Early every October
the Bay Area hosts Fleet Week, a giant party for the U.S. Navy and Marines
sponsored by City of San Francisco and the Navy League. The Blue Angels
streak overhead and local dignitaries greet the giant warships as they
parade through the Golden Gate. The Bay Area Peace Navy would like to
suggest that this is an excellent opportunity to examine Fleet Week and
reconsider whether it truly reflects the values and goals of this diverse
and freedom-loving community.
1. It has deep
roots in an unpleasant epoch in U.S. history.
The current incarnation of Fleet Week has only been around since 1981,
when then-mayor Dianne Feinstein established it as an annual event that
resurrected of the glory of July 1908, when San Francisco was proud host
to President Teddy Roosevelt's "Great White Fleet." The U.S.
Navy was showing off its new Navy, flush with vigor after winning the
Spanish-American War where U.S. commercial and military interests fueled
an invasion that subsumed the Cuban and Puerto Rican struggles for self-determination
and resulted in geopolitical consequences that remain with us to this
day. Our campaign in the Phillippines also had less to do with protecting
democracy than it did with territorial expansion. Even before the Peace
Treaty was signed, U.S. troops fired on a group of Filipinos and started
the Philippine-American War, a vicious and ugly chapter in U.S. history
that lasted until 1914. The actual death toll will never be known, but
estimates of the number of civilians that perished from famine, disease,
and other war-related causes range from 200,000 to 600,000.
This war had started
out as a very popular campaign, but towards the end the shine had worn
off and some brave citizens began to raise their voices in protest. Among
them was the great American author Mark Twain. The stigma of that war
was so uncomfortable that no parades commemorated its centennial, yet
the legacy of the "Great White Fleet" remains with us through
the existence of Fleet Week. Like Mark Twain, the Bay Area Peace Navy
has taken on the unpopular role of critics of militarism.
2. It is an inappropriate
use of tax dollars.
Don't be fooled by the pretense of corporate sponsorship. The expense
figures released by the organizing committee - $400,000 - doesn't even
begin to cover the millions of tax dollars incurred by the Navy, the Coast
Guard (which has in the past had to truck in boats from as far away as
San Diego and Lake Tahoe for event security responsibilities), and other
public agencies to operate the event. The Blue Angels alone cost an estimated
$98,000 per performance.
demonstration on the water -Fleet Week 2002
3. The Navy has
a poor environmental track record.
The Navy's decommissioned bases are loaded with toxic chemicals and undisclosed
environmental hazards. The military did not consider these to be legitimately
closure-related, and local municipalities have been hard-pressed to come
up with the millions of dollars needed to make these sites safe. One example
- recently, 87% of San Francisco voters approved Proposition P, which
urged the Navy to remove all toxics from the Hunter's Point shipyard.
A toxic fire on August 16, 2000 was one of several incidents that have
endangered local residents. "The Navy has been negligent in its responsibility
to the present and future residents and workers in the Bayview Hunters
Point area," said Supervisor Tom Ammiano. "Not warning residents
of the fire was unconscionable."
Around the globe,
the U.S. Navy is testing and deploying "active sonar" technology,
which uses extremely loud sound to detect submarines. The problem? Low
Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS) can injure and even kill marine mammals.
Just last month, LFAS from Navy Operations was definitely connected to
another stranding of beaked whales in the Canary Islands. The Navy has
conducted testing in complete secrecy and has consistently evaded and
violated environmental law. In addition, it is attempting to expand its
active-sonar program into U.S. coastal waters, and wants to do so without
conducting the environmental analysis required by law. In July 2002, despite
strong concerns from many leading scientists, the Bush administration
issued a permit allowing the Navy to use the biggest gun in its active-sonar
arsenal, the SURTASS LFA system, in as much as 75 percent of the world's
4. The Bay Area
can do better.
Every year since 1981 our flotilla has carried banners to present alternative
views for peace, the environment and social justice. We were pleased when,
in 1993, the Fleet Week promoters followed our lead and announced that
the event would "redefine itself" to become the "San Francisco
Bay Area Fest, a more broadly based celebration of the sea without the
exclusive emphasis on the Navy." Such an event could encompass all
of those that use and enjoy the bay - longshore workers, recreational
sailor, fishers, windsurfers, swimmers, and more. It is unfortunate that
these changes never took place, and that the event remains a municipally-funded
recruiting festival for the armed forces.
The time couldn't
be better to reexamine and redefine Fleet Week. In the wake of the deplorable
September 11 attacks, it is imperative that we take a close look at those
of our policies that have led to this incredible level of anger and hatred
of directed against our country. Terrorism will remain with us until we
are able to redefine our foreign policies to become a respected world
leader rather than an oppressor. Fleet week is an ugly symbol of such
oppression. Converting Fleet Week to a peaceful celebration of the Bay
would be an important step in the right direction. Please join the many
groups that are working to convert this event and return the bay to the
Area Peace Navy
Week 2001 statement