‘What harms one of us, harms us all’


Editor’s Note: The following was submitted by the non-profit organization Our Common Wealth 670.

In response to Mr. Don Farrell’s letter to the editor in the Saipan Tribune on June 19, Our Common Wealth 670 would like to set the record straight regarding House Joint Resolution 21-08, which calls on Gov. Ralph DLG Torres to oppose any additional destructive military training on and around our islands.

Mr. Farrell assumes that our opposition to destructive training and testing in the CNMI equates to not being adequately grateful to the United States. In our islands’ history, how many times have we heard this trope? As non-voting U.S. citizens, we have every right to a nuanced, multi-faceted opinion about our relationship to the United States; we are grateful for many things that the U.S. provides, but we also have an obligation to our families and neighbors to advocate for the maintenance of a certain level of safety and health in our community. We are concerned that the CNMI cannot flourish if it is forced to host destructive training ranges on the islands of Tinian and Pagan. We also believe that the Covenant was intended to be a two-way street, giving the people of the CNMI the right to exercise our own side of the political bargain.

In regards to Mr. Farrell’s comments about how environmental planning processes “work,” we would like to point out that most CNMI community members are understandably unaware of how the NEPA process works, particularly regarding environmental impact statements. Most are not aware, for example, that they had a chance to comment on the Final Mariana Islands Training and Testing Supplemental EIS. The 30-day comment period ended last July 6, 2020, although our organization did submit a request for an extension to the comment period because of the ongoing pandemic.

Again, few know what a final supplemental EIS is. Even fewer are willing/able to engage with any highly-technical document that is literally thousands of pages long and not translated into our indigenous Chamorro and Refaluwasch languages. This is why we disagree with Mr. Farrell’s assertion that these supposedly democratic planning processes are performing their duty; unlike voting for a representative or attending a public hearing about a prospective bill, the public has no clear path toward meaningful participation in the NEPA process. It would take a significant time and resource commitment to forge that path through public education. That level of commitment has been lacking on the part of the military, which ultimately has no incentive to educate the CNMI public about its destructive plans.

We also believe that it is important to point out that the true strategic “necessity” for destructive military training in the Marianas is itself disputed among ranking federal officials and military experts. For example, a 2014 report by the RAND Corp. (a nonpartisan military analyst group commissioned by Congress to research military strategies) cautioned the U.S. military that the Marianas was, in fact, not an appropriate location to relocate Marines from Okinawa, because the islands lack the proper infrastructure, including sewer systems, landfills, and sealifts to be used in the event of a conflict in Asia.

Even if the CNMI were a strategic location for the live-fire training listed in the CJMT, we believe it must be understood that when the CNMI entered into the Covenant agreement, we did not commit our entire civilian population to military service, sacrificing our physical safety for “national security.” We did, however, become American citizens, which would imply that the U.S. military is responsible for protecting our quality of life, not sacrificing it.

Finally, in drafting our House Joint Resolution 21-8, we are expressing our understanding that what impacts one island impacts the entire archipelago, and generations to come. There is still contamination left over from World War II in our soils, our streambeds, nearshores and our very bodies. We must assume that all future contamination resulting from increased use of weapons technologies throughout our islands will have significant health impacts across our community and archipelago. We have little evidence that such contamination would be cleaned up by the military in a timely manner.

As for the CNMI Joint Military Training, we have ample reason to believe that it is not off the table. As recently as April 2019, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer officially requested that the Federal Aviation Administration restrict airspace over Tinian because “[t]he commercial airport on Tinian is within three nautical miles of the military lease area where the live-fire range complex will be sited and restricted airspace placed above it.”

Additionally, on Feb. 3, 2020, Tinian Women Association v. USDN finally reached the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, during which the Department of the Navy’s legal counsel argued that “the training ranges proposed on Tinian would not only serve United States forces but also serve United States allies, which would advance international relationships and international training.” We take this as strong evidence that the Navy continues to push for the destructive training and testing activities mentioned in the CJMT.

We need to be aware of how military plans for our islands would affect our communities and our children’s futures, including how they overlap with one another to produce cumulative impacts over time. The most recent version of the CJMT, which outlines the increased use of live-fire training on Pagan as well as the continued use of active sonar that has been responsible for recent beaching incidences of whales and dolphins in the Marianas Archipelago, can be found here: www.cnmijointmilitarytrainingeis.com.

Our joint resolution encourages all those who seek to protect the Marianas to stand up together as military plans for our home continue to roll out with no end in sight. HJR 21-08 challenges the CNMI community to prioritize our people; for far too long, we have allowed ourselves to be relegated as second-class citizens subjected to militarization efforts that harm island communities throughout Oceania.

In conclusion, we believe what harms one of us, harms us all. What harms one island, harms the entire archipelago. We stand with you, and we hope you will stand with us.

Contributing Author
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