I live in paradise, across a small bay from the largest deep-water weapons depot on the West Coast. Port Townsend is on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and if I walk out my door and walk twenty minutes north, I can stand on a rocky beach and see Canada. A rough-and-tumble port in the nineteenth century—think timber and oysters—Port Townsend is now home to artists, writers, and musicians; boomers on Social Security; and families raising kids in an economy reliant on tourism, a small paper mill, and healthcare services for its graying population.
The town is tourist-brochure beautiful—Victorian architecture, cormorants and coyotes, hiking, art, and pale ale by turn. From a bluff in town I can see Mount Rainier, the Cascade mountains to the east, and the jagged, brilliant Olympic range to the west. Ferries crisscross the big waters of Admiralty Inlet. Kayakers, sailboats, and crabbers bob in the bay. Paradise. But if boaters stray too close to the ammunition depot, a Navy speedboat—armed, all business—will warn them off.
Indian Island, as locals call it, or NAVMAG, has been a weapons depot since WWII. A substantial portion of the bombs, bullets, and missiles for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars crossed its docks, arriving on tractor-trailers by interstate and stored in bunkers and on flatbeds in parking lots. I’ve seen them: Missiles twelve, fifteen, eighteen feet long stacked like cord wood—too many to count—ready to load onto ships. I’d gone to research a story about environmental practices on the island, a longtime Superfund site. A young man toured me around the island, eager to tell me about the Navy’s efforts to shield eagle nests, log with horses, and even repatriate the bones of Native ancestors. The irony is that while the Navy tended to the island’s ecology and history, its central mission remained shipping the means of death and destruction, however it is justified, to distant lands.
How could it happen? I tell you: We said hardly a word.