Give Back Bellows

By: OHA Trustee Rowena Akana

Source: Star Bulletin: Viewpoint, May 6, 1993

The commander of Hawaii’s second-largest industry recently said he would ask a Marine brigade be pulled out of Kaneohe if he lost the use of the land at Bellows.

Honolulu’s other daily paper spent five Sunday pages fretting over his threat. Really, is Bellows all that vital to the military? Or, for that matter, is the military all that vital to Hawaii?

Adm. Charles Larson broke decades of virtual military silence to counter claims made by Rep. Abercrombie, myself and others that Bellows belongs and should return to the Hawaiian community. Our kind of talk, he implies, might trigger decisions that would damage the islands’ economy.

“Frankly, without an amphibious training site, the Marines (and I) would be hard-pressed to justify their continued presence at Kaneohe — especially since other states that do offer adequate training are [eager] to beef up and protect their own bases,” the admiral wrote.

He means Camp Pendelton, Calif. where the land, resources and residents presumably are more accommodating. The 8,900-member 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade could go there for its amphibious assaults and inland maneuvers, but then the admiral and his Marines couldn’t rest and recreate all over Windward Oahu.

Larson rationalized that the Bellows station “helps satisfy a major morale and welfare requirement.” Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) at Kaneohe MCAS already provides the Marines with barbers, BayFests, Beach Bashes, bowling, child care, dining, disco, golf, karaoke, pool tables, private surfing, sailing, scuba diving, shopping, swimming, tailors, a theatre and weight rooms to name a few subsidized perks. Does it also really need a l,500-acre, $88 million playground?

Yes, the admiral would say, and don’t you forget the Marines contribute substantially to the local economy. His assumption, the media’s foregone conclusion, should be scrutinized.

Since the armed services pay almost no property taxes for bases here, contributing to the local economy means leaving base and paying local prices. To avoid this “severe financial hardship” (the admiral’s words), MWR strives to provide all the on-base dining, shopping and playing the military community will ever need — blunting any real financial contribution.

Whatever the military does pump into the local economy, no one bothered to estimate what it sucks out in natural resources (aquifer stores, energy consumption and prime ceded soil), federal taxes (22.5 % COLAs, subsidized off-base housing and commissary and exchange privileges) and aloha spirit (traffic congestion, school overcrowding, environmental pollution and criminal activity).

The military brass trumpets the many jobs Kaneohe MCAS offers the Windward community. Many of those jobs, however, are filled by military dependents and recent Mainland transplants. Logic dictates if the Marines go to Camp Pendelton, so do the jobs. With the Marines then go the dependents and with the jobs go the transplants, thus muting the cries of mass local unemployment.

There is no reason why Larson’s military pullout should cripple the Windward community. Islanders are not invalids, we do not need to be force-fed a military industry for an economy.

The state has already zoned the Bellows land for 5,000 single-family units and an equal number of agricultural plots. If Bellows returned to a sovereign Hawaiian nation, native Hawaiians could build a land base for a self-sufficient economy.

As a master-planned community, Bellows could include cottage industries, taro farms or any number of activities that would offer Hawaiians and other community members the opportunity to improve their lot well beyond military dependence. At the same time, human resource agencies could offer their life-support programs to other needy areas.

It is at our own expense Hawaii residents subsidize the military industry’s occupation of Hawaiian lands.

The admiral says the Marines might ship out if we don’t shape up.

Frankly, without enough affordable housing sites, Hawaiians would be hard-pressed to tolerate the Marines’ continued presence at Kaneohe — especially since native Hawaiians are eager to beef up and protect their own causes.

“I can assure you that your military cherishes our special relationship with the people of Hawaii,” Larson wrote. “In the past 20 years at least nine military sites have been conveyed to the state or sold.”

Perhaps. But admiral, do you know of the military’s special relationship with the indigenous people of Hawaii? Hawaiians never asked you to come, yet you came. Hawaiians never gave you Bellows, yet you took it. Hawaiians never wanted you to dominate the economy, yet now you threaten it.

Do us all a favor, give back Bellows. It’s not yours and you don’t need it.

We do.