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The Navy’s Toxic Tentacles


At a recent city council meeting Eureka, California Mayor-elect Frank Jager questioned a petitioner’s opposition to the U.S. Navy’s Northwest Training Range complex. Wasn’t she in favor of a well-trained Navy? In his opinion national security interests were paramount, and therefore the needs of the Navy should not be challenged.

Mr Jager’s is a widely held viewpoint, prevalent in legislation since the U.S.A. Patriot Act, where it trumped our Bill of Rights. Abroad, the claims of national security are our defense for what are internationally regarded as war crimes. Status of Forces agreements excuse our armed forces from cleanup of the messes it generates. And in 2004 the right of the Navy to practice warfare without regard to environmental legislation was affirmed when the military was exempted from compliance with the Endangered Species Act or the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Armed with this policy, the Training Range Complex plan has moved quietly to approval over the past three years,ignoring the strong objections of our legislators in Washington, as well as Boards of Supervisors and City Councils up and down the coast. Our own BOS, after eloquently invoking our coastal waters as “some of the richest in the world, whose seafloor has unique characteristics that include deep canyons and sharply rising reefs, buffeted by prevailing northwest winds that create some of the strongest upwellings on the north coast” resulting in “cold, plankton-rich waters with an abundance of forage for fish, sea birds and mammals” states forthrightly that “ the only viable mitigation for our coast is complete avoidance.” Together with the Mendocino BOS, they requested that Congressional hearings regarding the matter be held, right here on the west coast.

The Navy-funded National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA), has since approved the plan, agreeing that offshore contamination with the various toxic chemicals employed in weapons, use of gunnery, torpedos, missiles, bombs, underwater mines and detonations, aircraft flight operations and maneuvers, use of mid-frequency and high-frequency sonar, introduction of new weapon systems ,air-to-air missiles and sonobuoys will cause “no significant impact and no significant harm”.

The Navy responded to concerns expressed by Congressman Thompson only a month ago, that “naval transformation initiatives determine current emerging and future requirements for training access to the NWTRC,” and that it has provided “maximum protection for sea-life without unnecessarily hampering the Navy’s ability to realistically train in areas with varying bathymetry, sea-states and geography”.

It assured Congressman Thompson that less than one percent of the NWTRC exercises will occur off California, and all will be conducted at least 12 miles from the coast. However, these stipulations are not in the written agreement. And, as the Marin County BOS observed, water flows, rendering borders meaningless.

On November 22nd a resigned Thompson wrote constituents from a poignant fall-back position: ”working to identify training techniques that protect marine ecosystems is the best way to encourage the Navy to be more environmentally responsible, and I am hopeful that this approach will prevent the Navy from seeking to exempt itself from environmental regulations.”

George Washington’s Farewell Address is read at the beginning of every session of Congress. In it he warned of the danger of “overgrown military establishments which are inauspicious to liberty and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican liberty”. The Training Range Complex is a tentacle of this overgrowth. The demands of National Security have impoverished the nation. The Navy’s mission to protect a global archipelago of 1000 U.S. bases, and a military mightier than the rest of the world combined, have increased government control over our financial, legal, psychological (viz. total body scanners) and environmental resources. Democracy is incompatible with Empire.

The protester responded to Mr. Jager that, if national security was indeed the issue, then it required a new definition. Reflecting on this, I remembered dining last April with some Bolivian Navy officers in Cochabamba during the People’s Summit on Climate Change. The Bolivian Navy is the butt of many jokes, as they lost their coastline to Chile over a century ago. What then do they do?

They restore degrade river systems and engineer erosion control. What if our Navy were to undertake such an adventure, and heal the ocean? With dwindling marine mammals, fish populations, coral reefs and phytoplankton, with acidification and the US-sized Pacific garbage vortex, the ocean is dying.

If the Navy were to rise to such a seachange, it would create more national security, neutralize more enemies and restore more freedoms than the deadliest, most diabolical weapons system it will ever devise.

ELLEN TAYLOR lives in northern California. She can be reached at:


Ellen Taylor can be reached at

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