Charm offensive?

There have been a few reports coming out over the past month or so that make this blogger question whether the United States Military is on a charm offensive with O‘ahu government officials.

(“O‘ahu government” means the City and County of Honolulu, it’s just shorter to write).

Two reports that this blogger has heard, one where the military is willing to help O‘ahu find a new landfill site on one of their properties, and then a tour of Kolekole pass with military and O‘ahu government officials, are indeed new.

New to the point of asking “What’s up?”

The issue of access by the public to Kolekole pass has been talked about since the end of World War II, when the military took over the road from the Territory. Now the military is talking again about access, but why now?
PC: “Kolekole Pass Blessing Ceremony – Hawaii (8873394188)” by NAVFAC is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Of course, the first, most obvious answer, is that the military, knowing full well that its utter mess up at Red Hill over the past couple of years, has left a bad taste in the mouth of residents and government officials, and that they are now trying to “make nice” in at least accommodating requests from the “host county/state” of their military bases.

And if it was just that, it makes sense, but as we all know who have been born and raised here in Hawai’i, the “niceness” of the military has been seen as “fleeting”. So, are we going to see a different behavior here, based on the scale of what Red Hill did to O‘ahu and its water infrastructure?

So how do we know? Well, we can look at past examples to see what the military did to “play nice” with the civilians.

A good example is that of a movie. Back in 1980, a movie came out called “The Final Countdown”. It was about the USS Nimitz going through a time warp and experiencing the final hours before Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. In the movie, one could be forgiven if one thought of it as more of a recruiting video for the Navy. The movie crew was given quite expansive access to the USS Nimitz itself, its operations, and planes, to the point where, upon review, you must wonder if the military saw this as a “positive, make nice” promotion.

After all, the movie came out a handful of years after the end of the Vietnam War, complete with the bad taste of the military firmly attached by civilians. To show the military in a positive light, this movie fits the bill (although it was not a blockbuster, it did become a cult classic).

It even featured Hawai’i and Pearl Harbor as a backdrop at the beginning and end of the movie – adding a nice promotion of Hawai’i to boot.

But these days you don’t see that many movies with that type of access to military assets (okay, Top Gun Maverick). Or if you do, you see a more gritty, realistic flick that has a lot less “fluff” of military life and its benefits. The military either has decided that is not the medium to promote itself, or Hollywood has decided not to cooperate with how the military wants itself portrayed on the silver screen.

So will the military swoop in as a hero and solve the intractable problem of creating a new landfill on Oahu when Waimanalo Gulch is forced to shut down this decade?
PC: “File:Landfill Hawaii.jpg” by Eric Guinther is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

So, the military’s current campaign, focused it seems on O‘ahu and its government, is another way that they can “play nice” with the residents of Hawai’i, even though their actions caused a great deal of trouble when fuel leaked at Red Hill, probably destroying one of the main aquifers on O‘ahu that serviced metro Honolulu.

With that, the question is whether the offensive will work, and whether will it be long enough to change residents’ minds about the ability of the US military to be “good neighbors”. To this blogger, time will tell with initial actions “sounding promising”.

But for this offensive to work with the people, actions will speak louder than words, for a long enough period to convince. It will also require both layman and critics of the military here in Hawai’i to be vigilant enough to “trust but verify” any actions the military does to help the people of O‘ahu on sticky issues like the landfill and secondary access to the Waianae coast.

And if they come through, great! If they don’t – well, it won’t be a surprise but disappointing that the opportunity to “be better neighbors” in Hawai’i has not risen to mission one for the military yet again.

But we will see.