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The Navy’s War on the Pacific Ocean

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It was clear, from the rigid, entrenched postures of the U.S.Navy officers, during the public comment segment of their NEPA-mandated presentation of the Northwest Testing and Training Plan (NWTT) last month, that similar appearances in other cities along the coast had prepared them to get slammed.

Most of the crowd shuffling through the dark rabbit-warren of the Red Lion Inn in Eureka, California knew the whole process was rigged.  Anything they could say would have no more effect on the Navy’s implacable expansion cycle than it did on the last one 5 years ago. Even though in September Judge Magistrate Nandor Vadas had determined, in the Eureka Federal District Court, that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the Endangered Species Act by permitting the Navy’s plan, there had been no injunction. Just a few miles west of the Red Lion the deafening sonar, mines, bombs and extensive testing of new weapons systems were continuing to blast on toward the Navy’s objective. The NWTT show-and-tell presentation seemed to have no intention to persuade, and basic questions addressed to the public-relations people manning the booths such as the location of the continental shelf at different latitudes, effect of sonar on salmonid migration, and damage to the hearing mechanisms of marine mammals, could not obtain answers.

Yet the crowd recognized this meeting as a unique occasion though a mere procedural requirement where a small community had an opportunity to cross the bows of the largest geopolitical force on the planet . So it delivered an eloquent, comprehensive and unanimous rejection of this five-year plan.

The Navy ‘s response exhibited a characteristic famously portrayed by Alec Guiness as Colonel Nicholson in “Bridge Over The River Kwai”: so total an absorption in and obsession with the project’s progress that he lost consciousness of who the enemy was. We’ve been practicing out there for 50 years, said the Navy reps. Most of you wouldn’t even know about the sonar, mines, explosions and nuclear submarine games happening over the horizon if we hadn’t been gracious enough to tell you. We’ve been brutally honest about our proposed takes of endangered species, and, for you landlubbers, aren’t these issues a bit of an abstraction anyway?

The Navy is right. Whales, orcas, leatherbacks and salmon runs are no doubt fatally damaged species already, and thus, minor catastrophes on the death road down which the U.S. military mania is driving  us. Greenhouse gasses  and toxic emissions are making marine environments uninhabitable. The Navy has a command role in the human war on the oceans.

The Armed Forces of the United States are the largest single polluter on the planet. They consume 93% of the U.S. government fuel budget. The military produces more greenhouse gas than all but 35 countries in the world, or about the same as Nigeria, with 140 million people. However, because of stipulations demanded by the U.S. when the Kyoto Protocol was being negotiated, the Pentagon is exempted from all measurement or reporting requirements, and its emissions are not included in U.S. totals. Congress passed legislation exempting the military from such restrictions on the grounds of “self-defense, peacekeeping and humanitarian relief.” More recently in an executive order directing federal agencies to reduce their emissions, President Obama again exempted the military.

Added to toxic runoff from Navy bases, underwater mines, submarine dumps and sunken nuclear submarines, the Navy’s unregulated CO2 emissions are making life more difficult for each generation of sea creatures. Phytoplankton, the base for the ocean’s entire food chain, and producing the oxygen for two out of every three breaths we take, has diminished by 40% since 1950. The ocean is 30% more acidic than a century ago, and is predicted, at this rate, to become 2 ½ times more acidic by the end of the century. Acidification of course affects the lives of marine species at many stages of their development, particularly in vulnerable egg and larval states. For crustaceans, mollusks and corals, it’s harder to form shells. One third of the world’s fisheries have been depleted, which affects large numbers of the world’s human population dependent on fish as their sole protein source.

Like the Obama Administration, which proposes more funding for nuclear weapons, the Navy is blind to environmental destruction, the real threat to our national security. Instead, as U.S. geo-politicians execute their imperial pivot, it has titanic plans for the Pacific . $15 billion has been allocated for a giant buildup on Guam and the Marianas. The Navy is obtaining additional base privileges from the Philippines. “Valiant Shield” naval exercises in the South China and Yellow Seas have alarmed the Chinese government into increasing its military budget and defining its Economic Exclusion Zone. This, in turn, has disturbed Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, among whom there have been petty conflicts over island jurisdictions. Mutual defense agreements with the U.S. are triggered, which the war-makers can invoke at their leisure. In a recent publication of the Naval Institute, a strategy employing submarines to mine Chinese harbors and interdict trade routes is discussed in tactical detail.

The Arctic, predicted to be open water by 2030, is the object of a Navy roadmap for militarization.

Furthering and perfecting these military strategies, then, are the objective of the NWTT . Confronting the Navy in the Red Lion, listening to local peoples’ speeches unyieldingly regulated by a minute hand, it all of a sudden seemed as if the speakers were dressed in the solemn regalia of the northwestern tribes, in deerskin robes, and decorated with dentalia, eagle feathers and whalebones. Here was the Great White Father again, sailing down the coast, enforcing treaties he had no intention of keeping. You could almost hear waves lapping, feathers rustling, and the faint echo of words on the wind like Chief Seattle’s.

In Fairhaven, on the other side of Humboldt Bay, an inspirational project is underway. The local Veterans For Peace discovered and raised from the bottom a world-famous boat, which had been lost to history for fifty years. In 1958 four men set sail from California aboard a small ketch, The Golden Rule, in an attempt to halt atmospheric nuclear weapons tests in the western Pacific. Their heroic effort resulted in the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, passed in 1963.

Veterans for Peace is restoring the boat, with the goal of a ten-year voyage in opposition to militarism, “nothing less than to abolish war as an instrument of national policy”. It plans to be on the sea by October. What better target, then, than

this menacing corridor of weapons testing which wraps our shores? The Humboldt Baykeeper could be recalled, fishing boats engaged, then an entire flotilla could be mustered up and down the coast!

In the words of Chris Hedges, “The most daunting existential struggle our time is to accept the awful truth intellectually and emotionally, that the power elite will not respond rationally to the devastation of the ecosystem, and to rise up to resist the forces that are destroying us”.

Ellen Taylor lives in northern California.

More articles by:

Ellen Taylor can be reached at ellenetaylor@yahoo.com.

CounterPunch Magazine

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