When Fernando Magallanes, a Portuguese navigator, sailed across the widest and the deepest of the earths oceans in 1520, he called it Pacific. Magallanes thought that it was a fitting name for this peaceful and largest body of water, with more than 30,000 islands, which covers more than a third of the earths surface. Magallanes and Captain James Cook both found the place and people quite peaceful.
On a pleasant day, the Pacific Ocean can, indeed, be pacific or peaceful. The islands in the Pacific Ocean are a paradise. But anyone familiar with the Pacific Ocean, with its huge waves, strong currents, and destructive typhoons, knows that the Pacific Ocean is not totally peaceful. As a child of the Pacific, I have witnessed both its oceanic calmness and its fierce whimsy.
The peaceful and paradisal Pacific is just one side of the story. Aside from tidal waves and typhoons, the Pacific Ocean has been an area of contest by colonial powers. The encounter with European navigators and colonizers altered the socialscape of the region as well as its geography, and life has not been peaceful for its inhabitants. The indigenous people resisted the foreign colonizers. Both Magallanes and Cook were killed by the inhabitants of the Pacific. In retaliation, the colonial powers conducted what is called a "pacification" campaign.
These days, if there is one major area in the world where de-colonization is incomplete (recognizing the similar fate of some Caribbean islands), it is the Pacific region. Even though the colonizers are gone from many of the islands, the colonization process has produced socio-political disharmony and the marginalization, if not the obliteration, of the indigenous inhabitants. Yan Celene Uregei describes how colonizers carried out a "policy of massive systematic immigration of populations foreign to the Pacific" ("The Kanak Struggle for Independence" in Pacific Peoples Sing Out Strong, ed. William Coop). To suppress the Kanak peoples struggle for self-determination, France pushed Vietnamese refugees into New Caledonia. This practice has been called "genocide by substitution." The crisis between Indo-Fijians and the native Fijians is another example of this altered socialscape, caused by the history of British colonization.
During the Cold War era which actually was a "hot war" in many Third World countries (N.B. In this essay the term "Third World" will be used to reflect that our peoples have been "thirdworldized" by the global economy) the Pacific Ocean was not peaceful. It became the testing site for the deadliest nuclear bombs by the U.S., France and the former Soviet Union. The Marshall Islands suffered the most, as the U.S. conducted 67 tests there from June 30, 1946, to August 18, 1958. In 1954, the U.S. detonated what it dubbed Bravo bomb, which was 750 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The result has been nuclear fall-out on islands and atolls. One of the effects is the birth of "jellyfish babies." The only reason we know that they are human babies, said one Marshallese parent, is their brain. This callous disregard for human life and for all habitat in the region is part of the U.S. legacy.
Now we may ask, where are the indigenous peoples of the Pacific? Where are the Kanaks of New Caledonia? Where are the Chamorus of Guam (Guahan) and the rest of the Mariana Islands? Where are the indigenous Hawaiians (na Kanaka Maoli)? As one native Hawaiian friend of mine said: "They are in the lei stand and in prison cells." They have become the new minority in their own land. They are on the "reservations." Their survival and identity as a people are at stake. Many of them have already migrated to New Zealand, Australia and the U.S.
Diaspora has been the plight of many Pacific islanders: a plight they share with many people of the Third World. Diaspora usually follows conquest, colonization and exploitation. Most often they end up as diaspora minorities in the belly of the empire. Globalization has accelerated the growth of this diaspora. To my surprise, the rural region of southwestern Minnesota has drawn newcomers from the Third World because of jobs provided by corporate agribusiness. However, they are perceived as a threat by long-term residents of that region and have become the target of anti-immigrant sentiment.
The plight of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific is shared by indigenous peoples around the world. It took me years to discern the connections between the struggles of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific and the American Indians of my new place of residence, Minnesota, and the neighboring Dakotas. Though separated by an immense geographical distance, they share a common struggle for land and identity. Both of their histories follow a "trail of terror," and of dispossession and genocide. They are also both victims of "radioactive racism" or "environmental terrorism." Grace Thorpe writes that 80 to 90 percent of uranium mining and milling in the U.S. has taken place on or adjacent to American Indian reservations, with serious consequences to the health of American Indians ("Our Homes are Not Dumps: Creating Nuclear-Free Zones" in Defending Mother Earth: Native Perspectives on Environmental Justice, ed. Jace Weaver).
The war on terrorism that has followed the September 11, 2001, tragedy has only diverted our attention from addressing the unjust practices that have characterized U.S. relations with the indigenous peoples of the Pacific and the continental U.S. The legitimate demands of indigenous peoples have been set aside. Rather than making us realize that terror has been the plight of the indigenous peoples, we have become obsessed with our own security and the pursuit of terrorists.
If the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, then fear for security is the beginning of idolatry (Proverbs 1:7). Idolatry is an expression of our attempt to doubly secure ourselves, but in doing so we fall into false securities. Idolatry results in our giving mundane goods such as economic wealth, technological advances and military might the status of eternal securers. Idolatry makes us cling tenaciously to these mundane and vulnerable duct-tape securities.
I am reminded of Jesus, who wept over Jerusalem, saying: "If you only knew today what is needed for peace!" (Luke 19:42). It may be possible through sophisticated technology and military power to track down international terrorists, but they are not going to be totally deterred. If this were true, Israel would be the safest and most secure nation today. The social elites may create "fortress communities" to insulate themselves from the outside world, but they will soon realize that they are not completely invulnerable. We may be wired to the global market through cyberspace, but we do not know our local neighbors. And terrorists are aware of this vulnerability. A peace that has walls in our highly globalized world is no peace at all. We seem not to understand, or we seem to refuse to understand, that lasting security can only be secured through just peace, not by "just war."
Just relationships are the foundation for peace and security. Justice or righteousness is the foundation of cosmic harmony and order. YHWH (God) created the world according to sedaqâ (righteousness). "When sedaqâ prevails," notes Douglas Knight, "the world is at harmony, in a state of well-being, in salôm. An act of sin in the religious sphere or injustice in the social sphere can inject discord and shatter salôm. It then takes a decisive act of mispat (justice) to restore the salôm and reestablish the sedaqâ" ("Cosmogony and Order in the Hebrew Tradition," in Cosmogony and Ethical Order: New Studies in Comparative Ethics, ed. R. Lovin and F. Reynolds).
"Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono" ("The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness"), runs the state motto of Hawaii. Without pono (justice or righteousness), there is no peace and harmony in the land (aina). Only the practice of just relationships and the righting of wrongs can restore harmony and bring security.
When will we learn the ways of peace and true security? When will we understand and gain the courage to address the roots of terrorism? When will we learn to let go of our false securities and to truly trust in the God who became incarnate in the crucified One? God of shalom, show us the way.
Eleazar S. Fernandez