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Tomgram: Dahr Jamail, Alaska in the Crosshairs

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

In 2003, not long after the American invasion, Dahr Jamail, a youthful freelance journalist from Alaska, headed to Iraq. He wasn't then a reporter for anyone or, put another way, he was at that moment perhaps the most "unembedded" reporter on the face of the Earth. In the years to come, he would visit that occupied country numerous times, traveling alone (except for a translator) and remarkably fearlessly, as he reported vividly for a variety of publications, including (begining in 2005) this website, on the kinds of devastation the U.S. military brought to Iraq. He would write a book, Beyond the Green Zone, on his experiences.

Meanwhile, his own land still seemed far away indeed from war. Small groups of protesters aside, most Americans, even as their country militarized and the national security state became the fourth branch of government, continued with their lives as if the distant wars being fought in their name had nothing to do with them. Existing under the implacable buzz of Hellfire-missile-armed drones, experiencing special-ops raids, finding jihadists spreading in your town or city, watching your country shatter before your eyes, being uprooted from your home and put to flight, all of that and more was the unimaginable experience of foreign peoples in distant lands. All of it had nothing to do with Americans (or our policies or our military), even as so many of them became refugees or terrorists (neither of whom we wanted in this country).

So imagine Jamail's surprise on discovering in Alaska that the U.S. military and its depredations were anything but far from our shores. He first covered the Navy's war games in the Gulf of Alaska and the ways in which they represented a kind of war against the American environment in May 2015. It was a joint report for this site and the invaluable Truthout (where he continues, among other things, to write stunning monthly summaries of the latest news and scientific information on the effects of climate change on our world). Now, he returns with a jolting update. Tom

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War in the Gulf (No, Not That Gulf!)
The U.S. Navy's Anti-Environmental Broadside in the Gulf of Alaska
By Dahr Jamail

[This essay is a joint TomDispatch/Truthout report.]

It's war in the Gulf and the U.S. Navy is on hand to protect us. No, not that Gulf! I'm talking about the Gulf of Alaska and it's actually mock war -- if, that is, you don't happen to be a fin whale or a wild salmon.

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This May, the Navy will again sail its warships into the Gulf of Alaska. There, they will engage in military maneuvers and possibly drop bombs, launch torpedoes and missiles, and engage in activities that stand a significant chance of poisoning those once-pristine waters, while it prepares for future battles elsewhere on the planet. Think of it as a war against wildlife, an assault on the environment and local coastal communities.

And call it irony or call it American life in 2017, but the U.S. military's Alaska Command has branded Emily Stolarcyk "a troublemaker" for insistently pointing this out. In a state where such a phrase is the equivalent of an obscenity, some have bluntly called her "anti-military." The office of Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski has termed her a "rabble-rouser," while a Kodiak Assembly member labeled some of what she's been saying about the Navy "just silly."

As a resident of the tiny fishing town of Cordova, Alaska, the most radical rabble-rousing thing about Stolarcyk may be the passion with which she loves this region of the planet in all its majesty. It's why she's taken a fierce and unwavering stand for years now against the ongoing training exercises the Navy carries out in the Gulf of Alaska during one of the largest migrations of birds and marine life on Earth. These exercises, which inject tons of toxic materials into the Gulf and use significant explosive ordnance, are once again scheduled to take place just as Alaska's commercial fishing season opens.

Located in the state's massive Chugach National Forest, coastal Cordova is nestled between the glacial-clad Chugach Mountains, Prince William Sound, and the Copper River. Fishing is the heart and soul of the town, as well as the foundation of its economy. A rough and tumble place, it regularly lands on lists of the top 10 American fishing ports, whether measured in pounds of fish caught annually or their value. A fish tax pays for its schools and the upkeep of most of its infrastructure. At least a quarter of its jobs are connected to the commercial fishing industry. "Without fishing, the town wouldn't even be here," says Stolarcyk, who knows the intricacies of the Navy's plans better than most people in the Navy do, as we tour Cordova's harbor.

It is impossible to overstate how iconic salmon are here. "What we have in Cordova is one of the last wild places left in the world, and one of the last places on Earth where we still have healthy salmon runs," she tells me. She's the program director for the Eyak Preservation Council, an environmental and social-justice-oriented nonprofit based in Cordova, whose primary mission is to protect wild salmon habitat.

Her partner is about to start his seventh season as a commercial fisherman. Their apartment building even has a fish smoker. "Salmon bring this town to life, you can feel the energy once the fish start returning, it's palpable," she explains, excitement in her voice. "You can hear the boats coming in and people go to stand on the shore to welcome them back."

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However, this year, as in 2015, the Navy plans to conduct its part of Northern Edge 2017 (NE 17), a training exercise, right in her neighborhood. These war games, which occur every other year, include ships, aircraft, ordnance, and the widespread use of sonar across more than 42,000 square nautical miles of the marine environment of the Gulf of Alaska. And it is well known that sonar causes injury and death to whales, dolphin, and other marine life. It has been shown that whales will even beach themselves to escape the noise, which is more than 100 decibels louder underwater than even the loudest rock concert. Thanks to a major lawsuit against them, the Navy agreed to limit the use of certain kinds of sonar in Southern California and Hawaii, due to its impact on the endangered Blue Whale along with other species. But not in the Gulf of Alaska.

Fishing for an Answer

As in 2015, the Navy's plans threaten an area of the Gulf that couldn't be more biologically sensitive or rich in wildlife. Their training area includes a State of Alaska Marine Protected Area, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Protected Area, and both the Gulf of Alaska Seamount Protected and Slope Habitat Conservation areas.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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