Guest Essayist: Danny de Gracia

It’s hard to believe that this year marks thirty years since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August of 1990. In history, some events can be said to be turning points for civilization that set the world on fire, and in many ways, our international system has not been the same since the invasion of Kuwait.

Today, the Iraq that went to war against Kuwait is no more, and Saddam Hussein himself is long dead, but the battles that were fought, the policies that resulted, and the history that followed is one that will haunt the world for many more years to come.

Iraq’s attempts to annex Kuwait in 1990 would bring some of the most powerful nations into collision, and would set in motion a series of events that would give rise to the Global War on Terror, the rise of ISIS, and an ongoing instability in the region that frustrates the West to this day.

To understand the beginning of this story, one must go back in time to the Iranian Revolution in 1979, where a crucial ally of the United States of America at the time – Iran – was in turmoil because of public discontent with the leadership of its shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Iran’s combination of oil resources and strategic geographic location made it highly profitable for the shah and his allies in the West over the years, and a relationship emerged where Iran’s government, flush with oil money, kept America’s defense establishment in business.

For years, the shah had been permitted to purchase nearly any American weapons system he pleased, no matter how advanced or powerful it may be, and Congress was only all too pleased to give it to him.

The Vietnam War had broken the U.S. military and hollowed out the resources of the armed services, but the defense industry needed large contracts if was to continue to support America.

Few people realize that Iran, under the Shah, was one of the most important client states in the immediate post-Vietnam era, making it possible for America to maintain production lines of top-of-the-line destroyers, fighter planes, engines, missiles, and many other vital elements of the Cold War’s arms race against the Soviet Union. As an example, the Grumman F-14A Tomcat, America’s premier naval interceptor of 1986 “Top Gun” fame, would never have been produced in the first place if it were not for the commitment of the Iranians as a partner nation in the first batch of planes.

When the Iranian Revolution occurred, an embarrassing ulcer to American interests emerged in Western Asia, as one of the most important gravity centers of geopolitical power had slipped out of U.S. control. Iran, led by an ultra-nationalistic religious revolutionary government, and armed with what was at the time some of the most powerful weapons in the world, had gone overnight from trusted partner to sworn enemy.

Historically, U.S. policymakers typically prefer to contain and buffer enemies rather than directly opposing them. Iraq, which had also gone through a regime change in July of 1979 with the rise of Saddam Hussein in a bloody Baath Party purge, was an rival to Iran, making it a prime candidate to be America’s new ally in the Middle East.

The First Persian Gulf War: A Prelude

Hussein, a brutal, transactional-minded leader who rose to power through a combination of violence and political intrigue, was one to always exploit opportunities. Recognizing Iran’s potential to overshadow a region he himself deemed himself alone worthy to dominate, Hussein used the historical disagreement over ownership of the strategic, yet narrow Shatt al-Arab waterway that divided Iran from Iraq to start a war on September 22, 1980.

Iraq, flush with over $33 billion in oil profits, had become formidably armed with a modern military that was supplied by numerous Western European states and, bizarrely, even the Soviet Union as well. Hussein, like Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler, had a fascination for superweapons and sought to amass a high-tech military force that could not only crush Iran, but potentially take over the entire Middle East.

In Hussein’s bizarre arsenal would eventually include everything from modified Soviet ballistic missiles (the “al-Hussein”) to Dassault Falcon 50 corporate jets modified to carry anti-ship missiles, a nuclear weapons program at Osirak, and even work on a supergun capable of firing telephone booth-sized projectiles into orbit nicknamed Project Babylon.

Assured of a quick campaign against Iran and tacitly supported by the United States, Hussein saw anything but a decisive victory, and spent almost a decade in a costly war of attrition with Iran. Hussein, who constantly executed his own military officers for making tactical withdrawals or failing in combat, denied his military the ability to learn from defeats and handicapped his army by his own micromanagement.

Iraq’s Pokémon-like “gotta catch ‘em all” model of military procurement during the war even briefly put it at odds with the United States on May 17, 1987, when one of its heavily armed Falcon 50 executive jets, disguised on radar as a Mirage F1EQ fighter, accidentally launched a French-acquired Exocet missile against a U.S. Navy frigate, the USS Stark. President Ronald Reagan, though privately horrified at the loss of American sailors, still considered Iraq a necessary counterweight to Iran, and used the Stark incident to increase political pressure on Iran.

While Iraq had begun its war against Iran in the black, years of excessive military spending, meaningless battles, and rampant destruction of the Iraqi army had taken its toll. Hussein’s war had put the country in over $37 billion dollars in debt, much of which had been owed to neighboring Kuwait.

Faced with a strained economy, tens of thousands of soldiers returning wounded from the war, and a military that was virtually on the brink of deposing Saddam Hussein just as he had deposed his predecessor Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr in 1979, Iraq had no choice but to end its war against Iran.

Both Iran and Iraq would ultimately submit to a UN brokered ceasefire, but ironically, what would be one of the decisive elements in bringing the first Persian Gulf war to a close would not be the militaries of either country, but the U.S. military, when it launched a crippling air and naval attack against Iranian forces on April 18, 1988.

Iran, which had mined important sailing routes of the Persian Gulf as part of its area denial strategy during the war, succeeded on April 14, 1988 in striking the USS Samuel B. Roberts, an American frigate deployed to the region to protect shipping.

In response, the U.S. military retaliated with Operation: Praying Mantis which hit Iranian oil platforms (which had since been reconfigured as offensive gun platforms), naval vessels, and other military targets. The battle, which was so overwhelming in its scope that it actually was and remains to this day as the largest carrier and surface ship battle since World War II, resulted in the destruction of most of Iran’s navy and was a major contributing factor in de-fanging Iran for the next decade to come.

Kuwait and Oil

Saddam Hussein, claiming victory over Iran amidst the UN ceasefire, and now faced with a new U.S. president, George H.W. Bush in 1989, felt that the time was right to consolidate his power and pull his country back from collapse. In Hussein’s mind, he had been the “savior” of the Arab and Gulf States, who had protected them during the Persian Gulf war against the encroachment of Iranian influence. As such, he sought from Kuwait a forgiveness of debts incurred in the war with Iran, but would find no such sympathy. The 1990s were just around the corner, and Kuwait had ambitions of its own to grow in the new decade as a leading economic powerhouse.

Frustrated and outraged by what he perceived was a snub, Hussein reached into his playbook of once more leveraging territorial disputes for political gain and accused Kuwait of stealing Iraqi oil by means of horizontal slant drilling into the Rumaila oil fields of southern Iraq.

Kuwait found itself in an unenviable situation neighboring the heavily armed Iraq, and as talks over debt and oil continued, the mighty Iraqi Republican Guard appeared to be gearing up for war. Most political observers at the time, including many Arab leaders, felt that Hussein was merely posturing and that it was a grand bluff to maintain his image as a strong leader. For Hussein to invade a neighboring Arab ally was unthinkable at the time, especially given Kuwait’s position as an oil producer.

On July 25, 1990, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, met with President Saddam Hussein and his deputy, Tariq Aziz on the topic of Kuwait. Infamously, Glaspie is said to have told the two, “We have no opinion on your Arab/Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.”

While the George H.W. Bush administration’s intentions were obviously aimed at taking no side in a regional territorial dispute, Hussein, whose personality was direct and confrontational, likely interpreted the Glaspie meeting as America backing down.

In the Iraqi leader’s eyes, one always takes the initiative and always shows an enemy their dominance. For a powerful country such as the United States to tell Hussein that it had “no opinion” on Arab/Arab conflict, this was most likely a sign of permission or even weakness that the Iraqi leader felt he had to exploit.

America, still reeling from the shadow of the Vietnam War failure and the disastrous Navy SEAL incident in Operation: Just Cause in Panama, may have appeared in that moment to Hussein as a paper tiger that could be out-maneuvered or deterred by aggressive action. Whatever the case was, Iraq stunned the world when just days later on August 2, 1990 it invaded Kuwait.

The Invasion of Kuwait

American military forces and intelligence agencies had been closely monitoring the buildup of Iraqi forces for what appeared like an invasion of Kuwait, but it was still believed right up to the moment of the attack that perhaps Saddam Hussein was only bluffing. The United States Central Command had set WATCHCON 1 – or Watch Condition One – the highest state of non-nuclear alertness in the region just prior to Iraq’s attack, and was regularly employing satellites, reconnaissance aircraft, and electronic surveillance platforms to observe the Iraqi Army.

Nevertheless, if there is one mantra that perfectly encapsulates the posture of the United States and European powers from the beginnings of the 20th century to the present, it is “Western countries too slow to act.” As is often the result with aggressive nations that challenge the international order, Iraq plowed into Kuwait and savaged the local population.

While America and her allies have always had the best technologies, the best weapons, and the best early warning systems or sensors, these historically for more than a century have been rendered useless because they often provide information that is not actionably employed to stop an attack or threat. Such was the case with Iraq, where all of the warning signs were present that an attack was imminent, but no action was taken to stop them.

Kuwait’s military courageously fought Iraq’s invading army, and even notably fought air battles with their American-made A-4 Skyhawks, some of them launching from highways after their air bases were destroyed. But the Iraqi army, full of troops who had fought against Iran and equipped with the fourth largest military in the world at that time, was simply too powerful to overcome. 140,000 Iraqi troops flooded into Kuwait and seized one of the richest oil producing nations in the region.

As Hussein’s military overran Kuwait, sealed its borders, and began plundering the country and ravaging its civilian population, the worry of the United States immediately shifted from Kuwait to Saudi Arabia, for fear that the kingdom might be next. On August 7, 1990, President Bush commenced “Operation: Desert Shield,” a military operation to defend Saudi Arabia and prevent any further advance of the Iraqi army.

At the time that Operation: Desert Shield commenced, I was living in Hampton Roads, Virginia and my father was a lieutenant colonel assigned to Tactical Air Command headquarters at the nearby Langley Air Force Base, and 48 F-15 Eagle fighter planes from that base immediately deployed to the Middle East in support of that operation. In the days that followed, our base became a flurry of activity and I remember seeing a huge buildup of combat aircraft from all around the United States forming at Langley.

President Bush, who himself had been a fighter pilot and U.S. Navy officer who fought in World War II, was all too familiar with what could happen when a megalomaniacal dictator started invading their neighbors. Whatever congeniality of convenience existed between the U.S. and Iraq to oppose Iran was now a thing of the past in the wake of the occupation of Kuwait.

Having fought against both the Nazis and Imperial Japanese in WWII, Bush saw many similarities of Adolf Hitler in Saddam Hussein, and immediately began comparing the Iraqi leader and his government to the Nazis in numerous speeches and public appearances as debates raged over what the U.S. should do regarding Kuwait.

As retired, former members of previous presidential administrations urged caution and called for long-term sanctions on Iraq rather than a kinetic military response, the American public, still captivated by the Vietnam experience, largely felt that the matter in Kuwait was not a concern that should involve military forces. Protests began to break out across America with crowds shouting “Hell no, we won’t go to war for Texaco” and others singing traditional protest songs of peace like “We Shall Overcome.”

Bush, persistent in his beliefs that Iraq’s actions were intolerable, made every effort to keep taking the moral case for action to the American public in spite of these pushbacks. As a leader seasoned by the horrors of war and combat, Bush must have known, as Henry Kissinger once said, that leadership is not about popularity polls, but about “an understanding of historical cycles and courage.”

On September 11, 1990, before a joint session of Congress, Bush gave a fiery address that to this day still stands as one of the most impressive presidential addresses in history.

“Vital issues of principle are at stake. Saddam Hussein is literally trying to wipe a country off the face of the Earth. We do not exaggerate,” President Bush would say before Congress. “Nor do we exaggerate when we say Saddam Hussein will fail. Vital economic interests are at risk as well. Iraq itself controls some 10 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves. Iraq, plus Kuwait, controls twice that. An Iraq permitted to swallow Kuwait would have the economic and military power, as well as the arrogance, to intimidate and coerce its neighbors, neighbors who control the lion’s share of the world’s remaining oil reserves. We cannot permit a resource so vital to be dominated by one so ruthless, and we won’t!”

Members of Congress erupted in roaring applause at Bush’s words, and he issued a stern warning to Saddam Hussein: “Iraq will not be permitted to annex Kuwait. And that’s not a threat, that’s not a boast, that’s just the way it’s going to be.”

Ejecting Saddam from Kuwait

As America prepared for action, in Saudi Arabia, another man would also be making promises to defeat Saddam Hussein and his military. Osama bin Laden, who had participated in the earlier war in Afghanistan as part of the Mujahideen that resisted the Soviet occupation, now offered his services to Saudi Arabia, pledging to use a jihad to force Iraq out of Kuwait in the same way that he had forced the Soviets out of Afghanistan. The Saudis, however, would hear none of it; having already received the protection of the United States and its powerful allies, bin Laden, seen as a useless bit player on the world stage, was brushed aside.

Herein the seeds for a future conflict would be sown, as not only did bin Laden take offense to being rejected by the Saudi government, but the presence of American military forces on holy Saudi soil was seen as blasphemous to him and a morally corrupting influence on the Saudi people.

In fact, the presence of female U.S. Air Force personnel in Saudi Arabia seen without traditional cover or driving around in vehicles, caused many Saudi women to begin petitioning their government – and even in some instances, committing acts of civil disobedience – for more rights. This caused even more outrage among a number of fundamentalist groups in Saudi Arabia, and lent additional support, albeit covert in some instances, to bin Laden and other jihadist leaders.

Despite these cultural tensions boiling beneath the surface, President Bush successfully persuaded not only his own Congress but the United Nations as well to empower the formation of a global coalition of 35 nations to eject Iraqi occupying forces from Kuwait and to protect Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf from further aggression.

On November 29, 1990, the die was cast when the United Nations passed Resolution 678, authorizing “Member States co-operating with the Government of Kuwait, unless Iraq on or before 15 January 1991 [withdraws from Kuwait] … to use all necessary means … to restore international peace and security in the area.”

Subsequently, on January 15, 1991, President Bush issued an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait. Hussein ignored the threat, believing that America was weak, and its public easily susceptible to knee-jerk reactions at the sight of losing soldiers from its prior experience in Vietnam. Hussein believed that he could not only cause the American people to back down, but that he could unravel Arab support for the UN coalition by enticing Israel to attack Iraq. As such, he persisted in occupying Kuwait and boasted that a “Mother of all Battles” was to commence, in which Iraq would emerge victorious.

History, however, shows us that this was not the case, and days later on the evening of January 16, 1991, Operation: Desert Shield became Operation: Desert Storm, when a massive aerial bombardment and air superiority campaign commenced against Iraqi forces. Unlike prior wars which combined a ground invasion with supporting air forces, the start of Desert Storm was a bombing campaign that consisted of heavy attacks by aircraft and naval-launched cruise missiles against Iraq.

The operational name “Desert Storm” may have in part been influenced by a war plan developed months earlier by Air Force planner, Colonel John A. Warden who conceived an attack strategy named “Instant Thunder” which used conventional, non-nuclear airpower in a precise manner to topple Iraqi defenses.

A number of elements from Warden’s top secret plan were integrated into the opening shots of Desert Storm’s air campaign, as U.S. and coalition aircraft knocked out Iraqi radars, missile sites, command headquarters, power stations, and other key targets in just the first night alone.

Unlike the Vietnam air campaigns which were largely political and gradual escalations of force, the Air Force, having suffered heavy losses in Vietnam, wanted as General Chuck Horner would later explain, “instant” and “maximum” escalation so that their enemies could not have time to react or rearm.

This was precisely what happened, such to the point that the massive Iraqi air force would be either annihilated by bombs on the ground, shot down by coalition combat air patrols, or forced to flee into neighboring Iran.

A number of radical operations and new weapons were employed in the air campaign of Desert Storm. For one, the U.S. Air Force had secretly converted a number of nuclear AGM-86 Air Launched Cruise Missiles (ALCMs) into conventional, high explosive precision guided missiles and equipped them on 57 B-52 bombers for a January 17 night raid called Operation: Senior Surprise.

Known internally and informally to the B-52 pilots as “Operation: Secret Squirrel,” the cruise missiles knocked out numerous Iraqi defenses and opened the door for more coalition aircraft to surge against Saddam Hussein’s military.

The Navy also employed covert strikes against Iraq, also firing BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) that had also been converted to carry high explosive (non-nuclear) warheads. Because the early BGM-109s were guided and aimed by a primitive digital scene matching area correlator (DSMAC) that took digital photos of the ground below and compared it with pre-programmed topography in its terrain computer, the flat deserts of Iraq were thought to be problematic in employing cruise missiles, so the Navy came up with a highly controversial solution: secretly fire cruise missiles into Iran – a violation of Iranian airspace and international law – then turn them towards the mountain ranges as aiming points, and fly them into Iraq.

The plan worked, however, and the Navy would ultimately rain down on Iraq some 288 TLAMs that destroyed hardened hangars, runways, parked aircraft, command buildings, and scores of other targets in highly accurate strikes.

Part of the air war came home personally to me when a U.S. Air Force B-52, serial number 58-0248, participated in a night time raid over Iraq when it was accidentally fired upon by a friendly F-4G “Wild Weasel” that mistook the lumbering bomber’s AN/ASG-21 radar-guided tail gun as an Iraqi air defense platform. The Wild Weasel fired an AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) at the B-52 that hit and exploded in its tail, but still left the aircraft in flyable condition.

At the time, my family had moved to Andersen AFB in Guam, and 58-0248 made for Guam to land for repairs. When the B-52 arrived, it was parked in a cavernous hangar and crews immediately began patching up the aircraft. My father, always wanting to ensure that I learned something about the real world so I could get an appreciation for America, brought me to the hangar to see the stricken B-52, which was affectionately given the nickname “In HARM’s Way.”

I never forgot that moment, and it caused me to realize that the war was more than just some news broadcast we watched on TV, and that war had real consequences for not only those who fought in it, but people back home as well. I remember feeling an intense surge of pride as I saw that B-52 parked in the hangar, and I felt that I was witnessing history in action.

Ultimately, the air war against Saddam Hussein’s military would go on for a brutal six weeks, leaving many of his troops shell-shocked, demoralized, and eager to surrender. In fighting Iran for a decade, the Iraqi army had never known the kind of destructive scale or deadly precision that coalition forces were able to bring to bear against them.

Once the ground campaign commenced against Iraqi forces on February 24, 1991, that portion of Operation: Desert Storm only lasted a mere 100 hours before a cease-fire would be called, not because Saddam Hussein had pleaded for survival, but because back in Washington, D.C., national leaders watching the war on CNN began to see a level of carnage that they were not prepared for.

Gen. Colin Powell, seeing that most of the coalition’s UN objectives had been essentially achieved, personally lobbied for the campaign to wrap up, feeling that further destruction of Iraq would be “unchivalrous” and fearing the loss of any more Iraqi or American lives. It was also feared that if America had actually tried to make a play for regime change in Iraq in 1991, that the Army would be left holding the bag in securing and rebuilding the country, something that not only would be costly, but might turn the Arab coalition against America. On February 28, 1991, the U.S. officially declared a cease-fire.

The Aftermath

Operation: Desert Storm successfully accomplished the UN objectives that were established for the coalition forces and it liberated Kuwait. But a number of side effects of the war would follow that would haunt America and the rest of the world for decades to come.

First, Saddam Hussein remained in power. As a result, the U.S. military would remain in the region for years as a defensive contingent, not only continuing to inflame existing cultural tensions in Saudi Arabia, but also becoming a target for jihadist terrorist attacks, including the Khobar Towers bombing on June 25, 1996 and the USS Cole bombing on October 12, 2000.

Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist group would ultimately change the modern world as we knew it when his men hijacked commercial airliners and flew them into the Pentagon and World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It should not be lost on historical observers that 15 of the 19 hijackers that day were Saudi citizens, a strategic attempt by bin Laden to drive a wedge between the United States and Saudi Arabia to get American military forces out of the country.

9/11 would also provide an opportunity for George H.W. Bush’s son, President George W. Bush, to attempt to take down Saddam Hussein. Many of the new Bush Administration members were veterans of the previous one during Desert Storm, and felt that the elder Bush’s decision not to “take out” the Iraqi dictator was a mistake. And while the 2003 campaign against Iraq was indeed successful in taking down the Baathist-party rule in Iraq and changing the regime, it allowed many disaffected former Iraqi officers and jihadists to rise up against the West, which ultimately led to the rise of ISIS in the region.

It is my hope that the next generation of college and high school students who read this essay and reflect on world affairs will understand that history is often complex and that every action taken leaves ripples in our collective destinies. A Holocaust survivor once told me, “There are times when the world goes crazy, and catches on fire. Desert Storm was one such time when the world caught on fire.”

What can we learn from the invasion of Kuwait, and what lessons can we take forward into our future? Let us remember always that allies are not always friends; victories are never permanent; and sometimes even seemingly unrelated personalities and forces can lead to world-changing events.

Our young people, especially those who wish to enter into national service, must study history and seek to possess, as the Bible says in the book of Revelation 17:9 in the Amplified Bible translation, “a mind to consider, that is packed with wisdom and intelligence … a particular mode of thinking and judging of thoughts, feelings, and purposes.”

Indeed, sometimes the world truly goes crazy and catches on fire, and some may say that 2020 is such a time. Let us study the past now, and prepare for the future!

Dr. Danny de Gracia, Th.D., D.Min., is a political scientist, theologist, and former committee clerk to the Hawaii State House of Representatives. He is an internationally acclaimed author and novelist who has been featured worldwide in the Washington Times, New York Times, USA Today, BBC News, Honolulu Civil Beat, and more. He is the author of the novel American Kiss: A Collection of Short Stories.

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Guest Essayist: Danny de Gracia

The story of how men first set foot on the Moon one fateful day on July 20, 1969, will always be enshrined as one of America’s greatest contributions to history. When the first humans looked upwards to the night sky thousands of years ago, they must have marveled at the pale Moon looming in the heavens, set against the backdrop of countless stars. Inspired by the skies, and driven by a natural desire for exploration, humans must have wondered what was out there, and if it would be somehow possible to ever explore the distant heavens above.

Indeed, even the Bible tells us that the patriarch of faith, Abraham, was told by God in Genesis 15:5, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them. So shall your descendants be.”

The word given to Abraham may have been more than just an impressive way of promising an elderly man way past the age of conception that he would bear many children; it seems more like an invitation that mankind’s destiny belongs not merely on Earth, but among the stars of the limitless cosmos, as a spacefaring civilization.

Early Beginnings

For most of mankind’s history, space travel was relegated to wild myths, hopeless dreams, and fanciful science fiction. The first hurdle in reaching for the stars would be mastering staying aloft in Earth’s atmosphere, which by itself was no easy task. Observing birds, humans for millennia had tried to emulate organic wings with little to no success, not truly understanding the science of lift or the physics of flight.

Like Icarus of Greek mythology, the 11th century English Benedictine monk Eilmer of Malmesbury attempted to foray into the skies by fashioning wings as a kind of primitive glider, but he only succeeded in flying a short distance before he crashed, breaking his legs. Later, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier would give mankind a critical first in flight when he took off aboard the Montgolfier hot air balloon in 1783.

Ironically, it would not be benevolent inspiration that would free mankind from his millennia-old ties to the ground beneath his feet, but the pressing demands of war and increasing militarization of the planet. As the Industrial Age began, so also arose the age of warfare, and men knew from countless battles that whoever held the high ground could defend any stronghold or defeat any army. And what greater high ground could afford victory, than the heavens themselves?

Once balloons had been proven an effective and stable means of flight, militaries began to use them as spotting platforms to see enemy movements from a distance and provide accurate targeting for artillery. Notably, during the American Civil War, balloons made for a kind of early air forces for both the Union and Confederacy.

When the Wright Brothers at last mastered the art of controlled and powered flight in a fixed-wing aircraft on December 17, 1903, less than a decade later after the invention of the airplane, the First World War would erupt and aircraft and blimps would become crucial weapons in deciding the outcome of battles.

Germany’s defeat, which was seen by many Germans as something that should not have happened and should never happen again, stirred people like the former army lance corporal Adolf Hitler to pursue more advanced aerial weapons as a means of establishing military superiority.

Even as propeller planes were seen as the ultimate form of aircraft by most militaries of the time, in the late 1930s, German engineers Eugen Sänger and Irene Bredt were already envisioning spacecraft to attack enemies from orbit. In 1941, they conceived plans for the Silbervogel (“Silver Bird”), a rocket-powered space bomber that could take off into low Earth orbit, descend, and bounce off the outer atmosphere like a tossed stone skipping across a pond to reach an enemy target even half a world away.

Fortunately for the United States, the Silbervogel would never be produced, but other German scientists would be working on wonder weapons of their own, one of them being Wernher von Braun, an engineer who had childhood dreams of landing men on the Moon with rockets.

Working at the Peenemünde Army Research Center, von Braun infamously gave Nazi Germany the power to use V-2 rockets, a kind of early ballistic missile that could deliver a high-explosive warhead hundreds of miles away. One such V-2 rocket, MW 18014, test launched on June 20, 1944, became the first man-made object to cross above the Kármán line – Earth’s atmospheric edge of space – when it reached an apogee of 176 kilometers in flight.

While these weapons did not win the war for Nazi Germany, they aroused the interest of both the United States and the Soviets, and as the victorious Allies reclaimed Europe, a frantic effort to capture German scientists for their aerospace knowledge would become the prelude to a coming Cold War.

The Nuclear Age and Space

The use of the Fat Man and Little Boy atomic bombs against Japan brought to light a realization among planners in both the United States and the Soviet Union: The next battleground for control of the planet would be space. Between the difficulty in intercepting weapons like the V-2 rocket, and the destructive capability of the atom bomb, the nations that emerged victorious in WWII all saw potential in combining these technologies together.

At the end of WWII, both the Soviet Union and the United States brought back to their countries numerous German scientists and unused V-2 rockets for the purposes of creating their own next-generation of missiles.

The early V-2 rockets developed by von Braun for Nazi Germany were primitive and inaccurate weapons, but they had demonstrated the capability to carry objects, such as an explosive warhead, in high ballistic arcs over the earth. Early atomic bombs were bulky and extremely heavy, which meant that in order to deliver these weapons of mass destruction across space, larger rockets would need to be developed.

It is no accident then that the early space launchers of both the Soviet Union and the United States were, in fact, converted intercontinental ballistic missiles (or ICBMs) meant for delivering nuclear payloads. The first successful nuclear ICBM was the Soviet R-7 Semyorka (NATO reporting name SS-6 “Sapwood”), which would be the basis for the modified rocket 8K71PS No. M1-1PS, that sent Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, into orbit on October 4, 1957.

The success of the Soviets in putting the first satellite into orbit awed the entire world, but was disturbing to the President Dwight D. Eisenhower White House, because it was not lost on the U.S. military that this accomplishment was more or less a demonstration of nuclear delivery capabilities by the Russians.

And while the United States in 1957 had an overwhelming superiority in nuclear weapons numbers relative to the Soviets, the nuclear doctrine of the early Cold War was structured around a bluff of “massive retaliation” created by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that intended to minimize the proliferation of new conflicts – including space –  by threatening atomic use as the default response.

“If an enemy could pick his time and place and method of warfare,” Dulles had said in a dinner before the Council on Foreign Relations in January 1954, “and if our policy was to remain the traditional one of meeting aggression by direct and local opposition, then we needed to be ready to fight in the Arctic and in the Tropics; in Asia, the Near East; and in Europe; by sea, by land, and by air; with old weapons, and with new weapons.”

A number of terrifying initial conclusions emerged from the success of Sputnik. First, it showed that the Soviets had reached the ultimate high ground before U.S./NATO forces, and that their future ICBMs could potentially put any target in the world at risk for nuclear bombardment.

To put things into perspective, a jet plane like the American B-47, B-52, or B-58 bombers of the time, took upwards of 8 hours or more cruising through the stratosphere to strike a target from its airbase. But an ICBM, which can reach speeds of Mach 23 or faster in its terminal descent from orbit, can hit any target in the world in 35 minutes or less from launch. This destabilizing development whittled down the U.S. advantage, as it gave the Soviets the possibility of firing first in a surprise attack to “decapitate” any superior American or NATO forces that might be used against them.

The second, and more alarming perception paved by the Soviet entry into space was that America had dropped the ball and been left behind, not only technologically, but historically. In the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev sought to gut check the integrity of both the United States and the NATO alliance by showcasing novel technological accomplishments, such as the Sputnik launch, to cast a long shadow over Western democracies and to imply that communism would be the wave of the future.

In a flurry of briefings and technical research studies that followed the Sputnik orbit, von Braun and other scientists in the U.S. determined that while the Soviets had beaten the West into orbit, the engineering and industrial capabilities of America would ultimately make it feasible for the U.S. over the long term to accomplish a greater feat, in which a man could be landed on the Moon.

Texas Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, later to be vice president to the young, idealistic John F. Kennedy, would be one of the staunchest drivers behind the scenes in pushing for America’s landing on the Moon. The early years of the space race were tough to endure, as NASA, America’s fledgling new civilian space agency, seemed – at least in public – to always be one step behind the Soviets in accomplishing space firsts.

Johnson, a rough-on-the-edges, technocratic leader who saw the necessity of preventing a world “going to sleep by the light of a communist Moon” pushed to keep America in the space fight even when it appeared, to some, as though American space rockets “always seemed to blow up.” His leadership would put additional resolve in the Kennedy administration to stay the course, and may have arguably ensured America being the first and only nation to land men on the Moon.

The Soviets would score another blow to America when on April 12, 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space when he made a 108-minute orbital flight, launched on the Vostok-K 8K72K rocket, another R-7 ICBM derivative.

But a month later on May 5, 1961, NASA began to catch-up with the Soviets when Alan Shepard and his Freedom 7 space capsule successfully made it into space, brought aloft by the Mercury-Redstone rocket which was adapted from the U.S. Army’s PGM-11 short range nuclear ballistic missile.

Each manned launch and counter-launch between the two superpowers was more than just a demonstration of scientific discovery; they were suggestions of nuclear launch capabilities, specifically, the warhead throw weight power of either country’s missiles, and a thinly veiled competition of who, at any given point in time, was winning the Cold War.

International Politics and Space

President Kennedy, speaking at Rice University on September 12, 1962, just one month before the Cuban Missile Crisis, hinted to the world that the Soviet advantage in space was not quite what it seemed to be, and that perhaps some of their “less public” space launches had been failures. Promising to land men on the Moon before the decade ended, Kennedy’s “Moon speech” at Rice has been popularly remembered as the singular moment when America decided to come together and achieve the impossible, but this is not the whole story.

In truth, ten days after giving the Moon speech, Kennedy privately reached out to Khrushchev pleading with him to make the landing a joint affair, only to be rebuffed, and then to find himself in October 14 of that same year ambushed by the Soviets with offensive nuclear missiles pointed at the U.S. in Cuba.

Kennedy thought himself to be a highly persuasive, flexible leader who could peaceably talk others into agreeing to make political changes, which set him at odds with the more hard-nosed, realpolitik-minded members of both his administration and the U.S. military. It also invited testing of his mettle by the salty Khrushchev, who saw the youthful American president – “Profiles in Courage” aside – as inexperienced, pliable, and a pushover.

Still, while the Moon race was a crucial part of keeping America and her allies encouraged amidst the ever-chilling Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis deeply shook Kennedy and brought him face-to-face with the possibility of a nuclear apocalypse.

Kennedy had already nearly gone to nuclear war once before during the now largely forgotten Berlin Crisis of 1961 when his special advisor to West Berlin, Lucius D. Clay, responded to East German harassment of American diplomatic staff with aggressive military maneuvers, but the Cuba standoff had become one straw too heavy for the idealistic JFK.

Fearing the escalating arms race, experiencing sticker shock over the growing cost of the Moon race he had committed America to, and ultimately wanting to better relations with the Soviet Union, a year later on September 20, 1963 before the United Nations, Kennedy dialed his public Moon rhetoric back and revisited his private offer to Khrushchev when he asked, albeit rhetorically, “Why, therefore, should man’s first flight to the Moon be a matter of national competition?”

The implications of a joint U.S.-Soviet Moon landing may have tickled the ears of world leaders throughout the General Assembly, but behind the scenes, it agitated both Democrats and Republicans alike, who not-so-secretly began to wonder if Kennedy was “soft” on communism.

Even Kennedy’s remarks to the press over the developing conflict in Vietnam during his first year as president were especially telling about his worldview amidst the arms race and space race of the Cold War: “But we happen to live – because of the ingenuity of science and man’s own inability to control his relationships with one another – we happen to live in the most dangerous time in the history of the human race.”

Kennedy’s handling of the Bay of Pigs, Berlin, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and his more idealistic approaches to the openly belligerent Soviet Union began to shake the political establishment, and the possibility of ceding the Moon to a kind of squishy, joint participation trophy embittered those who saw an American landing as a crucial refutation of Soviet advances.

JFK was an undeniably formidable orator, but in the halls of power, he was beginning to develop a reputation in his presidency as eroding America’s post-WWII advantages as a military superpower and leader of the international system. His rhetoric made some nervous, and suggestions of calling off an American Moon landing put a question mark over the future of the West for some.

Again, the Moon race wasn’t just about landing men on the Moon; it was about showcasing the might of one superpower over the other, and Kennedy’s attempts to roll back America’s commitment to space in favor of acquiescing to a Moon shared with the Soviets could have potentially cost the West the outcome of the Cold War.

As far back as 1961, NASA had already sought the assistance of the traditionally military-oriented National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to gain access to top secret, exotic spy technologies which would assist them in surveying the Moon for future landings, and would later enter into memorandums of agreement with the NRO, Department of Defense, and Central Intelligence Agency. This is important, because the crossover between the separations of civilian spaceflight and military/intelligence space exploitation reflects how the space race served strategic goals rather than purely scientific ones.

On August 28, 1963, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and NASA Administrator James Webb had signed an MOA titled “DOD/CIA-NASA Agreement on NASA Reconnaissance Programs” (Document BYE-6789-63) which stated “NRO, by virtue of its capabilities in on-going reconnaissance satellite programs, has developed the necessary technology, contractor resources, and management skills to produce satisfactory equipments, and appropriate security methods to preserve these capabilities, which are currently covert and highly sensitive. The arrangement will properly match NASA requirements with NRO capabilities to perform lunar reconnaissance.”

Technology transfers also went both ways. The Gemini space capsules, developed by NASA as part of the efforts to master orbital operations such as spacewalks, orbital docking, and other aspects deemed critical to an eventual Moon landing, would even be considered by the United States Air Force for a parallel military space program on December 16, 1963. Adapting the civilian Gemini design into an alternate military version called the “Gemini-B,” the Air Force intended to put crews in orbit to a space station called the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL), which would serve as a reconnaissance platform to take pictures of Soviet facilities.

While the MOL program would ultimately be canceled in its infancy before ever actually going online by the President Richard Nixon Administration in 1969, it was yet another demonstration of the close-knit relationship between civilian and military space exploration to accomplish the same interests.

Gold Fever at NASA

Whatever President Kennedy’s true intentions may have been moving forward on the space race, his unfortunate death two months after his UN speech at the hands of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas on November 22, 1963 would be seized upon as a justification by the establishment to complete the original 1962 Rice University promise of landing an American first on the Moon, before the end of the decade.

Not surprisingly, one of Johnson’s very first actions in assuming the presidency after the death of Kennedy was to issue Executive Order 11129 on November 29, 1963, re-naming NASA’s Launch Operations Center in Florida as the “John F. Kennedy Space Center,” a politically adroit maneuver which ensured the space program was now seen as synonymous with the fallen president.

In world history, national icons and martyrs – even accidental or involuntary ones – are powerful devices for furthering causes that would ordinarily burnout and lose interest, if left to private opinion alone. Kennedy’s death led to a kind of “gold fever” at NASA in defeating the Soviets, and many stunning advances in space technology would be won in the aftermath of his passing.

So intense was the political pressure and organizational focus at NASA that some began to worry that corners were being cut and that there were serious issues that needed to be addressed.

On January 27, 1967, NASA conducted a “plugs out test” of their newly developed Apollo space capsule, where launch conditions would be simulated on the launch pad with the spacecraft running on internal power. The test mission, designated AS-204, had been strongly cautioned against by the spacecraft’s manufacturer, North American Aviation, because of the fact that it would take place at sea level and with pure oxygen, where the pressure would be dangerously higher than normal atmospheric pressure. Nevertheless, NASA proceeded with the test.

Veteran astronauts Roger B. Chaffee, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, and Ed White, who crewed the test mission, would perish when an electrical malfunction sparked a fire that spread rapidly as a result of the pure oxygen atmosphere of the capsule. Their deaths nearly threatened to bring the entire U.S. space program to a screeching halt, but NASA was able to rise above the tragedy, adding the loss of their astronauts as yet another compelling case for making it to the Moon before the decade would end.

On January 30, 1967, the Monday that followed the “Apollo 1” fire, NASA flight director Eugene F. Kranz gathered his staff together and gave an impromptu speech that would change the space agency forever.

“Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect,” he began. “Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it.”

He would go on to say, “We did not do our job. We were rolling the dice, hoping that things would come together by launch day, when in our hearts we knew it would be a miracle. We were pushing the schedule and betting that the Cape would slip before we did. From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: Tough and Competent. ‘Tough’ means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control, we will know what we stand for.”

“‘Competent’ means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills; Mission Control will be perfect. When you leave this meeting today, you will go back to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write ‘Tough and Competent’ on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room, these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.”

And “tough and competent” would be exactly what NASA would become in the days, months, and years to follow. The U.S. space agency in the wake of the Apollo fire would set exacting standards of professionalism, quality, and safety, even as they continued to increase in mastery of the technology and skills necessary to make it to the Moon.

America’s Finest Hour

Unbeknownst to U.S. intelligence agencies, the Soviets had already fallen vastly far behind in their own Moon program, and their N1 rocket, which was meant to compete with the U.S. Saturn V rocket, was by no means ready for manned use. Unlike NASA, the Soviet space program had become completely dependent on a volatile combination of personalities and politics, which bottlenecked innovation, slowed necessary changes, and in the end, made it impossible to adapt appropriately in the race for the Moon.

On December 21, 1968, the U.S. leapt into first place in the space race when Apollo 8 entered history as the first crewed spacecraft to leave Earth, orbit the Moon, and return. Having combined decades of military and civilian science, overcome terrible tragedies, and successfully applied lessons learned into achievements won, NASA could at last go on to attain mankind’s oldest dream of landing on the Moon with the Apollo 11 mission, launched on July 16, 1969 from the Kennedy Space Center launch complex LC-39A.

Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” E. Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins would reach the Moon’s orbit on July 19, where they would survey their target landing site at the Sea of Tranquility and begin preparations for separation from the Command Module, Columbia, and landing in the Lunar Module, The Eagle.

On Sunday, July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin would leave Collins behind to pilot the Apollo Command Module and begin their descent to the lunar surface below. Discovering their landing area strewn with large boulders, Armstrong took the Lunar Module out of computer control and manually steered the lander on its descent while searching for a suitable location, finding himself with only a mere 50 seconds of fuel left. But at 8:17 pm, Armstrong would touch down safely, declaring to a distant Planet Earth, “Houston, Tranquility Base here, The Eagle has landed!”

Communion on the Moon

As if to bring humanity full circle, two hours after landing on the surface of the Moon, Aldrin, a Presbyterian, quietly and unknown to NASA back on Earth, would remove from his uniform a small 3” x 5” notecard with a hand-written passage from John 15:5. Taking Communion on the Moon, Aldrin would read within the Lunar Module, “As Jesus said: I am the Vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in Me, and I in Him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without Me.”

Abraham, the Bible’s “father of faith,” could almost be said to have been honored by Aldrin’s confession of faith. In a sense, the landing of a believing astronaut on a distant heavenly object was like a partial fulfillment of the prophecy of Genesis 15:5, in which Abraham’s descendants would be like the stars in the sky.

Later, when Armstrong left the Lunar Module and scaled the ladder down to the Moon’s dusty surface, he would radio back to Earth, “That’s one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.” Due to a 35-millisecond interruption in the signal, listeners would not hear the “one small step for a man” but instead, “one small step for man,” leaving the entire world with the impression that the NASA astronauts had won not just a victory for America, but for humankind, as a whole.

After planting Old Glory, the flag of the United States of America in the soft lunar dust, the Moon race had officially been won, and the Soviets, having lost the initiative, would scale back their space program to focus on other objectives, such as building space stations and attempting to land probes on other planets. The Soviets not only lost the Moon race, but their expensive investment that produced no propaganda success would also, ultimately, cost them the Cold War as well.

America would go on to send men to the Moon a total of six times and with twelve different astronauts between July 20, 1969 (Apollo 11) and December 11, 1972 (Apollo 17). The result of the U.S. winning the Moon race would be the caper of assuring the planet that the Western world would not be overtaken by the communist bloc, and many useful technologies which were employed either for the U.S. civilian space program or military aerospace applications would later find themselves in commercial, everyday use.

While other nations, including Russia, the European Union, Japan, India, China, Luxembourg, and Israel all have successfully landed unmanned probes on the Moon, to this date, only the United States holds the distinction of having placed humans on the Moon.

Someday, hopefully soon, humans will return once again to the Moon, and even travel from there to distant planets, or even distant stars. But no matter how far humanity travels, the enduring legacy of July 20, 1969 will be that freedom won the 20th century because America, not the Soviets, won the Moon race.

Landing on the Moon was a global victory for humanity, but getting there first will forever be a uniquely American accomplishment.

Dr. Danny de Gracia, Th.D., D.Min., is a political scientist, theologist, and former committee clerk to the Hawaii State House of Representatives. He is an internationally acclaimed author and novelist who has been featured worldwide in the Washington Times, New York Times, USA Today, BBC News, Honolulu Civil Beat, and more. He is the author of the novel American Kiss: A Collection of Short Stories.

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Guest Essayist: Danny de Gracia


Born of ancient volcanoes in Earth’s prehistory and baptized by fire into the modern era by the bombs of the Imperial Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the history of the Fiftieth State is nothing short of legendary.

First discovered and populated by seafaring Polynesian peoples perhaps around the 12th century or even earlier, Hawaii would be thrust into global destiny by European contact when British Captain James Cook discovered and sailed past the island of Oahu on January 18, 1778. As a midpoint in the Pacific, the Hawaiian Islands would soon become a key strategic shipping hub that attracted merchants, missionaries, and militaries alike from around the world.

The relevance of Hawaii would endure long beyond the Age of Sail, as the United States by the end of the 19th century had overtaken all the European powers as an industrial powerhouse. Protection of American shipping routes, defense of the West Coast, and access to Asia necessitated a forward naval presence in Hawaii, and in 1887, the U.S. military began leasing Pearl Harbor.

American influence had already been growing in Hawaii since the end of the Civil War due to the need for sugar cane amidst economic devastation in the South, and the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 cemented the Islands as a leading driver of the growing U.S. economy when it created a free trade agreement for agricultural products from the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Having already seen European military rivals make power plays for control of Hawaii, American business interests maneuvered for decisive U.S. control of the islands. In 1893, Hawaii’s monarchy dissolved and Queen Liliuokalani was pressured by local militias to abdicate her throne. Ultimately, it would be the Spanish-American War which put the U.S. in conflict on distant shores as far away as the Philippines and Guam, that would give the U.S. justification to annex Hawaii.

On July 4, 1898, just four months after the sinking of the Battleship Maine in Havana Harbor, the U.S. Congress adopted Senate Joint Resolution 55 – nicknamed the “Newlands Resolution” after its introducer, Democratic Rep. Francis G. Newlands of Nevada – which set the framework for annexation of Hawaii. On August 12, 1898, a small ceremony on the steps of Hawaii’s Iolani Palace marked the formal annexation of Hawaii and its transfer of sovereignty to the United States.

Pearl Harbor and the Road to Statehood

At the dawn of the 20th century, political shifts in Asia, not Washington D.C., would set the stage for Hawaii’s most significant moment in American and world history. Japan, having dashed the Russian Navy’s hopes for a Pacific warm water port in the spectacular 1905 Battle of the Tsushima Strait, saw herself as an emerging world military power, even on-par with the great European nations.

As a participant in the First World War, Japan’s seizure of Germany’s Pacific territories led the Imperial government to believe it had an important seat at the table as part of the victorious Allies at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.

Much to the Japanese dismay, the U.S. and European powers treated members of the Imperial delegation as bit players in the Treaty of Versailles. The tense peace that followed was only underlined further by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 which limited the construction of battleships and prevented the construction of any new Pacific Ocean military bases – making Hawaii, as an existing U.S. naval and army forward base, perhaps the most strategically relevant island in the entire world.

As Japan, the U.S., and the Europeans all sought to expand in a world that the machines of the Industrial Revolution made even smaller, a perfect storm of interests, politics, and geography was brewing that would one day rain bombs over Hawaii.

This confluence of international politics and geography could lead only to Japanese fighter planes over Oahu on the fateful morning of December 7, 1941. Colliding over the azure blue waters and exotic green jungles of Hawaii were more than just Japanese and American forces, but two competing destinies of fascism or freedom.

The attack on Pearl Harbor would not only steel the U.S. resolve to defeat the Axis Powers, but the terrible east wind rain of Imperial Japanese bombs had a more dynamic effect in that they aroused many Hawaiians to see themselves as a vital part of the American experience. Fighting not only for the safety of their islands but also for the freedom of their way of life, when America triumphed in World War II, Hawaiians felt a special place as part of the victory that liberated the world.

Hawaii’s Statehood and Constitution: A Model for the Future

The immediate post-WWII era saw intense enthusiasm among many locals to petition for Hawaii statehood, bringing together religious, cultural, academic, labor, political, and business leaders in calls to make Hawaii part of the Union. America had become the world’s first superpower, and Hawaii had been the pivot point for the dawn of an American century.

In 1950, Hawaii’s Constitutional Convention was a key step towards statehood for the Territory of Hawaii, as many delegates felt that it showed for the first time in history that Hawaii was ready for statehood.

Though Democrats in Congress had staunchly resisted Republican-leaning Hawaii from entering the Union, unresolved postwar tensions with the Soviet Union and the Cold War could not afford a lingering question mark in the Pacific Ocean. Hawaii, which had been so essential to winning WWII, would be crucial for containment of the Soviet Union and access to Asia in a nuclear world.

On March 18, 1959, Congress passed the Hawaii Admission Act, which at last provided for Hawaii’s ascension to full statehood.  Section 3 of the Act would proudly declare, “The constitution of the State of Hawaii shall always be republican in form and shall not be repugnant to the Constitution of the United States and the principles of the Declaration of Independence.”

On June 27, 1959, Hawaii voted for statehood, a leap of faith which helped mollify the political and cultural divisions of the past, as locals finally had the chance to determine Hawaii’s place in the world for themselves. No longer under the supervision of a monarch or held at bayonet point, the people of Hawaii were given the chance to choose for themselves the future.

They voted “yes.”

In a landslide victory for statehood, 132,773 voters, or 94.3 percent of the vote, cast their ballots to become the Fiftieth State.

As the most recent state to enter the Union, Hawaii’s constitution represents the most modern, elegant, and in many instances, poetic social compacts among the States. Hawaii is especially unique in that every decade, voters are given the option to vote for a recurring Constitutional Convention question, which continues to place the future of Hawaii in the hands of Hawaiians.

The most recent revision to the Hawaii Constitution’s Preamble reminds the world, “We reserve the right to control our destiny, to nurture the integrity of our people and culture, and to preserve the quality of life that we desire. We reaffirm our belief in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and with an understanding and compassionate heart toward all peoples of the earth, do hereby ordain and establish this constitution for the State of Hawaii.”

In the annals of history, the story of mankind is one of mistakes and injustices, but also triumphs and great honors. History has not always been right or kind, but history in America is our story, which we have the freedom to change. In the volcanic soil of Hawaii, scarred by war and upheaval, and watered by the blood and tears of so many, a tree of liberty has grown in the Pacific whose fruits give us hope for the future of our planet.

In 1993, Congress and President Bill Clinton issued the Apology Resolution which acknowledged the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. While some Native Hawaiians continue to feel grieved over the loss of their sovereignty, the 1993 Apology Resolution was a helpful part of Hawaii’s healing and progress. Today, the majority of Hawaiians and Hawaii residents continue to proudly and patriotically support the State of Hawaii and their place as American citizens.

Though today’s Hawaii struggles with many economic, political, and cultural issues, the sons and daughters of Hawaii represent the blossoming of a great generation of Americans who will continue to further the relevance of our United States of America for centuries to come. As someone whose family was among the very first Filipino plantation immigrants to come to Hawaii, my experience is particularly special, because my family has had the joy of becoming citizens of Hawaii and citizens of these United States.

May God forever bless the State of Hawaii, and all those who live in it.

Dr. Danny de Gracia, Th.D., D.Min., is a political scientist, theologist, and former committee clerk to the Hawaii State House of Representatives. He is an internationally acclaimed author and novelist who has been featured worldwide in the Washington Times, New York Times, USA Today, BBC News, Honolulu Civil Beat, and more. His first novel, “American Kiss: A Collection of Short Stories” is available online on, Barnes and Noble, and other retail outlets.


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