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.


The expiration of leases on several military bases is an opportunity to shape a different future for the state.

On the eve of the most solemn day at Pearl Harbor, I’d like us to look ahead 18 years from now. 

Last week, I closed my column with a call to change the trajectory of the Navy, and the military at large, in Hawaii after a few years of terrible headlines. Today, I offer not precise solutions but something that will motivate us to act: A deadline. 

We need to make Dec. 7, 2041, the most significant date in Hawaii in the 21st century. 

Why?

The past few years have not been good for the Navy’s reputation in Hawaii. It’s remarkable to see how the botched handling of the Red Hill catastrophe unified so many varied groups in Hawaii against the Navy. 

Those on Oahu who aren’t upset with the Navy yet will be when they see the rate increases in their water bills.

In conversation after conversation I’ve had about the military’s future in Hawaii, the end of the military’s multiple leases were repeatedly called “the elephant in the room.” 

The elephant is also an opportunity that courageous leaders in Hawaii have to shape the future, instead of having it shaped for them. 

For the first time in a long, long time, the people of Hawaii have the opportunity to have a say in what has traditionally been a one-way relationship. 

Hawaii’s strategic importance has waned in the age of digital and drone warfare and its geography could be used in more imaginative and innovative ways. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020)

The leases for the state land under several military installations expire in 2029. The military has leased the land for a dollar a year for the past six decades.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources needs to sign off on the continued occupation of those lands. Most notable of the leases is the Pohakuloa Training Area between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. 

Pohakuloa is a few miles away from the encampment that stymied the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea. What worked at Mauna Kea in 2019, could likely work again.

That’s the elephant in the room. The military needs leases and Hawaii needs better, more reciprocal relationships with our guests.

We need the military to make a safer, smarter, healthier commitment to Hawaii.

So many problems in Hawaii can be seen from the temporary vs. permanent lens. After I first heard John de Fries, the former head of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, tell his story about Don Ho saying that there are two types of people in Hawaii, Temporary and Permanent, I can’t shed the importance of timelines in solving our most pressing issues. 

We need leaders dedicated to permanence on both sides. We need leaders who appreciate and champion the deep knowledge that still exists across generations. 

Pearl Harbor Arizona Memorial Ford Island West Loch derelict ships2.
In addition to being better partners and long-term guests and stewards, the military also has an opportunity to modernize its approach to national security here. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020)

In addition to being better partners and long-term guests and stewards, the military also has an opportunity to modernize its approach to national security here.

Gen. Mark Milley, the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned in a report that the military’s current decision-makers are too connected to conventional tank and aircraft carrier warfare. 

Hawaii’s strategic importance as the gas station of the Pacific has waned in the age of digital and drone warfare. It’s hard to conceive what warfare will look like in the age of hypersonic missiles and AI, but it’s possible that Hawaii’s geography can be used in more innovative and inspiring ways.

“The American homeland has almost always been a sanctuary during conflict, but this will not be the case in a future war,” Milley wrote.

Since the nature of national defense is changing, Hawaii needs to take advantage of this sea change. 

Pearl Harbor served its purpose for the Navy and now it’s time for it to follow a proud tradition of hand off. Our memories don’t have to stretch too far back to think about the return of Hong Kong, the return of the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal, the bases in the Philippines and the dynamic change brought to many communities in the ‘90s when American military bases were reimagined in the wake of the Cold War.

We need to envision what a Pearl Harbor reintegrated into the fabric of Oahu would be like. For too long, Pearl Harbor has been off-limits for most Hawaiians. 

What if the Navy returned significant parts of Pearl Harbor to Hawaii? 

Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam Ford Island Military Housing.
Some of Pearl Harbor could be converted into a hub for climate mitigation and resiliency efforts. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020).

Would it make Hawaii more or less vulnerable? I would argue that it minimizes our exposure. We need to recalibrate what the Navy, and military presence at large, means here in the Pacific.

The people of Hawaii should be the beneficiaries of generously hosting the military for dozens of decades. Sites like Pearl Harbor have the infrastructure to solve myriad problems facing Hawaii. 

It’s not too hard to see how a reimagined Ford Island could become the epitome of sensible 21st century living. 

Or, with the threat of climate change being a menace at least as equal to security threats, some of Pearl Harbor could be converted into a hub for climate mitigation and resiliency efforts.  

In 18 years, instead of only wreath-laying and somber remembrances, let’s envision a day that includes hope for the future. 

Let’s envision a day, Dec. 7, 2041, when a partial handover occurs and a new dawn begins for a better Hawaii and a redeemed and reimagined military. 


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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)

"We need to make Dec. 7, 2041, the most significant date in Hawaii in the 21st century. Why? The past few years have not been good for the Navy’s reputation in Hawaii."NEVER! Dec. 7, 1941 will NEVER be the most significant date in Hawaii because the US entered the war by ignoring the attack published on Nov. 30, 1941 in the Honolulu Advertiser. Moreover, the US was a neutral country during WWII & violated that neutrality when FDR pushed Congress to pass the Lend Lease Act to sell arms to Allies. According to WWII polls at the time, Americans never wanted to participate in another European civil war. So let's not forget that the Dept. of Defense is just a reorganized, revised & disguised version of the 1941 Dept. of War. January 17, 1893 is the most significant date in Hawaii because the US Navy landed Marine troops in Honolulu to support & assist with force & arms treasonous insurgents violating Hawaiian Kingdom neutrality & international laws while destabilizing international trade, peace & security in the Pacific. And the Hawaiian Kingdom is a real neutral country thus the Queen resorted to diplomacy. Thus, the US Navy reputation in Hawaii hasn't been good for over a century!

AHawaiianMan · 2 months ago

China has built more ships in the last 3 years than the US did during the entire WWII period . . . and that's in a "peacetime" environment. Freedom of navigation on the seas isn't ensured through drones and cyber, it's ensured by the navies of countries dependent upon those seas for commerce, or of their allied countries. The Navy just invested over $2 billion into improving Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard because it realizes that Hawaii is closer to the potential for conflict with China and needs to be able to maintain its fleet of ships and submarines. Those ships represent platforms that can shoot down missiles headed for Hawaii (remember the ballistic missile alert?), and those submarines represent the pinnacle of naval warfare that China, Russia, and N Korea fear. As for the leased land on PTA, KTA, and PMRF, be careful what you ask for. If a military can't train close to where it's stationed, why be stationed there? And if you lose a significant portion of the military in Hawaii, be prepared for economic hardship. Look no further back than 2020/21 when Covid decimated our tourism based economy. The military actually increased spending in Hawaii and didn't lay anybody off.

imua_guy · 2 months ago

While I can't see the Navy and Air Force handing back every square foot of it's bases, there are definitely parts that could be returned to the state and the people. Imagine a real "world class" small, or large boat harbor for the public along with waterfront housing and retail. This is something the public should demand from lawmakers and the military can do more with less, particularly in this age of cyber warfare. Some of the most valuable lands (waterfront) are in the hands of the military and we all know $1/year is ludicrous. Even more that the monetary compensation, Hawaii is far to sacred 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.

wailani1961 · 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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