ANOTHER FACE: U.S. military stronghold keeping watch over the Pacific

July 28, 2013

The Asahi Shimbun GLOBE

Under the Obama administration, a strategic pivoting to Asia will see 60 percent of the U.S. Navy's fleet based in the Pacific Ocean by 2020. This has been described as a strategic "rebalance" to strengthen the U.S. Pacific Fleet in response to China's rise to prominence and Asian economic growth.

The U.S. Pacific Fleet covers a vast area that stretches from the West Coast of the United States to the Indian Ocean, equivalent to roughly half of the world's circumference. The Hawaiian island of Oahu is smack in the middle.

A 30-minute drive from the bustling tourist mecca of Waikiki, the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) stands on high ground immediately west of Honolulu Airport. It offers a panoramic view of Pearl Harbor, where close to 100 battleships lie at anchor. USPACOM is comprised of command posts for four arms of the U.S. military, including the Army and Marine Corps, which are situated in close proximity to each another in the Honolulu area.

Hawaii's history as a military stronghold dates to the early 20th century. It all began after its annexation by the United States when a huge naval base was built in Pearl Harbor as a hub for military affairs and commerce between the U.S. mainland and Asia.

During the war in the Pacific, which commenced with the Imperial Japanese Navy's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, it became a massive base that supported the frontline of the counter-offensive against Japan. USPACOM was established after the war in 1947, and U.S. forces stationed in Japan, South Korea and elsewhere were brought under its command. Its nerve center is located in Hawaii, while its operational units are based in Japan, South Korea and other nations. This is called a "forward deployment strategy."

USPACOM is comprised of 330,000 military personnel, which represents 20 percent of the entire U.S. military. The U.S. Pacific Fleet, which is made up of the Seventh Fleet that covers the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean and the Third Fleet, which handles the Eastern Pacific and the Bering Sea, has around 180 vessels including five aircraft carriers, and 2,000 aircraft.

Additionally, two-thirds of the entire Marine Corps is assigned to USPACOM. Its Air Force and Army contingents are also sizable. However, only a small portion of its entire forces are based at the Hawaiian nerve center. Advances in communications technology are increasingly making divisions such as these possible.

The commander in chief of USPACOM, stationed on Oahu, reports directly to the U.S. president and the defense secretary, and has the authority to lead all U.S. military forces within the region. The position has historically been held by naval admirals, and is currently occupied by Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, the 23rd commander in chief. His predecessor, Adm. Robert F. Willard, provided disaster assistance in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

The U.S. Pacific Fleet often engages in maneuvers with America's allies and friendly nations such as Japan, Australia and Thailand, as well as disaster relief. Once every two years, Pacific Rim nations such as Japan and the United States take part in RIMPAC, a joint exercise in which naval vessels are dispatched to the seas around Hawaii. The United States has also called for Chinese participation, and this could be realized for the first time as early as 2014.

Meanwhile, in March, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Hawaii announced that it had arrested and prosecuted a former U.S. Army officer on suspicion of leaking national defense secrets. After retiring from the Army and taking a job with a defense contractor working for USPACOM, he is alleged to have communicated classified information regarding nuclear weapons to a Chinese woman in her 20s that he was romantically involved with.

Former CIA employee Edward Snowden, who recently exposed the U.S. government's top secret surveillance programs, is also thought to have worked for an intelligence gathering facility in Hawaii before making his disclosures. Local media reported that Hawaii is known as the third-most active hotbed of espionage in the United States after Washington and New York.

At a U.S. congressional hearing in 2008, the then USPACOM commander in chief introduced an anecdote of the time he engaged in talks with a high-ranking Chinese naval official, who made the following proposal with a straight face: "You take Hawaii east, we'll take Hawaii west, we'll share information, and we'll save you all the trouble of deploying your naval forces west of Hawaii."

China has increased its defense budget four times over the last 10 years and is strengthening its military might through moves such as putting an aircraft carrier into service for the first time, and the United States is watching these developments cautiously.

(The first part of this article was written by Kuniichi Tanida of City News Section.)


Hawaii also happens to be the first battlefield of the war in the Pacific. In Pearl Harbor, which was the target of a surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1941, the sunken wreck of the USS Arizona remains to this day, and there is also a visitor center. I learned that its displays had been extensively redone in 2010, so I went to have a look.

Located a 30-minute drive from Honolulu, the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center's facilities include two museums that explain the nature of the attack and the lead-up to the Pacific War, a memorial theater that screens a documentary, and the USS Arizona Memorial, which allows visitors to observe the underwater wreck from above.

Upon entering the museum, my eyes fell upon an introduction of Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, commander in chief of the Combined Fleet, which led the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"Descended from a samurai family, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto grasped the strategic importance of naval aviation ... Yamamoto had studied and worked in the United States. While opposed to war with America ... He believed Japan could not win in the long run. But if war came, he was determined to strike first and hard."

The information for the explanation was supplied by the Yamamoto Isoroku Memorial Museum in his hometown of Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, and the Nagaoka War Damage Exhibit Hall. Exchanges between them and the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center commenced from 2011, and high school students from both cities have made reciprocal visits. In 2012, Honolulu and Nagaoka became sister cities.

The museum exhibits provide detailed explanations of the circumstances surrounding Japan and the United States and the lifestyles of people in both countries at the time, as well as a breakdown of the attack and the damage it wrought. Around 2,400 Americans died, including 49 civilians, and more than 1,000 sustained injuries. The Japanese death toll was 64. Some exhibits are difficult to look at, such as graphic photos of the dead.

In addition, video is played of eyewitness accounts by local residents and U.S. military veterans who were stationed at Pearl Harbor when the attack occurred, as well as a former Japanese serviceman who participated in the assault and a Japanese woman who was a student at the time.

Hawaiian-Japanese reveal the anguish they felt at being torn between their ancestral homeland and the United States and their wavering sentiments, and the Japanese serviceman speaks matter-of-factly about the period. The Japanese woman recounts how Western-style sailor suit school uniforms were banned in Japan, and being made to practice fighting with bamboo spears.

Before the exhibits were revamped in 2010, the museum's facilities were rather cramped at two-thirds of its current size, and its displays only featured basic information on the attack on Pearl Harbor with no explanations of the lifestyles of Japanese. In order to convey a more comprehensive representation of the history and the people who fought and died at Pearl Harbor, the center was given a $56 million (approximately 5.6 billion yen) makeover funded by public donations and financial support from the U.S. Navy. A video crew was also sent to Japan to record survivors' testimonies for the center, and interviews were carried out with people who experienced the war first-hand.

After looking around the museum, I took a shuttle boat to the floating USS Arizona Memorial, which straddles the sunken battleship. The USS Arizona went down with over 1,000 crew members on board, and many of their bodies still lie beneath the sea. A rust-covered section of the wreck juts out from the water, and leaking oil still floats to the surface.

In 2008, then Japanese Lower House speaker Yohei Kono visited the memorial and laid flowers there. This was regarded as a reciprocal gesture in response to then U.S. House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Hiroshima, where she offered a wreath. Honolulu and Hiroshima also happen to be sister cities.

Some 1.7 million people visit the center every year. Japanese account for around 6 to 8 percent of that figure.

"We strive to tell a complete history ... As there are multiple aspects to it, so we tried to bring in all parties involved," says exhibit supervisor Eileen Martinez, 46. "Here is a place (for everyone) to pray for peace. (We hope more Japanese will) come here and see our galleries." The Visitor Center has also prepared explanatory pamphlets in 35 languages.

(The second part of this article was written by Noriko Akiyama of GLOBE.)

The Asahi Shimbun GLOBE
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In this file photo provided by the U.S. Navy, visitors to Naval Station Pearl Harbor look on as the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk ties up at pier on July 1, 2008, prior to starting the Rim of the Pacific exercise. This became the final exercise for the Kitty Hawk before returning to the U.S. mainland for decommissioning. (AP file photo)

In this file photo provided by the U.S. Navy, visitors to Naval Station Pearl Harbor look on as the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk ties up at pier on July 1, 2008, prior to starting the Rim of the Pacific exercise. This became the final exercise for the Kitty Hawk before returning to the U.S. mainland for decommissioning. (AP file photo)

  • In this file photo provided by the U.S. Navy, visitors to Naval Station Pearl Harbor look on as the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk ties up at pier on July 1, 2008, prior to starting the Rim of the Pacific exercise. This became the final exercise for the Kitty Hawk before returning to the U.S. mainland for decommissioning. (AP file photo)
  • A museum display at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center (Noriko Akiyama)

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