Protecting Paradise on Pagan Island
by Jerome Kaipat Aldan
June 14, 2016
I was eight years old when Mt. Pagan, one of two volcanoes that
created Pagan Island, erupted. I have many precious childhood memories
of that beautiful island. I remember going for swims in the ocean. Small
houses made of wood and tin blended in with the natural beauty.
To this day, Pagan remains a paradise, a place to go and be close to
nature. The water is clean and uncorrupted. It is a pristine place, a
The U.S. military wants to destroy that paradise, turning it into a
live-fire training ground for sailors, pilots and Marines. In 2013, the
Navy and Marines proposed expanding training activities in the Mariana
Islands. In addition to expanding existing facilities on the island of
Tinian, the Marines have set their sights on taking over the entirety
of Pagan, displacing those who still call it home.
The beaches I swam off as a child would be turned into battlegrounds
16 weeks out of the year. Hundreds of Marines would storm these beaches
in landing craft, with helicopters, fighter jets and drones screaming
overhead, firing real bullets and dropping real bombs.
The military’s plans would destroy Pagan. The island would become a wasteland. That is unacceptable to me, and to many others.
I have vowed to fight this to the end to ensure this horrific vision does not become reality.
Pagan is not uninhabited. The people who live there now are the
children of the people who were there when the volcano erupted. They
have deep memories and carry the beautiful stories from their parents of
living there. Pagan is what feels like home to many of us.
I live in Saipan, but I go back to Pagan when I can, sometimes
staying for a few months. Getting to that remote island isn’t easy. It
is a 200-mile boat ride from Saipan, but it is a beautiful trip passing
by many of the Northern Mariana Islands—Anatahan, Sarigan, Guguan,
Alamagan and others—until you can finally see Pagan’s distinctive
profile rising from the ocean waves.
We have plans for Pagan. We want to resettle it. We want to
revitalize its economy, and make it a destination for ecotourists and
But none of this will happen if the military gets its way, and bombs
and bullets fly as Marines practice storming its beaches time after
time. The people of the Marianas deserve better than this.
The military’s plans would also be an ecological disaster. Pagan is a
biologically and geologically diverse island that is home to many
threatened and endangered species.
This high-intensity military training would destroy these
irreplaceable plant and animal species. Extensive degradation of the
surrounding waters and reefs would also be unavoidable.
Pagan and all the Northern Islands are irreplaceable and incredibly
special places. But they are so vulnerable and isolated. The military
thinks their highest and best use is to be bombed and blown to oblivion
to ready American soldiers for Pacific conflicts that may never come.
The military is wrong, and the people of these islands will fight to
protect our homes and our way of life as hard as we must and for as long
as we must.
We will prevail. We have to.