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.
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.
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
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
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 oceans.
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.
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 people.
Bay Area Peace Navy
Fleet Week 2001 statement