This is not America: Legal Challenges to the Occupation of Hawaii

This week's post is not directly related to nuclear energy or nuclear weapons, but it discusses an important chapter in the history of the military power that nuclearized the global political stage. The lingering unresolved issues of this history have tremendous implications for the continuation of that power. My friends in Japan who have been supporting Okinawa's struggle for independence and/or the elimination of American military bases there should find this discussion of Hawai'i highly relevant to their own concerns. It's a long article, so only an introduction is posted here. The full article is available at the link below as a pdf file.

This is not America:
The Acting Government of the Hawaiian Kingdom Goes Global with Legal Challenges to End Occupation

by Dennis Riches


This article consists of two parts. Part 1 is a discussion of the legal challenges being made for the restoration of the Kingdom of Hawai'i. Part 1 also includes an overview of Hawaiian history, and the issues that have been present in the modern movement to restore Hawaiian culture and remediate the social and environmental problems created by occupation. Part 2 is an interview with the interior minister for the acting government of the Kingdom of Hawai'i, David Keanu Sai. Many readers are likely to be surprised or incredulous upon learning that Hawaiian sovereignty was never extinguished, or that there is such a thing as an acting government of a nation that is widely believed to be the 50th state of the USA. This article seeks to familiarize readers with the historical context in which the acting government established itself then began using international law to press its case both in the USA and in various international jurisdictions.

by Marty Two Bulls, Indian Country Today, 2014/10/05

 Part 1


This study is to be published in a journal concerned with glocal studies, a field of sociology concerned with finding the ways in which global and local cultures interact and produce novel and often unexpected effects on one another. This approach could suffer from a bias of looking too hard for the exotic in local responses to global culture while failing to see the degree to which the local cultures are already working within the global norms established by Western powers.

Such was the case with this study of Hawai'i. I came to the subject expecting to find a movement that defined Hawaiian identity by blood lineage and sought to enhance native rights by seeking justice within the existing social and political framework of American state and federal laws. Instead, I found the provisional government of a nation that is utilizing the framework of international law to end a foreign occupation that has existed since 1898. What is more, the Hawaiian state that existed in the 19th century had already transformed itself into a nation that had political structures similar to those of European nation states of the time. It was a multi-ethnic constitutional monarchy that had equal treaties with foreign powers, embassies, and international recognition as an independent state.

The provisional government's use of international law to restore a dormant government and revive a disappearing culture should not be confused with indigenous struggles that lack this history of having once been a fully independent state recognized within the global order of the 19th century. Furthermore, Hawai'i is an island nation, so its geographical isolation means there is even less reason for it to negotiate the nation-within-a nation status that is the norm for aboriginal groups on the North American continent. When Hawaiians point out this advantageous legal position, it should not be viewed as an attempt to place themselves above other groups. Hawaiians have always expressed solidarity with aboriginal groups that had different experiences with Western contact, but they were in a unique situation that requires a different strategy.

Hawai'i is also different from another category of independence struggle, that of ethnic groups seeking self-determination after a history of colonization. They also appeal to international law and the right to self-determination promised by UN resolutions, but Hawai'i doesn't belong in this category. It was never colonized in the political sense of the word.

Hawai'i's unique situation is an important case for the global community to pay attention to because of the implications for the continued projection of US military power. Hawai'i is the headquarters of the US Pacific Command and thus a highly strategic asset for the placement of conventional military installations and nuclear weapons. The illegal status of the Pacific Command, since the first landing of American troops in 1893 and 1898 should not be forgotten. The United States knowingly occupied a neutral territory, violating international law of the day, in order to conduct operations against another belligerent in the Spanish colonies of Guam and the Philippines.

The international community has begun to tire of America's 25-year reign as the sole global superpower, and serious questions are being asked about how long other nations can tolerate US interventionism, the global network of 700 US military installations (according to an estimate made in 2004), and whether such a projection of power is something America can sustain for much longer. If the US government ever decided to, or were forced to carry out its obligations under international law to end the occupation of Hawai'i, it is conceivable that this could be the place where the global rollback of US military power begins...

The rest of the article (19,000 words) is available at this link in pdf format.

The article was published in hard copy here:

Riches, Dennis, “This is not America: The Acting Government of the Kingdom of Hawaii Goes Global with Legal Challenges to End Occupation,” グローカル研究叢書5 (gurokaru kenkyuu sousho no. 5接触のグローカル研究 (sesshoku no gurokaru kenkyuu), March 20, 2016, 81-32, ISBN 978-4-906845-18-7
Published by the Center for Glocal Studies, Seijo University
成城大学 グローカル研究センター

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