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Back Opinion 'The Tipping Point'

'The Tipping Point'

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A POPULAR book a few years ago was "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell. It was a book about change, and examined how major shifts in thinking or attitudes can turn on what may seem like insignificant things at the time. It is subtitled: “How little things can make a big difference.”

We’ve been having some public discussion in the past few days about just what has happened to our military buildup. Some have chosen to focus on the April 2011 visit to Guam of Michigan Sen. Carl Levin and Virginia Sen. Jim Webb. Those two influential senators, along with former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, have become the most outspoken of the critics of the cost and logic of moving 8,000 U.S. Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam.

The U.S. senators, so the story goes, were heavily influenced by the negativity they faced in meetings with members of the 31st Guam Legislature. In fact, one prominent – but as yet unnamed – former federal government official has circulated the opinion that certain Guam legislators “harangued” the visiting senators about “why the Department of Defense should pay for all the island’s woes, there should be no firing ranges on Guam, the people were solidly against the buildup,” and so forth.

Sens. Levin and Webb sat down with this official following one of the meetings and expressed surprise at the viewpoint they got from certain senators. They returned to Washington “with the seed planted, that this buildup was in the wrong place at the wrong time and in a place where the people did not want it.”

We’re not naming the former official who summarized the local meetings that way, because we do not have his permission to do so. But the email containing his remarks has been circulated locally to a number of prominent residents.

Was the meeting our senators had with Sens. Levin and Webb the tipping point for our buildup, the point at which the wheels came off the cart? We’ll probably never know for sure. Budget problems in Washington and Japanese political obstacles on Okinawa probably had more to do with the changes in our buildup outlook than anything said by our local lawmakers.

Still, the criticism has stung, causing some of the Guam senators named in the email to publicly defend themselves, or at least to suggest they certainly could not influence something as big as a military buildup by expressing their opinions about it to some visitors from Washington.

We think they protest too much. Local attitudes do in fact matter to the policymakers in Washington. And if we don’t want the Marines to come here, they won’t be coming. We’re seeing the buildup melt away as we argue over whose fault that is.

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