For the past year our Quaker meeting and others have challenged the Navy SEAL proposal to use our state parks for marine and land-based assault training purposes. Our opposition was Initiated by a leaked document about the proposal followed by considerable research and an appearance before the Washington State Parks Commission to ask them to deny permission for the SEAL trainings. (We had learned five state parks had already been given permission by staff only, not the full Commission). Our opposition to the plan was based on two primary issues: 1) The state parks are a sacred trust of public land to be used for recreation and personal and communal spiritual renewal, and military assault trainings, even at night, are an affront to the mission and purpose of the state parks; and 2) The Navy already owns and controls forty-three miles of Pacific Northwest coastline and acres and acres of land; they don’t need to use the state parks. (We also made clear we are not opposed to their training programs; only to their use of state parks.)
This past week, then, the Navy SEAL program held information (scoping) meetings in three sites in the northwest corner of Puget Sound. Their purpose was to explain that if they were to use the state parks they would cause no harm to anyone or the environment and thus they should be granted permission for their use. The information meetings were in part in preparation for a mandated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be presented later to the State Parks Commission when they make a formal request to use additional state parks. The Navy is obviously taking our challenge seriously as they had twenty-six (!!) staff people (vs. 29 visitors) at the scoping, some brought in from as far away as Hawaii with detailed graphs and posters.
I offer this background summary to be able to address my real concern about the proposal.
The Navy says the mostly night time assault exercises will not likely impact people or the landing sites themselves. But here’s the crux of why it is important to assert strong opposition to what they propose. The proposal from the Navy SEALs is yet another example of the growing imposition of the military on American life. For example, the Navy commandeers a significant area of our Whidbey Island for their Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI) which serves as base for the Navy Growler jets that emit ear piercing noise and another separate parcel of land, the Outlying Field (OLF), used for Growler practice landings. In addition another EIS anticipates a significant expansion of the Growler fleet and thus more Growler flight training exercises, electronic surveillance training that involves Growler flights over the revered Olympic National Park to identify hidden “enemy" sites, and naval training exercises at sea that the Navy acknowledges will endanger whales, dolphins and other marine animals with their use of sonar and explosives with official calculations of likely damage to these wildlife called “takings.” In addition to the NASWI the Navy has major regional bases in Bremerton and the Hood Canal. And all this is within the context of a Pentagon budget that consumes over fifty percent of our federal discretionary budget with another $25.7 billion added in the present provisional budget. Yet they feel they are entitled to also use our public state parks. I heard no reservations in their request nor any concerns. They obviously feel quite justified in their request and assume it will be granted by the Washington State Parks Commission after they complete their scoping sessions and their final proposal.
The scoping session was an interesting opportunity for “civil” discussion with people who are in somewhat of an adversarial position with the wider community’s welfare. For their part the Navy personnel made it clear their would try to answer any of our questions, and they seemed quite open about sharing exactly what they propose to do. Their representatives were well trained in public relations, and the more we talked with them the more likable each person became. Thye were on “duty" and presumably living out their values as professionals engaged in preparation for deadly warfare. I left the scoping session with generous respect for the Navy personnel themselves quite apart from the larger issue of the disproportionate military presence and the deadliness of their business. It can be difficult to hold deep conviction when facing this level of personal respect and a personal inclination to compromise and accommodate.
But our well prepared and persistent opposition to the Navy expansion is making a difference. For example, my wife had been transparent in providing Navy SEAL command here in the northwest and back in the Pentagon with our plans and reasons for our opposition. So when she introduced herself to one of leaders at the scoping Thursday evening, the woman immediately recognized my wife's name because she had read the letter my wife had sent to the Pentagon! The resistance was apparently at least taken seriously.
There is an African saying that if you think you are too small to make a difference, you have not spent a night with a mosquito. Our nonviolent opposition to injustice during this political era, if done with nonviolence, care and perseverance, does make a difference even in what may feel like small and insignificant ways. It is so crucial we continue to confront those policies and practices that harmfully impact vulnerable life and the planet itself. I am so lifted by the example of success we have had so far in challenging the Navy SEAL proposal. And by extension, each time we march, do research, write our letters, make our phone calls, and say “Enough!" to the military, the corporations and the erosion of our Constitutional democracy we are making a difference, difference in our own souls and in the greater drama of seeking peace and justice. Thanks to all who are committed to this type of opposition.
I want to close with a very important, inspiring short Leslie Stahl "60 minutes" interview with the last living prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials, 97 year old indomitable Ben Ferenz. Ben Ferenz has the great wisdom to know the difference between the evil done by those who fight the wars and the real evil which is war itself and the immorality and devastation if creates. Please try to take the time to watch the interview. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/what-the-last-nuremberg-prosecutor-alive-wants-the-world-to-know/
Watching the Ferenz interview I thought of the Navy SEALS and all in the military who live under a strong sense of duty and command. How difficult is it for them to exercise their consciences in the midst of war operations? And how difficult it is for each of us to examine our consciences and responsibility for our part in supporting the pervasive militarism of our American culture with our finances and tacit acceptance. The least we can do is try to be the little mosquitos with our questions and challenges. And many of us are doing just that!