July 23, 2014 by Thomas Hauber
A couple weeks ago I’m in Cua Bay outside Kailua Kona. The air is warm, the trades balmy and the water’s fine. My feet (and my mind) are literally buried in sand and the last thing I want to hear about is war. Sometimes you just can’t get away from it. The news, if you’re twisted enough to tune in on vacation, is full of it: the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iraq and now they’re shooting down airliners in the Ukraine.
I can’t escape the sounds of it either. An Air Force F-22 is doing screeching high-G afterburner turns right overhead burning off the Air Force’s quarterly fuel allotment. Behind it is a steady stream of military aircraft practicing landings at Kona’s less crowded civilian airport: KC-135 tankers, C-17 cargo planes and Navy P-3 sub chasers, all from Honolulu’s Hickam Air Base. Some people say it’s the Sound of Freedom, others, the soft sucking sound of the US Treasury being drained by a bloated Pentagon budget egged on by a profiteering military-industrial complex.
Gallup has reported 74% of Americans have confidence in the US military, the highest of all institutions. By contrast only 7% have confidence in the US Congress, the lowest reading ever. To be fair, most people believe fighting men do their job competently despite extraordinarily difficult circumstances, be it Army or Marine, fighter pilot or Navy Seal right up to the Captain of an aircraft carrier and the Joint Chiefs. In contrast, about the only thing Congress does competently is raise money for its own re-election.
Competency is one thing, trust is another. What is clear among the incestuous revolving doors that connect the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, Congress and the boardrooms of Lockheed-Martin, Boeing or Northrop-Grumman is that trust erodes quickly out of uniform. The defense industry’s appetite for developing sophisticated weaponry (chronically over-budget and beset with problems) is endless. Voters are reminded the ultimate enablers of the feared Military-Industrial Complex sit in the Congress and Senate, on both sides of the isle.
The question we are inevitably faced with (if we even agree military spending is a problem) is whether anybody can stop or even control shoveling future money into a dreamy military budget. The answer is to some extent before Hawaiian voters.
I am reminded a great Pacific War began near here almost 75 years ago and the US has never been very far from war since. On a Sunday morning in 1941 Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. On that day a 22 year-old Japanese American, Daniel Inouye, then studying to become a medic, raced all over Hickam Field tending to injured GIs.
To say Daniel Inouye would become a legend is an understatement. Inouye resisted US internment camps and later served in WWII in Italy where he won the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was elected to Hawaii’s Territorial House in 1954. When Hawaii became a state in 1959 he went to Capitol Hill as US Senator serving continuously before passing away last year.
The Greatest Generation notwithstanding, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie temporarily filled Inouye’s seat with Lt Governor Brian Schatz, apparently against the stated wishes of Inouye who made it known another Japanese American and longtime friend US Representative from Hawaii’s 1st Congressional, Colleen Hanabusa, should be appointed to his position should he fail to complete his term.
Hanabusa, an acknowledged hawk currently serving on the House Armed Services Committee, would like the job. She has a fondness for courting military contractors. possibly why Governor Abercrombie (who has stated his peaceful preferences) had chosen Schatz in the first place.
Thus the stage is set for the August primary election with the context at least partly framed as a referendum on the future priorities of the US military and their resultant foreign policy and budget stresses. Senator Schatz seems more outspoken against attempts to get us into new wars so Hanabusa easily emerges as the pro-military candidate.
Colleen Hanabusa (HI-1) and Randy Forbes of Virginia (VA-04) have been busy ginning up a new Cold War scenario with China complete with a new arms race. The proposed Forbes/Hanabusa Legislation, “Asia-Pacific Region Priority Act” would require US forces “rebalance” toward Asia. They claim the Chinese Navy will threaten the globe if not matched. Many believe the growth of the Chinese Navy is just the newest military fear-herring to be dragged before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Congress is neither happy about China nor agreed on what to do (if at all) about aggressive Chinese behavior in the South China Sea towards US ally Japan. The world is a dangerous place and there are many unstable regions, but not everyone in Congress is convinced our future military challenges will come from China. Not even the US Navy knows what such a “rebalance” would look like and what increase in military spending would be required. With today’s federal budget a zero-sum game, asking the country to “rebalance” its priorities to fighting a future war with China is a stretch.
The bottom line on military spending is no secret: as long as GIs are in combat; no one is openly anti-military. No matter how liberal, no political leader can withstand and survive the kind of political blowback and Conservative retribution that another attack on US soil would generate. It’s unlikely the Chinese will threaten Pearl Harbor any time soon, so it’s not clear how much these military issues will matter.
All politics is local and ancestry is important on the Islands. Hanabusa, age 63, emphasizes her four generations of Hawaiian “family” ties and is popular among the native Hawaiians and the state’s large active and retired US military community. She served in the Hawaiian State Senate for eight years before winning a special election in 2010 for US Congress.
Schatz has a more traditionally modern democratic following. At age 42, he is a party veteran serving eight years in the Hawaii House and State Party chair from 2008 to 2010 before being elected Lt Governor. Though born in Michigan, his family moved to Hawaii when he was two. He attended the Punahou School, like President Obama, who has endorsed his candidacy. The primary is August 9th.