“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
“Is there a sound if only heard by a wild bear?”
Why do gnats hovering wildly in circles in what seems a common purpose return to the same pattern when disturbed by wildly flailing arms?
Is the United States Navy intent on turning the Olympic Peninsula into a warfare training zone or are concerned citizens making much ado about nothing?
So begins my slog into the issues surrounding the Navy’s plan to increase its use of the Olympic Peninsula for sophisticated electronic warfare training. I have tried to avoid this column and the many more that must follow just like I try to avoid gnats.
I fear that stepping into the controversy would be like stepping into quicksand, only slower and more consuming.
But passionate opponents keep returning with yet another piece of information that supports their contention that the U.S. Navy is covertly planning to build naval operations to the extent that the quality of life as we know it and our ancient forest will be forever changed for the worse.
The Navy for its part has done little to ease the anxiety; in fact, their responses have increased the anxiety and turned the situation into their version of flailing at gnats.
I could no longer look away when the almost daily newspaper reprinted “three electronic warfare views” from May 2015 on Jan. 7 of this year.
The 2015 response from the Navy spokesperson implied that the opponents were either unpatriotic or ignorant of the need to train military forces.
“We owe to our air crews the ability to develop the necessary skills to counter enemy defenses when they go in harm’s way, and in this case, we provide it by adding four transmitters,” wrote the Navy spokesperson.
The response seemed to avoid the opponents’ core issues of the consequences of increased flights over the peninsula and the impact of electronic warfare on the natural wildlife of the Olympic National Forest and Park.
Not in my back country
Standing behind the flag and extolling the virtues of defending our country as a strategy to make a point is to all but the most diehard, a transparent attempt to minimize the problem and change the subject from them to you.
The comment reminded me of my reaction to the Navy’s initial explanation of moving training currently done in Idaho to Whidbey Island and the Olympic Peninsula.
One or two pilots said that it would allow them to spend more time with their families. I thought it a bit disingenuous since it more than likely takes me twice the time to get from my home to Safeway as it does a Navy jet to get from Whidbey to Idaho.
Nor was I impressed at the declaration that much money would be saved in jet fuel. My guess is that compared to the Navy budget, the savings are so small that the percentage would bring shrieks of laughter if presented as savings to Pentagon officials.
I don’t know them all, but I would say with confidence that the vast majority of the opponents support military training and preparedness and our men and women in the armed forces.
Just not in their back country, which happens to be an ancient forest. Opponents believe that electronic warfare will disrupt the ecosystem’s heartbeat and cause unbearable noise over people’s homes.
National security and secrecy
The Navy spokesperson who responded to the PDN either used denial or masterful avoidance of addressing frequency in the 2015 explanation. She said they (the Navy) would not be expanding the area in which it flies or how it flies and “no change in where we fly, the altitudes we fly or how much noise we make.”
Are those parameters even possible if training is being moved from Idaho to Whidbey? Just asking as the letter writer who responded to the spokesperson said he had and the Navy apparently answered, … well, but only by 10 percent. Curious, Navy spokesperson must not have gotten the memo.
Others have become inspired to come to the Navy’s aid, not that they really need it. Letters to editors have begun to appear supporting the “sound of freedom.”
Military experienced people seem to feel at home with the sound of smooth running jets. It’s comforting.
I wrote a column several years ago that mentioned the mysterious rumblings that caused slight vibration and marveled that no one seemed to know or care what it was. At that time, the Navy said it wasn’t Navy planes.
People who had experience with such things said that, no doubt, the rumblings came from military jet flights.
No uproar until the Navy seemed to subvert the public process around the impact of electronic warfare on the Olympic Forest and its avoidance of the problem of collateral noise from more jets, called Growlers, and more jet trips from Whidbey to the Olympic Forest.
A curious person must ask why. So why?
Why cannot the Navy that my husband joined at a very young age to fight for his country feel their responsibility to talk with this community in a substantial reasoned way rather than through patriotic platitudes about supporting troops?
How can it be a secret? We all know about it. We just don’t understand the conflict of data and information or what some might call misinformation coming from the Navy. It makes us think there is more to the plans than just “four transmitters.”
Is it the Navy’s failure to consider that a community might wonder how it will impact their lives or is it just believing that a community is easily placated?
Is it the Navy’s failure to understand the concern of citizens or is it that the Navy does understand the concern of citizens?
Monuments from our strong effort to protect our western shores in World War II are scattered on the peninsula. Most of us feel pride and reverence for a time of national cohesiveness when we stand among the old fortresses in Fort Flagler, Fort Worden and Fort Casey, all now named state parks.
Patriotism or lack of it is not the issue. The issue is the lack of public process and information from which to come to a conclusion. I want to feel that I and my Navy have the same common purpose I feel in the old ruins of Fort Casey.
Why is the community in which the Navy wants to coexist treated at best like a meddlesome neighbor or at worse as an enemy?
I don’t know but I am sure someone will tell me. It’s only the beginning.
Bertha D. Cooper is retired from a 40-plus year career as a health care administrator focusing on the delivery system as a whole. She still does occasional consulting. She is a featured columnist at the Sequim Gazette. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.