’t part of the 6,300 acres of land leased from the state for a dollar a year like Pohakuloa on Hawaii Island and Makua Valley on Oahu. Those lands are part of 65-year leases that expire in 2029. The United States has controlled Pearl Harbor since the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 was signed by King Kalakaua’s government. So the deadline of 2041 is one the federal government could set. 

Who Should Say?

“The author’s optimistic vision of future military land use has failed to materialize so far at Kalaeloa (Barbers Point) facility since the State of Hawaii regained authority,” another commenter wrote last week. “There has been no transformative development. No real investment in general aviation facilities or education by the state. No real infrastructure or land stewardship plan has been put forth to the public. What evidence is there that the State would handle further authority of more underused Navy land any better?”

Many commenters were right to cite that the state isn’t the entity to decide what comes next. Too many of our elected officials haven’t demonstrated the aptitude to be entrusted with deciding what happens next. 

It’s time to let young leaders in Hawaii, both in and outside of the military, step forward and take their places on what could be a forward-looking commission to decide a better, more innovative future for Pearl Harbor. Call it the D7/2041 commission. The D7/2041 commission could follow in the footsteps of other groups that have been gathered to work through tough situations. 

The Threat Of China

Another worry expressed repeatedly was the concern that shrinking the military’s footprint in the Pacific would be a concession to China.

The arguments for expanding Pearl Harbor to counter the threat of the Chinese Communist Party are specious. 

“Continuing to treat China as a growing threat is a major diversion of U.S. political energy, to say the least,” wrote David Daokui Li, author of the forthcoming “China’s World View: Demystifying China to Prevent Global Conflict.” “China simply does not appear to have the global ambition, institutional capacity, historical tradition or ideological clarity to replace and behave like the United States of today.“

And then in response to my column, a commenter wrote succinctly: “Justifying poisoning our water through fear of China is irrational.”

Fair Compensation

The last point I want to share is what would be equitable compensation for Hawaii’s continued military occupation of prominent lands and waters. 

What’s an equitable amount for the people of Hawaii to continue to host the military?

Obviously, a dollar a year isn’t acceptable. However, what dollar figure would be?

That question leads to what besides money would be worthwhile?

Empty modern classroom with connections.
Hawaii could gain something by learning more about the military’s strong education system. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

As we talk about the future, our thoughts often turn to education. Sadly, we know that the education system here in Hawaii has been languishing. 

I raised the possibility of converting Ford Island into a dynamic community to be the harbinger of sustainable living in the 22nd century. 

What other gifts, or expertise, could be shared from the military to Hawaii? The military’s education system is one place worth looking at. 

“Who Runs the Best U.S. Schools? It May Be the Defense Department” was the front page headline in The New York Times two months ago. 

“The Pentagon’s schools for children of military members and civilian employees quietly achieve results most educators can only dream of,” reported The Times. “On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal exam that is considered the gold standard for comparing states and large districts, the Defense Department’s schools outscored every jurisdiction in math and reading last year and managed to avoid widespread pandemic losses.”

What if, in lieu of a dollar a year, the best practices and funding from the country’s top school system was given to Hawaii in compensation for the continued use of our lands and waters?

The return of parts of Pearl Harbor would be an amazing gift to future generations. It’s about time we do something nice for them.


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About the Author

Naka Nathaniel

Naka Nathaniel has returned to regular journalism after being the primary parent for his son. In those 13 years, his child has only been to the ER five times (three due to animal attacks.)

Before parenting, Naka was known as an innovative journalist. He was part of the team that launched NYTimes.com in 1996 and he led a multimedia team that pioneered many new approaches to storytelling.

On 9/11, he filmed the second plane hitting the South Tower. His footage aired on the television networks and a sequence was the dominant image on NYTimes.com.

While based in Paris for The New York Times, he developed a style of mobile journalism that gave him the ability to report from anywhere on the planet. He covered the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and was detained while working in Iran, Sudan, Gaza and China. He is one of a handful of Americans who has been in North Korea, but not South Korea. He worked in 60 countries and made The Times’s audience care about sex trafficking, climate change and the plight of women and children in the developing world.

Besides conflict, The Times also had Naka covering fashion shows, car shows and Olympics. He did all three of those events in the same week (Paris, Geneva and Turin) before going to Darfur to continue reporting on the genocide (it was the fifth of sixth trips to the region.)

Naka lives in Waimea on the Big Island and his writing for Civil Beat will initially focus on his reflections on moving home.


Latest Comments (0)

"The People Of Hawaii Deserve Fair Compensation For Hosting The Military""Ya! We need reimbursement for the millions and millions of dollars the military spends in our state!" Give me a break! These critics are most certainly unemployed and/or not a productive part of our economy. They just looking for that "free money thing". What's new?

Manawai · 2 months ago

Let's not even begin to talk about the amount of money the military brings to Hawaii! Do you have any people Rent apartments, houses, businesses, etc? How many tax dollars are made off of their purchases?Or how are created by the military being there? How many goods are bought and sold by the military? This is just plain ignorance.

Jwood · 2 months ago

Hawaii should negotiate to get as much from the Federal Government as it can, because Hawaii is poor and needs all the help it can get. The argument for the education is lunacy, because I believe that the majority of these schools that the author raves about are on bases where the rights of the adults are limited due to being on a military base and therefore not transferable. I do believe, however, that a useful ask of the military would be to match the funds local schools pay for STEM teachers, if STEM graduates are indeed an interest to national security in the future. If each school doubled their science and math teachers to halve those class sizes it would allow for much better learning in those classes that are, from what I have seen, not performing how we would want them to.

tws808 · 2 months ago

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IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email news@civilbeat.org to submit an idea.

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