Marianas Variety

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    Wednesday, October 23, 2019-2:20:10A.M.






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FEATURE | Brown professor says EIS documents create ignorance, not knowledge

LAST week, Joint Region Marianas extended the public input period for the Navy’s draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement or SEIS, a document that predicts the environmental consequences of the 2019 Mariana Islands Training and Testing or MITT project.

The window for public comment originally opened on February 20, to be closed on March 18; comments on the draft SEIS for the 2019 MITT will now be accepted through April 27th.

What exactly this newest MITT sets out to do within the bounds of its 1,000,000-square-mile testing area remains unclear to anyone unwilling or unable to read the 1,452-page report. And military reps made it clear during last month’s 2019 MITT draft SEIS public meetings that input on actions already covered by previous versions of the MITT will be considered redundant and irrelevant. In other words, to make a viable comment on this document, the commenter must also be familiar with the contents of the 2,850-page 2015 MITT and 3,023-page 2010 MITT.

The Navy created these extensive reports in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA, which intends to empower communities by mandating that federal agencies disclose the foreseeable consequences of any executive actions likely to significantly alter the surrounding human or natural environment. Once the draft EIS for the project is complete, the federal agency must collect and respond to public comments before moving forward with its plans, enabling informative dialogue and, if deemed necessary, political pushback.

The grounding principle: knowledge is power, and transparency strengthens democracy. But making knowledge available is not the same as making it accessible. And according to an article published this February by Catherine Lutz, anthropology and international studies professor at Brown University, the Navy’s approach to NEPA here in the Marianas may produce more ignorance than understanding.

In “Bureaucratic Weaponry and the Production of Ignorance in Military Operations on Guam,” Lutz examines the Navy’s implementation of the NEPA process when it released the 2010 Draft EIS for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command and the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Guam and CNMI Military Relocation (2012 Roadmap Adjustments).

“The detailed documents of the EIS suggest to readers that they are being provided with knowledge, that ignorance of the impact of the [military] buildup can be eliminated by reading them, and that they are meant to be read by the general public rather than being expert and exclusionary discourse,” she writes of the 2010 report. “However, there is not likely to be a single individual reader of the document capable of understanding or evaluating it properly, including its authors.”

Lutz claims that by overwhelming the public with an indigestible amount of information about its buildup plans (the Relocation EIS was 10,000 pages long) and offering an inadequate amount of time to respond (the Relocation EIS’s original comment window was originally 45 days, later extended to 90), the Navy creates only the illusion of an opportunity for education and dialogue. In reality, the documents are disempowering, condemning the majority of the local community to a state of insurmountable ignorance that discourages political activism.

According to Lutz, ignorance commonly contributes to enactment of the military’s plans; in fact, the perception of ignorance played a crucial role in validating the military buildup in the Marianas in the first place.

She writes that the military and the arms industry work side by side to validate and expand themselves through “projecting a world of ‘known unknowns,’ of threat and danger, and assuming unpreparedness.”

“Militarism, when successfully reproducing itself, reaps the political, cultural, and economic value of trafficking in ‘unlimited risks and indeterminable threats…’” she states. “Military planners spend much effort in constructing the idea of such unknown threats and ill preparedness that builds a positive sense of what their ignorance, which can be called strategic ignorance, requires in the way of resources: an ever larger military, expansive presence around a region or the globe, and an immense and baroque arsenal.”

Hence the buildup; a substantial portion of today’s “indeterminable threats” to national security can be attributed to Asian countries like China and North Korea, and these threats are being addressed through far-reaching military policies like the Obama administration’s decision to direct US military forces focused on the Middle East to “pivot to Asia”, casting modern relevance upon the Marianas’ historic role as the “tip of the spear.”

Finally, and perhaps most fundamentally, Lutz discusses how ignorance oils the gears of military bureaucracy. War or war preparation occurs as the synthesis of the diverse forms of labor carried out by innumerable pencil-pushers and military contractors who, because they perform their specialized duties within a limited scope, are themselves ignorant of the full consequences of the violent conflicts they enable. Lutz points out that this phenomenon has been well-studied, particularly as it relates to the Germans’ military bureaucracy during the Holocaust.

As it pertains to the Marianas, these are the people who arrange for the creation of an EIS, who conduct surveys, who present the EIS during public meetings, and who politely inform the public when their questions or concerns refer to matters outside whatever representative’s scope of knowledge and obligation. It can be assumed that the vast majority of these employees are unaware that what they’re working toward threatens to degrade the health, environment, economy, and culture of an indigenous community; their livelihoods may well depend on this ignorance.

What follows is perhaps the most worrisome effect of what Lutz sees as the production of ignorance by and within the US military: what political philosopher Hannah Arendt called “the dilution of moral responsibility” across the countless bureaucrats performing the myriad of innocuous tasks that carry out projects like the ever-expanding and reiterating defense developments destroying the Marianas. Those who have attended EIS public meetings will know this through experience: the buildup appears to be occurring in “the absence of someone specific with whom one could argue, to whom one could present grievances, on whom the pressure of power could be exerted.”

If Lutz is right, it’s possible that the military apparatus creating indecipherable EIS’s concerning irreparable damage to the Mariana Islands is itself unseeing, and even fueled by ignorance. Through the lens of her article, that blind machine appears to be plummeting toward the archipelago like a man-made asteroid. And that would mean the people of the Marianas who want to stop it have no leader to turn to (not that they had a voting representative in congress to begin with); if they want to protect their land, sea, and sky from further harm, they’ll have to find their own way.