Posts Tagged ‘Pacific realignment’
Episode 5 of HBO’s The Pacific aired here in Taiwan last Saturday night. I’ve seen all five episodes thus far and want to offer my impressions of the series halfway through. I think it is useful to tie in some related reading I have been doing.
In a previous post I talked about reading E.B. Sledge’s account of the fantastically terrible fighting on Peleliu and Okinawa as preparation for the series. Selection of Sledge’s book, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa was in fact a matter of convenience; it had been setting on my shelf, begging to be read for nearly a year since I found a very affordable paperback copy used at a bookstore in Monterey, California. My latest tie-in selection, William Manchester’s Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War was also one of convenience – during a “fire sale” on Audible.com in September 2009, I picked up the unabridged audiobook for cheap. It had been waiting in my audiobook queue, also beckoning – “Listen to me!” The time had come.
First of all, my full review of the book, which I finished yesterday, is here at Goodreads. However, there are a few things I would like to mention about it here in contrast with what I read in Sledge’s book. Not that really creates any disputes in the descriptions of the fighting – far from it. Rather, it is a matter of scope. Sledge’s book takes an almost “soda straw” view of the fighting he personally engaged in on two islands in the Pacific during World War II. Much has been written about how successful he was in describing the undeniably brutal combat in both places. Manchester’s book contains some of the same intense accounts of personal battle, but to it he adds a great deal of context, both from at the time the Pacific campaign was taking place, but also, and very uniquely, from the future – looking back at the battles and their aftermath from the vantage point provided by over three decades of hindsight and perspective. Writing in the late 1970s, Manchester was critical of the return of the Japanese in commercial and consumer roles to many of the same places that so many U.S. servicemen died in securing during the war, for instance Guam. I have spent some time on Guam, first in late 1996 and most recently in early 2008. If he though the place was overcommercialized and had too many Japanese tourists in the late 1970s, I shudder to think what he would make of it today. The main drag along Tumon Bay compares not unfavorably in terms of commercial development with Waikiki and is now studded with high-rise hotels and fancy boutiques. Yet only a few miles away in little villages life is completely different, lacking in basic needs like fresh water. As a legacy of the war, the island is already has a large U.S. military presence, but that will increase by a large margin when in the coming decade nearly 10,000 Marines and their families will most likely move from Okinawa to a new installation on Guam. Guam’s sons and daughters serve and give their lives in a disproportionately high percentage in today’s U.S. military forces, yet the people there cannot vote in the American presidential elections. Conditions in Guam today, faced with the impending U.S. military buildup, have many residents feeling like they are colonial subjects of the U.S. This situation bodes not well for the stability of the island in the future and is even more important as Guam takes a more central role in American strategy in the Pacific as traditional basing locations like Okinawa become less palatable, as the recent protests about the relocation of the Futenma Marine air base in Ginowan, Okinawa and the ongoing friction between the government of Japan and the Americans about what the plan is for the relocation of U.S. forces.
Manchester also visited Okinawa during his return to the Pacific, and was appalled by what he saw there as well. He called the base exchange he saw at Camp Foster, the largest of the Marine bases on Okinawa, bigger than any department store he had seen in the U.S. His return to the Philippines was a bit less shocking, if only because it seemed a bit less “Americanized.” I’ve also been to Manila and other places in the Philippines and what shocks the most is the contrast between rich and poor. Manila has no shortage of high-end Western hotels, shopping malls (the Mall of Asia there is the one of the largest in Asia), restaurants, and so forth, but oftentimes just a block or two away are people living in some of the most grinding conditions imaginable. Panhandling is epidemic. And then there is the Manila American Cemetery, where many of America’s battle dead from World War II are buried. When I visited it in 2007, I felt almost as if I had stepped into Arlington National Cemetery, with the rolling expanses of white cross-studded greenery. It was spacious and peaceful, a stark contrast to the teeming metropolis that surrounded it.
Even with Manchester’s and Sledge’s lucid descriptions of the combat all across the Pacific, it’s hard for me to imagine fighting in some of these places. Conditions on Guadalcanal sounded absolutely oppressive. It’s no wonder the 1st Marine Division emblem still boasts of their fortitude there.
Finally, specifically about The Pacific, I am enjoying each week’s episode. I prefer the installments that are more heavy on combat, less so the ones that are about “chasing tail” (i.e. episode 3 about Marines resting and refitting in Australia between the battle on Guadalcanal and the Cape Gloucester landing). In this respect I agree with critics who say that the series tries to hard to make a “love story.” Perhaps the second half of the series will be able to tie it all together. All in all, I would say that halfway through the ten-part series, I prefer Band of Brothers, though it left some seriously big shoes to fill.
Episode 6 of The Pacific airs tonight in Taiwan. Tune it to HBO to watch.
Here’s another new article from Stars and Stripes that does a nice job of summing up very concisely the current state of affairs related to the Guam relocation. It’s interesting that what is most often stressed about the proposed realignment plan, as in this article, is the commonly referred to “not-in-my-backyard” issue – as in, we want the security that forces like U.S. Marines provide, but we don’t want them to come too close to where we live. Candidly, I think that most of our Asia-Pacific allies and partners would prefer for us to be closer to the potential rising threats in the region rather than farther away, but it is not popular politically for them to express this sentiment publicly. As for the people of Guam…I think they feel like a train is coming and they are on the tracks. In the long-term, the relocation might bring some benefits to Guam (economically, etc.), but there is so much “pain” required to get to that point (congestion on the island, changes in their accustomed way of life, and so on) that few look at it in that way.
By Teri Weaver, Stars and Stripes
Online Edition, Friday, March 5, 2010
RELATED STORY: Uncertainty surrounds future of U.S.-Japan military alliance
TOKYO — When it comes to regional security, many Western Pacific nations like the idea of thousands of U.S. Marines permanently stationed close by. As long as they are not too close.
As part of a complex plan to reduce the sprawling American military presence on the Japanese island of Okinawa, U.S. officials approached Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines and Australia about the possibility of hosting permanent new American military bases.
All four said no.
That left tiny Guam, which for more than six decades has served as a reliable American staging point during wars and an often-forgotten port and air strip during peacetime.
Military leaders say that maintaining a stable home for U.S. troops in Asia is vital for security in a region where Islamic extremists are fighting in the Philippines and Indonesia, North Korea remains erratic and threatening, and China is seeking to expand its economic and military influence.
Even if that stable home is more than a thousand miles from Japan.
“It’s a U.S. possession that’s the closest to Asia,” said Rick Castberg, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. “I think the military sees it as invaluable.”
What’s more, the plans for stationing 8,600 Marines on Guam fit with the military’s emphasis on building long-lasting bases around the world that can provide rapid, flexible response in times of crisis. And it’s a friendly home for U.S. military assets that are not always welcome elsewhere, such as nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and high-flying Global Hawk surveillance drones.
“Guam is, in some ways, the poster child for that kind of notion, where you can operate as you need to, to take on new challenges flexibly,” said Derek Mitchell, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. “It is central, I think, to realignment strategy.”
Many on Guam embraced the proposed U.S. expansion and the prospect of additional federal money for the island’s crumbling infrastructure and struggling public services. The long-term military investment — an estimated $10.3 billion for the Marines’ move alone — would put money back into a part of the United States, another benefit of building inside the country, Mitchell said.
But as plans have evolved, so have concerns about how the island’s 178,000 residents will handle a huge spike in permanent population, which will be an estimated 34,000 new troops, civilian workers and dependents. The fast-paced construction schedule also could add nearly 80,000 temporary workers to the island by 2014.
Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sharply criticized as “inadequate” the environmental impact statement that the military prepared in advance of the Guam expansion, noting that the massive project would “exacerbate existing substandard environmental conditions.”
Among the environmental agency’s concerns: threats to 71 acres of coral reef in Guam’s main harbor and contamination risks to the island’s only freshwater aquifer.
Other critics on Guam are concerned about plans to build expanded firing ranges and increase training flights on the island.
Madeleine Bordallo, Guam’s delegate to Congress, said last month she would withdraw support for the buildup unless the Pentagon slows its construction plans. Around the same time, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who chairs the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee, visited Guam and Japan and said he shared concerns about the construction schedule.
“Specifically, the U.S. government should recognize the needs and sensitivities of the people and the limitations of space on the island,” he said in a written statement after the trip. “If the United States remains committed to an active forward presence in Asia, and an increased U.S. military presence on Guam, then it must demonstrate that commitment by providing the civilian infrastructure and services needed to support an increased population on the island.”
Yet the military doesn’t seem to be backing down. In fact, it’s asking Guam to do more. The Army is now looking at Guam as one of five possible locations for its new joint high speed vessels.
“When God gives you a gift,” said Stephen Yates, a senior fellow in Asian studies for the American Foreign Policy Council, “it’s good to use it.”
In a new article in Stars and Stripes, U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway indicates that it is his belief that all the components of the Marine air-ground task force (MAGTF) need to remain in Okinawa in order to facilitate effective training for ongoing overseas contingencies.
By David Allen, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Thursday, March 4, 2010
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — As long as Marines remain on Okinawa, it’s vital to retain both ground and air elements on the island, the commandant of the Marine Corps said Tuesday.
“It’s important that we keep our Marine air-ground task force together,” said Gen. James T. Conway, who stopped on Okinawa on his way to participate in the commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima.
In an interview with Stars and Stripes, he emphasized that closing Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and moving Marine air operations to a new facility on Camp Schwab remains the best option for maintaining training and ensuring stability in the region.
The U.S. and Japan agreed in 2006 to close Futenma and move Marine air operations to a new air facility to be built on the lower part of Camp Schwab. However, Japan’s new left-center government decided late last year to review the project, examining how the Camp Schwab project was selected and whether the Marines can be based somewhere else.
“We’ve got to be able to train effectively,” Conway said. “If you were to separate our Marine aviation from Marine ground units and from Marine logistics support, it would be — with the distances out here — virtually impossible to do that.”
On other matters, Conway said he is pushing for funds to replenish equipment.
“We’re encouraging Congress to recognize the need to get us up to pace with the losses that we’re experiencing both in combat and just from equipment being worn out,” he said.
“There’s a promise out there that when the guns fall silent in Afghanistan that there will be two or three years of getting [equipment] back in good order,” Conway said. “But I think from the national fiscal picture, that’s a promise that could be at risk. So we need to do as much as we can now, in stride, and not face the day when we present a huge bill to Congress.”
Anticipating his trip to Iwo Jima, Conway said the 1945 battle remains an important part of the legacy of the Marine Corps.
“It wasn’t the most exquisite campaign, it wasn’t the longest, it wasn’t the most bloody fight in the Pacific, but all that said, it is an epic battle that probably holds more importance to our legacy than any other,” Conway contended.
“And when you look at those 36 days of battle and the determination, the courage, the sacrifice that those three divisions of Marines and their supporting elements demonstrated, it’s just incredible,” he said. “The more I research it, the more dumbfounded I am by the ability of people to endure what they saw for 36 days.”
Conway said Afghanistan is becoming another important part of the Corps’ legacy.
“You’re going to see an increasing number of Marines in Afghanistan,” he said. “I received a cable this morning that said that the last Marine convoy had left al-Asad in Iraq, so our chapter in Iraq has almost exclusively closed out at this point, which allows us to focus, like we think we need to focus, on Afghanistan.”
I read elsewhere that this trip to Okinawa and Iwo Jima is a “farewell” for General Conway in the Asia-Pacific region – his term of service as Marine Commandant is due to expire later this year. In yet another article I saw a “short list” for the job, which unsurprisingly included General James Mattis, currently commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, and a pair of three-star generals, one of whom was unconventionally promoted from 1-star to his current rank (skipping right over the two-star rank, major general) in 2007, reportedly for this very reason, so that the general could be on the short list when it was time to pick the next commandant. It will be interesting to see who ends up taking over as the Corps’ top officer.
Finally, somewhat related, I finally saw Avatar today, and while watching the movie, I couldn’t help but think that the caricatured Marine colonel in the movie (Colonel Miles Quaritch, played by Stephen Lang) reminded me of General Conway, appearance-wise. Without the cranial scar, of course.