Tirow, hafa adai and hello, Father Fran.
Cinta Kaipat here, your former colleague who served on the CNMI Historic Preservation review board with you many years ago. I just read your Facebook post in which you wrote about a recent trip to Washington, DC. You wrote: “…I was in Washington for two days in response to a request to help find a way to bring together Pacific Island representatives in Washington to engage in a discussion of issues that are important to them. After all, Micronesia has three ambassadors in DC (FSM, Palau and the Marshalls) not to mention the other Pacific Island embassies within the Beltway. But there are also three members of US Congress from the islands–Guam, CNMI and American Samoa. Why not try to get them together to meet occasionally on Pacific matters?”
Why not, indeed? You continued: “…Georgetown University, the first Jesuit college founded in the US, has a program–the Center for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific (CANZP for short)–that has been operating for some years now. Alan Tidwell is the director and Fred Radewagen is one of the founders. They invited me down to Washington to discuss how the center could work with Pacific Islands to create a forum for discussion on Pacific problems. We spent the better part of a day and a half discussing how to get it in operation.”
We welcome this development. However, if I may, I would like to make this one simple request—that the representatives of the Alter Zero Coalition here in the Marianas be invited to be heard at the forum. The Alternative Zero Coalition is a grassroots organization comprised of coalition members from PaganWatch, Guardians of Gani, Fanacho Tinian, Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance, United Northern Islanders Association, Beautify CNMI!, We are Guahan, and others. Our coalition has been out front leading the fight to stop the U.S. military and its allies from using our inhabited home islands of Pagan and Tinian for live-fire bombing practices.
We strongly feel that a grave injustice is about to be perpetrated upon our people. We vehemently oppose the U.S. military’s plans to desecrate our beautiful and pristine island of Pagan and also destroy our beautiful island of Tinian. Such proposed live-fire bombings will irreparably destroy our beautiful and precious few and limited land resources, wreak havoc on and disrupt the lives of hundreds of former residents making plans to return and resettle Pagan and the rest of the Northern Islands. Unfortunately, Mt. Pagan’s eruption in 1981 forced the residents of Pagan into natural-disaster exiles. Today, the military’s proposed plans to bomb the island of Pagan will kill the dreams of hundreds of former residents longing to return home to resettle Pagan and the Northern Islands.
To allow the military to succeed in their plans to use Pagan and Tinian as live-training targets would deprive our people from practicing and enjoying our island way of life; that is, living off our land and sea and passing on our traditional island customs, cultural beliefs and teachings of survival to our children. These teachings are important to us in that they ensured the survival of our ancestors for centuries.
To allow the military to succeed with their plans for Pagan and Tinian would guarantee the destruction of our fragile ecosystem, along with the desecration of our lands through the dropping of live bombs, inert bombs, and having the land be fired upon continuously from gunships in our shores.
To allow the military to succeed would surely destroy natural habitats, thereby killing animals and plant life and jeopardize endangered and threatened animal species endemic to Pagan and Tinian.
Having the military drop inert bombs and use Pagan and Tinian for live-fire practices would poison our land, air, and sea—killing off our marine life through employment of sonar testing in our waters.
Dropping bombs on Pagan and Tinian would destroy our cultural artifacts above and below ground. We believe that these cultural artifacts are precious to us in that they connect us to our past and serve as our “cultural DNA” as they specifically identify who we are as distinct peoples in our own individual rights, separate and distinct from all the peoples that make up the Pacific Island cultures and nations.
Allowing the U.S. military to succeed in taking Pagan and Tinian for their intended military-training purposes translates to seizing 24 percent of our preciously limited land areas. This will effectively take away more of our few islands that people can live on today as the military would most likely impose restrict access to those islands north and south of Pagan and, thereby prevent our people from ever realizing the longstanding dreams of resettlement of our northern frontier.
We fear that allowing the military to succeed in taking Pagan for military purposes could eventually lead to creating another “Diego-Garcia-type” situation where the military ousted the local islanders from their island home but permitted only a few to return to work and serve their military masters on their own island home.
We believe that allowing the U.S. military to implement its proposals for military training on Tinian would force the people of Tinian to a live on a tiny, crowded area of the island while the military uses two-thirds of Tinian for bombing practice—something that was never a part of the Covenant we entered into when we negotiated our political status to become a U.S. commonwealth.
We know that dropping bombs on Tinian, which is merely a couple miles away from our main island of Saipan, would effectively kill our tourism industry—our sole remaining economic engine. After all, who in their right mind would want to pay thousands of dollars to fly to our islands to seek fun and relaxation, only to be rocked every few minutes by bombs dropping and airplanes flying overhead? What happens on Tinian heavily impacts Saipan as well.
Forcing the issue upon the people of the Marianas and, especially the people of Tinian is highly disrespectful, given the history of what happened during World War II when the U.S. gave the people of the Marianas no say in the matter when they gravely jeopardized our lives by bringing the atomic bomb to our shores from which bomber planes took off to rain the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thereby leaving us with a legacy we never wanted! Now, the U.S. military is at it again.
For decades since WWII, our people of the Marianas have joined hands with the people of Japan and have participated in several peaceful ceremonies to help us all heal from the violent past. Yet today the U.S. military wants to rub salt on our unhealed wounds by making plans to use Tinian for live-fire practices, thereby adding further to Tinian’s unwanted legacy as a place where “massive doom” on large human scale is perfected and launched on civilization.
We raise our collective voices to state unequivocably that the people of our tiny Pacific island nation and our leaders stand in solidarity with members of the international world community and speak out in one unified voice against this course of destiny that the U.S. military is forcing upon us. The size of our tiny island nation or the size of our tiny population will not dwarf and drown out our collective voices!
America, do not take our patriotism as U.S. citizens who have sent off our sons and daughters to far-flung corners of the world to serve our country without question—and quite a number of whom have paid the ultimate sacrifice—for granted. We serve our country honorably despite being denied the right to vote for our President or to even have a voice in Congress as our elected representative to Congress cannot vote on the floor.
We are Pacific Islanders. We are peace-loving island peoples who simply want to be left alone to live on our beautiful island homes, raising our families and enjoying the American dream of pursuit of happiness. Do we not enjoy this basic freedom and right as American citizens?
Perhaps this Conference will be a wake-up call to the U.S. military that just because we are from these far-flung tiny dots in the vast Pacific Ocean does NOT mean that we do not deserve to be treated with respect and common human decency.
Finally, Father Fran, thank you for this opportunity to express my opinions. It would mean a lot to us if you would please sign our online petition (www.tinyurl.com/StopIslandBombing). I am thrilled beyond belief to share that we made history today (June 4, 2015) by hitting over 100,000 signatures and climbing! This would not have been possible without the wonderful support of our wonderful friends and families from within the Marianas (including Guam), our neighboring islands in Micronesia, the continental United States as well as the international community. We are immensely grateful to everyone for their invaluable help with the petition. Our next goal is to shoot for 150,000 signatures by the end of June, so please help us make history again!
May God bless us all and may God bless and protect the CNMI!
Cinta M. Kaipat is a lawyer and one of the founding members of the Alternative Zero Coalition.