This article is part of a weekly FPIF series on the Obama administration’s “Pacific Pivot,” which examines the implications of the U.S. military buildup in the Asia-Pacific—both for regional politics and for the so-called “host” communities.
Fresh from hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Honolulu last autumn, U.S. President Barack Obama recently told members of the Australian Parliament that America’s defense posture across the Asia-Pacific would be “more broadly distributed…more flexible—with new capabilities to ensure that our forces can operate freely.”
The announcement of America’s “Asia-Pacific pivot” by its first Hawaiia-born president was highly fitting, since the Hawaiian Islands are at the piko (“navel” in Hawaiian) of this vast region.
A less flattering metaphor for Hawaii’s role in the Pacific is what Maui educator and native Hawaiian activist Kaleikoa Kaeo has called a giant octopus whose tentacles reach across the ocean clutching Japan, Okinawa, South Korea, Jeju island, Guam—and, at times, the Philippines, American Samoa, Wake Island, Bikini Atoll, and Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
The head of this beast is in Hawaii, which is home to U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), with sonar, radar, and optical tracking stations as its eyes and ears. Its brain consists of the supercomputers on Maui and the command center on Oahu that connects PACOM to distant bases. This octopus excretes waste as toxic land, polluted waters, abandoned poisons, blown-up and sunken ships, and depleted uranium (DU). Like a real octopus that can regenerate severed limbs, the military in the Pacific grows in new locations (Thailand, Australia) and returns to old ones (Philippines, Vietnam).
For more on this story, visit: Hawaii: Head of the Tentacled Beast | FPIF.