Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Week in American Militarism

 The website Common Dreams is a very good resource for those interested in a wide range of progressive topics. You'll find Democrat politics articles, which aren't very critical or radical. You'll find pieces that both support Israelis right to defend itself but also condemn it as a nation that is perpetuating genocide and colonialism. There is plenty of environmental coverage and economic justice news on everything from unions, to climate change, to resource wars. For me personally, as someone who comes from an island in the Pacific that is known as the tip of the spear and an unsinkable aircraft carrier, I truly appreciate the coverage that Common Dreams provides on militarism, in particular American militarism. Naturally, their lens for filtering through the possibilities of news focuses primarily on the hotspots where Americans troops are currently bombing, fighting and occupying and so it doesn't attend much to places where the bases have existed for a long time and where the violence that persists has long been naturalized. Despite this it is a very good site for those wanting to know more about the wars that American is planning and prosecuting. 
Here are some recent articles from the site.
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Damaging Our Country from Wars of Choice

The drums of war are beating once again with the vanguard of U.S. bombers already over Iraq (and soon Syria) to, in President Obama’s words, “degrade and destroy ISIS.” The Republican Party, led by war-at-any-cost Senators Lindsay Graham and John McCain, wants a bigger military buildup which can only mean U.S. soldiers on the ground.

Here they go again. Another result of Bush’s war in Iraq. Washington has already expended thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of American injuries and illnesses, and over a million Iraqi lives. The achievement: the slaying or capture of Al Qaeda leaders, but with that came the spread of Al Qaeda into a dozen countries and the emergence of a new Al Qaeda on steroids called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which has nominal control over an area in Syria and Iraq larger than the territory of Great Britain.

Still, no lessons have been learned. We continue to attack countries and side with one sectarian group against another, which only creates chaos and sets in motion the cycle of revenge and sparks new internal strife. So if slamming a hornet’s nest propels more hornets to start new nests, isn’t it time to rethink this militarization of U.S. foreign policy? It only increases the violent chaos in that region with the risk of a blow back affecting our country, such as suicide bombers attacking heavily populated public spaces. This kind of attack is very hard to stop, as we have seen thousands of times overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to Richard Clarke, former White House anti-terrorism advisor to George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden wanted Bush to invade Iraq, so that more Muslims would take up arms against the U.S. and more Muslims would hate our country for its destruction of their land and people. Similarly, ISIS would like nothing better than to embroil the U.S. and our soldiers in a ground war so that it can rally more people to expel the giant U.S. invader.

Then there is the massive over-reaction by our government and its ever-willing corporate contractors. Political turmoil ensues and our democratic institutions, already weakened in their defense of liberty, due process, and the rule of law, are further overwhelmed by the policing dictates of a profitable national security state.

Randolph Bourne, a hundred years ago, wrote an essay with these words about war:
“It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate cooperation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense… Other values such as artistic creation, knowledge, reason, beauty, the enhancement of life, are instantly and almost unanimously sacrificed…”
Benjamin Franklin understood this collective panic, when he said that people who prefer security to liberty deserve neither.

The fundamental question is whether our civil society can defend our institutions critical to maintaining a democratic society.

Will our courts fold before the over-reaching panic by the Executive Branch and its armed forces?
Will our Congress and state legislatures stand firm against sacrificing our liberty and our public budgets that serve our civil society’s necessities in the face of a police/military state’s over-reacting ultimatums?

Will our media resist hyper-focusing on the “war on terror” and give us other important news about ongoing American life?

Will our government pay more attention to preventing the yearly loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives from hospital infections, medical malpractice, defective products, air pollution, unsafe drugs, toxic workplaces and other domestic perils?

Not likely. The aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities resulted in brutal reaction. In devastating two countries and their civilians, far more American soldiers were injured and killed than those lives lost on 9/11, not to mention the trillions of dollars that could have been spent to save many lives here and repair, with good-paying jobs, the crumbling public works in our communities.

Sadly, our democratic institutions and civil resiliency are not presently prepared to hold fast with the forces of reason, prudence and smart responses that forestall a national nervous breakdown – one which happens to be very profitable and power-concentrating for the few against the many.

Consider what our leaders did to our democracy during their “war on terrorism.” Secret laws, secret courts, secret evidence, secret dragnet snooping on everyone, unauditable, massive secret spending for military quagmires abroad, secret prisons and even censored, judicial decisions that are supposed to be fully disclosed! Government prosecutors often have made shambles of their duty to show probable cause and respect habeas corpus and other constitutional rights. Thousands of innocent people were jailed without charges and detained without attorneys after 9/11.

The Al Qaeda leaders wanted to not only instill fear about public safety in America, but also to weaken us economically by tying us down overseas. Why are our rulers obliging them? Because, in a grotesque way, power in Washington and profit on Wall Street benefit.

Only the people, who do not benefit from these wars, can organize the exercise of their constitutional sovereignty to shape responses that promote safety without damaging liberty.

One percent of the citizenry diversely organized in congressional districts and reflecting the “public sentiment” can turn around, perhaps with the funding support of an enlightened billionaire or two, the Congress and the White House. Are you up to this challenge?
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His latest book is The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future. Other recent books include, The Seventeen Traditions: Lessons from an American Childhood, Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win, and "Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us" (a novel).


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US Senate Approves $500 Million to Arm Syrian Militants

Lawmakers back president's plan to expand new war in the Middle East
Despite loud warnings from many quarters—including foreign policy experts, the anti-war left and dissenting CIA analysts—that such a move could prove disastrous, the U.S. Senate on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to approve $500 million in government funds to help arm, train, and support so-called moderate military forces inside Syria.

The 78-22 vote—which came packaged as part of a continuing resolution for broader government spending—received bipartisan support with only 9 Democrats,  12 Republicans, and one independent (Sen. Bernie Sanders) voting against it. (See the full roll call vote here.)

Approved earlier in the week by the House of Representatives, the legislation is now headed for President Obama's desk where he is likely to sign it.

Obama has said that he does not think he needs Congressional approval for his overall strategy to confront the militant group known as the Islamic State (or ISIS) that has no taken over large swaths of territory in both Iraq and Syria. Simultaneously, however, the president has tried to garner as many visible signs of support from lawmakers as possible. The votes this week offer him plenty of cover as the Pentagon continues to make plans for expected, though deeply controversial, airstrikes against ISIS targets inside Syria.

As Obama has deployed increasing numbers of ground troops back into Iraq in recent weeks and expanded the U.S. bombing campaign, lawmakers have largely stood aside.

Explaining his vote against Thursday's measure, Sen. Sanders said, “I fear very much that supporting questionable groups in Syria who will be outnumbered and outgunned by both ISIS and the Assad regime could open the door to the United States once again being dragged back into the quagmire of long-term military engagement.”

On Thursday, filmmakers at Brave New Films released a succinct anti-war video arguing against Obama's flawed strategy in Iraq and Syria, saying that the president and those who back him are making the very same mistakes that have plagued U.S. foreign policy for decades.

"Since 1980," the narrator of the films states, "we have militarily intervened at least 35 times in more than 27 countries. We keep bombing, we continue spending trillions of dollars, but we're no safer as a result."


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The God of War is on the Verge of Another Victory

Addressing the complexity of others’ brutal behavior means facing our terrifying complicity in it
Barack Obama’s central dilemma last week, when he tried to sell a new war to the American public on the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, was to speak convincingly about the wisdom and effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy over the last decade-plus while at the same time, alas, dropping the bad news that it didn’t work.

Thus: “Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.”

Hurray! God bless drones and “mission accomplished” and a million Iraqi dead and birth defects in Fallujah. God bless torture. God bless the CIA. But guess what?

“Still we continue to face a terrorist threat. We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm.”

So it’s bombs away again, boys—another trace of evil has popped up in the Middle East—and I find myself at the edge of outrage, the edge of despair, groping for language to counter my own incredulity that the God of War is on the verge of another victory and Planet Earth and human evolution lose again.

Obama ended his executive declaration of more war with words that the military-industrial shills have slowly managed to turn into an obscenity: “May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.”

God bless another war?

Tom Engelhardt, writing a few days ago at TomDispatch, called it “Iraq 3.0,” noting: “Nowhere, at home or abroad, does the obvious might of the United States translate into expected results, or much of anything else except a kind of roiling chaos. . . . And one thing is remarkably clear: each and every application of American military power globally since 9/11 has furthered the fragmentation process, destabilizing whole regions.

“In the twenty-first century, the U.S. military has been neither a nation- nor an army-builder, nor has it found victory, no matter how hard it’s searched. It has instead been the equivalent of the whirlwind in international affairs, and so, however the most recent Iraq war works out, one thing seems predictable: the region will be
further destabilized and in worse shape when it’s over.”

Obama’s speech is addressed to a nation with a dead imagination. Doing “something” about the Islamic State means dropping bombs on it. Bombing runs don’t inconvenience a politician’s constituents and always seem like stalwart action: a squirt of Raid on an infestation of bugs. They never kill innocent people or result in unintended consequences; nor, apparently, do they provoke an instant sense of horror, the way a beheading does.

Indeed, declarations of war always seem to lift people up. This is because they separate us from the evil that our enemies are committing. Addressing the complexity of others’ brutal behavior means facing our terrifying complicity in it—which is asking far too much of any Beltway-entrenched U.S. politician. Obama hasn’t broken in any way from his inarticulate predecessor in attempting to exploit the simplistic emotional safe haven of war and militarism.

“How do I respond when I see that in some Islamic countries there is vitriolic hatred for America?” George Bush asked during a press conference a month after the 9/11 attacks (quoted recently by William Blum in his latest Anti-Empire Report). “I’ll tell you how I respond: I’m amazed. I’m amazed that there’s such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us. I am—like most Americans, I just can’t believe it because I know how good we are.”

Obama is trying to extract the same public acquiescence to military aggression from the IS beheadings of two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker as Bush did from 9/11. Bush had the distinct advantage of not having himself—and the disastrous mess he created—as his predecessor. Nevertheless, Iraq 3.0 is going to become a reality, even though bombing Iraq will just strengthen IS and likely open the door to the next multi-year military quagmire.

As David Swanson laments on the website World Beyond War, speaking of the first journalist IS brutally murdered, “James Foley is not a war ad.”

“When 9/11 victims were used as a justification to kill hundreds of times the number of people killed on 9/11, some of the victims’ relatives pushed back,” Swanson writes. Linking to a video in which Foley talks about the hell and absurdity of war with filmmaker Haskell Wexler during the NATO protests in Chicago two years ago, he adds: “Now James Foley is pushing back from the grave.”

He invites us to watch Foley talk about “the dehumanization needed before people can be killed, the shallowness of media coverage” and other toxic realities of war that usually don’t show up in presidential speeches.

“We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world . . .”

I can’t believe I live in a country that still tolerates such simplistic, knife-edged rhetoric. Oh, so much evil out there! The U.S. government, in all its might and purity, has no choice but to go after it with every weapon in its arsenal. What Obama doesn’t bother to say, though perhaps in some helpless, futile way he knows, is that engaging in the game of war is always an act of defeat. And the opponents, in their brutal aggression toward each other and everyone else, are always on the same side.


Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

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The Next Round of an Unwinnable War Beckons

Bombing raids on Islamic State targets in Iraq may just make things worse.
Once again, a U.S. president vows to eliminate an extremist militia in the Middle East to make the region, and Americans, safe.

And that means it’s time again for a reality check. Having failed in its bid to destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the United States is still trying to dismantle both organizations. Over the course of 13 years of war, that mission has spread to Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Mali, and West Africa, as militant groups on two continents have adopted the al-Qaeda brand.

Contrary to normal logic, the White House wants everyone to see this failure as a badge of expertise. As President Barack Obama vowed in an interview on Meet the Press, fighting the Islamic State forces “is something we know how to do,” mainly because we’ve been battling similar groups “for five, six, seven years.”

Years of air strikes, drone-operated killings, and covert operations have brought neither peace nor safety to the region and its people. Estimates of the death toll from U.S. attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia alone range from 3,100 to 5,400, including 570-1,200 civilians. Precise figures are impossible to obtain since the strikes remain classified, and investigating drone attacks is difficult and dangerous work.

Nor has the drone campaign halted the proliferation of groups seeking to link their — usually local — agendas to the idea of a global struggle represented by al-Qaeda. Indiscriminate killing — and the constant fear of death from above — has only destroyed communities and provided easy recruitment material for extremist groups.

Obama promises that his plan to combat and destroy the Islamic State forces will also address the underlying political problems in Iraq and Syria. Such claims are tenuous, at best. What’s far more certain is that all military campaigns have unintended consequences, some of which don’t appear for many years afterward.

The Islamic State itself is largely a product of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Dismantling the Iraqi state and rebuilding it along sectarian lines produced an authoritarian government dominated by Shiite Islamists who ignored minority grievances and often suppressed dissent with bullets. The result? An entrenched civil war with no end in sight.

Although U.S. media coverage of the violence in Iraq subsided following the withdrawal of combat troops, sectarian attacks against civilians have continued. Car bombs, street assaults, and kidnappings have transformed Baghdad into a city segregated by sect. Large parts of the country, including the Sunni majority areas in the west and north, feel abandoned by the central government.

These political tensions are the reason why the Islamic State has found some support in the areas it has taken over. Bombing Islamic State targets — especially where they are embedded in communities and liable to cause civilian casualties — carries no promise of changing this dynamic for the better. It’s more likely to change it for the worse.

The Islamic State is indeed a danger to the people of the region and to efforts to resolve the political conflicts in Iraq and Syria. Yet the past decade has shown, again and again, that American firepower doesn’t solve these problems. Even if Washington manages to help destroy this al-Qaeda spinoff, the grievances that give rise to groups like it can’t be bombed out of existence.

The campaign formerly called “the War on Terror” has only proven to perpetuate both war and terror.

No amount of rebranding or wishful thinking will change that reality this time around.
Amanda Ufheil-Somers is the assistant editor of Middle East Report, published by the Middle East Research and Information Project. MERIP.org

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Nihi Launch Party!


Sina un fahan i tiket-mu siha gi este na website: nihikids.org

Gof maolek este na sho, sa' ha na'dadana' i lenguahi yan i kuttura yan i humuyong-na ma fa'na'na'gue i ume'egga' positive na values put i irensia-ta, komo tiningo', lenguahi pat guinaha yan tano'.

Marianas Eye

Several years ago the Muna Brothers started a website called Guamology. It was a pretty cool website, even if it only lasted for about a year. It had regular columns and features about Guam cultural activities and current events. I was a regular writer for it and some of my favorite pieces that I've written recently were conceived initially as articles for Guamology. The Muna Brothers would conduct regular interviews with people they felt were making a difference or had a positive and inspirational message to share. One such interview was with David Khorram, who wrote the book World Peace, A Blind Wife and Gecko Tails, drawn from a series of columns he did for the Saipan Tribune. If you haven't had a chance to read it, you can find copies of it had Bestseller and sometimes the UOG bookstore. On his blog Marianas Eye, he posted the transcript of that interview that you can read below. 

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Guamology Interview
David Khorram
Marianas Eye
August 7, 2011

 I was interviewed about my book back in 2009 by Kel Muna, a film-maker, and host of the Guamology.com website. Since then, Guamaology has gone off-line, as Kel has become busy planning the Guam International Film Festival. I enjoyed the interview, and thought I'd post it here since Guamology is no longer around.

World Peace, A Blind Wife and Gecko Tails. It's such a great title. How did you come up with it? Did you have any alternate titles before settling on your final choice?

As I was having friends review the book, I'd ask them, "What is this book about?" and the typical answer was that because the pieces covered a potpourri of subjects, the title would have to be reflective of that. I also wanted the title to be a bit intriguing and memorable. Someone suggested that many of the pieces were about world peace, so that became the opening of the title. The blind wife and gecko tails are references to specific pieces in the book. I also wanted to give reference to our tropical location, and that's why I chose "Gecko Tails" as part of the title. My first thought for a title was simply, "Thoughts from an Island".

How does it feel to know that Blind Wife is required reading for sociology students at the University of Guam, where before Blind Wife it had been Mitch Albom's "Tuesdays With Morrie"?

Honestly, I'm a bit stunned. I'm always surprised when someone tells me that something I've written is meaningful to them. I receive the reflection papers that the students write after reading the book, and it's both rewarding and humbling to know that something I've written has in some way touched someone's life. "Tuesdays with Morrie" is such a powerful book. I can't really get my head around the fact that Blind Wife has displaced it from the reading list.

I understand that Blind Wife is a compilation of all of your most popular columns from the Saipan Tribune. When and how did you come to write for the paper?

I started writing for the Tribune as a columnist in 2004. I had wanted to be more disciplined in my writing, and I felt like having a weekly deadline would help. I also am a curious person by nature, and like to pull ideas from various places, so the column provided me a place to share the things I was learning or thinking about.

When did you get the idea and interest of turning your columns into a book? How long did the process take to put the book together?

The book came about as a result of panic. About a year before it was published, I decided to take more time off from work and write a book I had been thinking about for some time. I had given a series of talks on the subject of establishing unity in communities. People told me that I should turn that into a book -- "7 Habits of Unity" or something like that. So I took time off to write this book, but really didn't have a clear idea of where I was going with it -- the tone, the audience, the purpose. And because of this uncertainty I began to have all kinds of personal doubts and misgivings while trying to write it. I spent a lot of time just staring into past my computer screen into space. After nine months, I realized that the year was coming to a close, and I had nothing to show for it, and that I'd feel like a total loser if the year ended and I hadn't published a book. So, I realized I could pull together my columns, which were already written and which had been well-received in the community, and publish them. So this book came about because I wimped out at writing the other one.

Your writing style is very easy to relate to as well as reflective. Did you have a formal education in writing?

I got the same training that we all get by virtue of going to school. I didn't take any special writing courses or workshops. But I did have some terrific teachers who taught me the value of re-writing, and the need to read your own writing out load to make sure it makes sense and that it flows. One of my comparative religion professors had a journalism degree, and he emphasized the need to write clearly for a broad audience, even in a term paper. So, I think that's where the conversational tone of my writing comes from. I also believe in being authentic. Even though at times I write about some lofty principles (like being truthful 100% of the time, or not dwelling on the faults of others, or eating well and exercising daily) I know it's difficult, because I fail with the same struggles. I try to make sure I'm conveying that I know I'm on the same human level as my reader.

How did you decide on the number of entries to include in the book? Did an editor choose for you?

I wanted to have about 50 pieces, just because it was a nice round number. I went with 52, because that's the number of weeks in a year, so it's like a year of columns.

Your writing style and reflection of topics are uplifting and the overall tone reminds me of one of my inspirations, Seth Godin, a blogger who totally thinks outside the box. What is your source for inspiration when it comes to writing your entries?

I've never really thought about this before. I think my writing is just a reflection of me, my thoughts, my surroundings and my responses to them. So, in some way, the answer to the question of what inspires my writing is the same as what inspires my life. The biggest sense of inspiration for me is a conviction that the world is moving inexorably toward a fully integrated global society, and that the social structures of old are crumbling, making way for new paradigms, and ultimately for a spiritually rooted civilization. That's what I see when I see the current economic collapse -- the collapse of a system that was not based on sound spiritual principles, and so, it's collapse provides the opportunity for a new, more holistic one, to emerge. The source of this mindset and this perspective -- this overall optimism -- is my exposure the the writings of the Baha'i Faith. Check them out. They are revolutionary both in terms of social organization and human relations, and in terms of the individuals relationship to his or her own existence. www.bahai.org.

Do you get writer's block? If so, what do you do to get over it?

I do have difficulty writing at times, but I don't like to call it "writer's block" because that phrase formalizes the simple fact that at times, everything is difficult. It turns it into a monster. I mean, there are some days I don't want to go to work, but I don't call it "worker's block". That's just an excuse to stay home. "Sorry, can't come in today. I've got worker's block." The best way to get over difficulty writing is to write. It's that simple. As one writer has succinctly phrased the remedy, "ass to chair".

If you had to choose only one favorite entry from your book which one would it be and why?

That's a little like being asked, "of all your children, which is your favorite?" Because the pieces are so diverse, can I pick a favorite from a few categories? Of the serious pieces, my favorite is "Thoughts of a Father" which is what I wrote down while awaiting a diagnosis of cancer in my six-year old son. It was a very personal piece and a very raw reflection of the horrors and doubts of such an experience. Of the humorous pieces, the one that is my, and most people's favorite is "The Relationship Between Moral Health and a Blind Wife," which depicts a Saipan scene of the pitfalls of multicultural communication. Of the medical stories, I like "Sweet Sight" which depicts the drama of a blind man regaining his sight.

Tell us about your writing process. How do you find the time to write with a busy schedule/family life?

Most of the time, I'll write about something that has been on my mind for a while. It takes time for ideas to percolate. I start the writing process inside my head. I have a loose idea of what I want to say, but it really evolves as I'm writing. The act of writing is a sort of unveiling. I'm not sure at the start how it will turn out. The interaction between the writer and the page determines the end result. The page is an active participant, molding the writer's words as they emerge. At least that's how it happens for me. When do I find the time to write? When everyone is asleep. I also write on Thursday mornings. It's my operating room day, and in the 20 or so minutes between surgical cases, I'll pause and write.

You are a very respected ophthalmologist. I'm sure you could have your choice to practice anywhere in the world, so why Saipan?

Are you kidding? Because Saipan is the greatest place in the world! I'm living on a beautiful tropical island, serving people who need and appreciate my services. I live in a community that values human relationships, where my kids are growing up without fear. What more could a person want? One of my professional goals was to work in an under-served area, which is why I left the US after I completed my training. Sometimes I think back on the life I could have had -- working in an academic medical center, teaching, publishing scientific papers -- and all the prestige that comes from that. It can be seductive, but I truly believe that I'm in the setting that gives me happiness, which is much more important, ultimately than prestige.

How big of a role does Saipan play in your writing? 
Big.

How has your experience growing up as an Iranian boy in Kentucky contributed to your unique views on life? 

I think more than anything else (and I think this is common among many immigrants), it gave me the perspective of an outsider -- of someone who had to work to fit in, to be accepted. Immigrants were rare in Appalachia when we moved there in the 60's. People didn't know how to categorize us. It was still a time of racial tension, and here was this brown family -- neither black nor white, with strange accents, strange foods, strange religion, strange names, strange strange strange. I carried that sense or having to work to just fit in around with me through my 20's. But once I left the United States, I lost that sense of being an outsider. I think the ethnic diversity of Saipan, where there is no clear majority, is unifying. People are used to people of various colors, with funny names. Here, I'm no more a stranger than anyone else, and ultimately, I imagine many parts of the world will be like Saipan -- a true mix of cultures and peoples. Growing up in rural Kentucky also gave me a sense of appreciation for small towns and tight communities, which is one of the reasons Saipan resonates with me.

What future projects of yours can we look forward to?

I'm not sure. I've been on pause in terms of writing for almost a year. I'm trying to create more space and quite time in my life, and I'm very careful about the things I undertake. I'm contemplating writing some columns again, but not with the same weekly frenzy as before. I'd also like to get back to the "7 Habits of Unity" book, but I'm in no hurry.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

This is my first interview by a famous film-maker!

Finally,
Our version of James Lipton’s/Bernard Pivo Questions (one word, or short answers please):
What does the Chamorro culture mean to you?
Search

Who’s your favorite local artist?
Greg Elliott

Do you speak Chamorro?
Some

As a person, what turns you on?
Contentment

As a person, what turns you off?
Poverty

What’s your favorite curse word?
Booger (my kids might read this).

What sound or noise do you love?
Laughter

What sound or noise do you hate?
The sound of surgical scissors removing an eye.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Stand-up comic

What profession would you not like to attempt?
Hitman -- boss is too demanding.

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
Welcome!

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Wretched of the Earth

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon is one of the books that has had a huge impact on me. You can interpret this book to be so many things, although people traditionally focus on the call for violent nationalist revolutions as a means of decolonization. For me I have used Fanon's work, in particular this book in order to articulate so many of my own ideas about social change, in particular in Guam. He wrote a time when decolonization was a tide and it was something that he both channeled and rode. In the context of that time, but also even today when so much of the world has banished his writing to echoes of a bloody and mistaken past, there is still so much power behind them.

Here is his last chapter, his conclusion to The Wretched of the Earth, which more than anything shows the humanist and idealist of Fanon, and the promise that decolonization always holds.

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Now, comrades, now is the time to decide to change sides. We must shake off the great mantle of night which has enveloped us, and reach for the light. The new day which is dawning must find us determined, enlightening and resolute.

We must abandon our dreams and say farewell to our old beliefs and former friendships. Let us not lose time in useless laments or sickening mimicry. Let us leave this Europe which never stops talking of man, yet massacres him at every one of its street corners, at every corner of the world.

For centuries Europe has brought the progress of other men to a halt and enslaved them for its own purposes and glory, for centuries it has stifled virtually the whole of humanity in the name of a so-called “spiritual adventure.” Look at it now teetering between atomic destruction and spiritual disintegration.

And yet nobody can deny its achievements at home have not been crowned with success.

Europe has taken over leadership of the world with fervor, cynicism and violence. And look how the shadow of its monuments spreads and multiples. Every movement Europe makes bursts the boundaries of space and thought. Europe has denied itself not only humility and modesty but also solitude and tenderness.

Its only show miserliness has been toward man, only toward man has it shown to be niggardly and murderously carnivorous.

So, my brothers, how could we fail to understand that we have better things to do than follow in that Europe’s footsteps?

This Europe, which never stopped talking of man, which never stopped proclaiming its sole concern was man, we now know the price of suffering humanity has paid for every one of its spiritual victories.

Come, comrades, the European game is finally over, we must look for something else. We can do anything today provided we do not ape Europe, provided we are not obsessed with catching up with Europe.

Europe has gained such a mad and reckless momentum that it has lost control and reason and is heading at dizzying speed towards the brink from which we would be advised to remove ourselves as quickly as possible.

It is all too true, however, that we need a model, schemas and examples. For many of us the European model is the most elating. But we have seen in the preceding pages how misleading such an imitation can be. European achievements, European technology and European lifestyles must stop tempting us and leading us astray.

When I look for a man in European lifestyles and technology I see a constant denial of man, an avalanche of murders.

Man’s condition, his projects and collaboration with others on tasks that strengthen man’s totality, are new issues which require genuine inspiration.

Let us decide not to imitate Europe and let us tense our muscles and our brains in a new direction. Let us endeavor to invent a man in full, something which Europe has been incapable of achieving.

Two centuries ago, a former European colony took it into its head to catch up with Europe. It has been so successful that the United States of America has become a monster where the flaws, sickness, and inhumanity of Europe have reached frightening proportions.

Comrades, have we nothing else to do but create a third Europe? The West saw itself on a spiritual adventure. It is in the name of the Spirit, meaning the spirit of Europe, that Europe justified its crimes and legitimized the slavery in which it held four fifths of humanity.

Yes, the European spirit is built on strange foundations. The whole of European thought developed in places that were increasingly arid and increasingly inaccessible. Consequently, it was natural that the chances of encountering man becomes less and less frequent.

A permanent dialogue with itself, an increasingly obnoxious narcissism inevitably paved the way for a virtual delirium where intellectual thought turns to agony since the reality of man as a living, working, self-made being is replaced by words, an assemblage of words and the tension generated by their meanings. There were Europeans, however, who urged the European workers to smash this narcissism and break with this denial of reality.

Generally speaking, the European workers did not respond to the call. The fact was that the workers believed they too were part of the prodigious adventure of the European Spirit.

All the elements for a solution to the majors problems of humanity existed at one time or another in European thought. But the Europeans did not act on the mission that was designated them and which consisted of virulently pondering these elements, modifying their configuration, their being, of changing them and finally taking the problem of man to an infinitely higher plane.

Today we are witnessing a stasis in Europe. Comrades, let us feel this stagnation where dialectics has gradually turned into a logic of the status quo. Let us reexamine the question of man. Let us reexamine the question of cerebral reality, the brain mass of humanity in its entirely whose affinities must be increased, whose connections must be diversified and whose communications must be humanized again.

Come brothers, we have far too much work on our hands to revel in outmoded games. Europe has done what it had to do and all things considered it has done a good job; let us stop accusing it, but let us say to it firmly it must stop putting on such a show. We no longer have reason to fear it, let us stop then envying it.

The Third World is today facing Europe, as one colossal mass whose project must be to try and solve the problems this Europe was incapable of finding answers to.

But what matters is not a question of profitability, not a question of increased productivity, not a question of production rates. No, it is not a question of back to nature. It is the very basic question of not dragging man in directions which mutilate him, of not imposing on his brain tempos that rapidly obliterate and unhinge it. The notion of catching up must not be used as a pretext to brutalize man, to tear him from himself and his inner consciousness, to break him, to kill him.

No, we do not want to catch up with anyone. But what we want is to walk in the company of man, every man, night and day, for all times. It is not a question of stringing the caravan out where groups are spaced so far apart they cannot see the one in front, and men who no longer recognize each other, meet less and less and talk to each other less and less.

The Third World must start over a new history of man which takes account of not only the occasional prodigious theses maintained by Europe, but also its crimes, the most heinous of which have been committed at the very heart of man, the pathological dismembering of his functions and the erosion of his unity, and in the context of his community, the fracture, the stratification and the bloody tensions fed by class, and finally, on the immense scale of humanity, the racial hatred, slavery, exploitation and above all, the bloodless genocide whereby one a half billion men have been written off.

So Comrades, let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions and societies that draw their institutions from it.

Humanity expects others things from us than this grotesque and generally obscene emulation.

If we want to transform Africa into a new Europe, America into a new Europe, then let us entrust the destinies of our countries to the Europeans. They will do a better job than the best of us.

But if we want humanity to take one step forward, if we want to take it to another level than the one where Europe has placed it, then we must innovate, we must be pioneers.

If we want to respond to the expectations of our people, we must look elsewhere besides Europe.

Moreover, if we want to respond to the expectations of the Europeans, we must not send them back a reflection, however ideal, of their society, and their thought that periodically sickens even them.

For Europe, for ourselves, and for humanity, comrades, we must make a new start, develop a new way of thinking, and endeavor to create a new man.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Chamorro Christmas Nationalism

The exhibit I worked on for the Guam Humanities Council titled Sindalu: Chamorro Journey Stories in the US Military is currently on display at the Isla Center for the Arts at UOG. As part of the exhibit I've given several scholarly tours to students, teachers and veterans. Although the exhibit itself features so many stories, the interaction with these groups often yields even more stories. Sometimes people will find themselves or their ancestors in the photos. They will offer up another perspective or another facet of someone's anecdote. Sometimes they challenge things and sometimes they express their gratefulness that an exhibit like this has been put together.

I teach many aspects of the exhibit in my own classes, but I have appreciated the way the research and writing for the exhibit and then the way I have developed my talk for the tours has led me to really think about the progression of Chamorros and their relationship to the United States, through their military service. Several people have asked me about how it was structured into different themes. For me, the themes flow from one to the other and help us move in time and through the changes in Chamorro and their ideas of US militarism. Early on Chamorros are distant to the US, to its military and serve in menial and almost embarrassing positions. To then jump into the postwar years when Chamorros start to get promoted and become generals and admirals wouldn't really make sense. As a told a tour group today, if you moved the narrative in that way it might not make sense to someone unfamiliar with Guam. If an alien came to Guam, they would read the first section, early military experiences and see the racist ways Chamorros were treated and only allowed to serve at the lowest levels of the US Navy, and then not really understand why it is that Chamorros kept serving in the US military, despite having an entire generation marginalized and infantilized. If someone deprives of your basic rights and then doesn't allow you to participate in your own government, even if it violates everything the US is supposed to stand for, then this would probably counter any patriotic posters and marketing campaigns the Department of Defense could create. But since for people on Guam, participation in the US military is so naturalized, as naturalized as inafa'maolek unfortunately, and so people don't see these disconnects, they instead fill in the gaps. In the exhibit, I tried my best to denaturalize things, while also educating. Chamorros serve in the military for many of the banal patriotic reasons that are invoked, but there are many other reasons for their service, not all positive.

One thing that has really intrigued me about this project is the way in which Chamorros have become more nationalistic and culturally conscious through their participation in the US military. We know this because of the pride that they manifest so visibly when deployed and when stationed elsewhere. Chamorros and people from Guam tend to mark their space in ways that boggle others, who don't feel compelled to cover their tanks with Delaware pride stickers or fill their room with Florida flags. Military service has also given Chamorros critical national and anti-national identifications, by forcing a disconnect between them and the perceived white power dominance of the US, and instead making them feel connected to other long oppressed racialized groups. So much of this happens in Vietnam, both in positive prideful ways, but also critical alternate nationalism ways as well. Many Chamorros have stories of feeling strong affinities to their Black and Latino brothers in arms in that war, but fundamentally alienated from their white comrades in particular their commanding officers. Some such as David Lujan Sablan and Frank San Nicolas (both featured in the exhibit) joined and meet regularly with groups of Black soldiers who were openly supportive of the black power movement.

But even in terms of simple cultural and regional pride, Vietnam is also a major turning point. Chamorros in previous wars would gravitate towards each other and form their own mini diasporic deployed communities, but Vietnam changed things. One way we can see this is through Governor Carlos Camacho's famous, historic visit to the Guam soldiers in Vietnam. While so much of what he said was ridiculous patriotic platitudes, what made this event possible was the Chamorro connection, and it helped to empower Chamorros to feel pride in their heritage and helped to counter the common sense Americanization and assimilation of the time.

Below is Johnny Sablan's account of the trip to Vietnam, made famous in his song "Christmas Odyssey."
“More and more fighting sons have died. Peace, freedom, courage and pride. Forever they will roam in the eyes of the people here at home, in the eyes here at home. In memoriam I sing to you, I bow my head and salute you too. My native brothers you died in Vietnam, but heroes you are here on Guam, the fighting sons of Guam.
He went to Vietnam so to seek his fighting sons. To wish them well, the soldiers of Guam. Called out their names all over Vietnam, saying “I want to see my sons of Guam. I want to see my fighting sons of Guam.”
He said “Hafa adai, my sons, how do you do? My name? They call me Governor Camacho. I came to see you, brought a message for you, from the people of Guam, your island in the sun.
He flew from Saigon up to Pleiku, just to wish his sons there Merry Christmas, too. Danang, Nha Trang, Long Binh and Bien Hoa, too. Hafa adai, Cam Ranh Bay, Merry Christmas to you. Well my sons, you’re not forgotten, this I’m glad to say. I brought you a gift from home. Your families and your dear friends, I bring to you. They would like wish you a Merry Christmas too. Merry Christmas my sons.
They choked up and cried, they held their heads up with pride, as they gazed at their presents side by side. One young soldier said, “Mr. Governor, thank you lai! You’ve made my Christmas so great, you’ve made my Christmas so great.”
Four hundred or more soldiers he met. Jesus, Mike, Joaquin, Chu, Alfred, Antonio, Jose, Manuel and Norbert, too. Shaking hands, saying “Merry Christmas to you, Merry Christmas my sons.”
There’s Jerry and Ron, Billy and Juan. There goes Joseph, Jesse, William and Big John. Albert, Felix, Tony and Benny too. They all said, “Thank you, Governor Camacho, thank you, Governor Camacho.”
He’s a man of distinction, a man with a mission. No intervention to stop his intention. He’s a soldier of Guam. He’s a soldier of Guam.”

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Creation Stories


In terms of situating Chamorro pasts and giving a founding meaning to their history and identity, Fu'una and Puntan, the two siblings who created Guam and Chamorros are generally given that great honor. They are thought of more and more as being the founding spirits, whether you see them as Gods, historical figures, metaphors or fantasies. They are taking a key place of meaning in terms of rooting Chamorro identity today, not as a spirit that was created in 1521 or 1668, but as something longer and having its own distinct origin. Even those who refuse to believe in Fu'una and Puntan as being spirits, but see them as possible historical figures, who may have been the ones to lead a voyage to Guam long ago, nonetheless reinforce their primacy.

In one of the earliest references that we have to Fu'una and Puntan, Fu'una herself is not even mentioned. Puntan is mentioned and so is his "sister," but she is hardly given a role. In this passage drawn from San Vitores' first impressions of Chamorro culture and Guam society, Puntan is mentioned alongside Chaife, another great, elder spirit. Chaife does not receive anywhere near as much attention as Puntan and Fu'una do. His existence is even more difficult to situate than the famous siblings. Fu'una and Puntan remain fairly consistent in terms of their representations in various documents, but Chaife isn't as fortunate.

San Vitores mentions Chaife as a key ideological point in terms of drawing Chamorros into a Catholic framework for their beliefs. Chaife according to him was a spirit that tormented souls and lived in a fiery domain called "Sasalaguan." There is clearly some truth to Chaife and his existence in Chamorro culture and it is possible that he was something similar to Fu'una and Puntan in terms of being a primal, central spiritual presence. There is another Chamorro creation story that involves Chaife, and is vastly different. In it Chaife is not a benevolent spirit who sacrifices for the benefit of the Chamorro people. He instead is an enslaver of souls, from whom a soul does escape and starts the race of Chamorros by creating them from clay and baking them in the sun, which infused them with life.

A version of that story is below from Georg Fritz. It is highly likely though that this version below used elements passed down through oral history and research, but was ultimately contrived by Fritz himself, a former German Governor in the Northern Marianas. Prior to learning that it was most likely false, I found it very intriguing to consider the Chaife story with Fu'una and Puntan together, as being two parts of the origin of the Chamorro people. Part of the newer version of Chaife's story is the way in which Chaife chases after the spirit that has escaped from Sasalaguan and attempts to capture it. In order to escape the spirit itself or one of its descendants continually transforms into things such as a bird, a fish, a lizard, to which Chaife creates natural catastrophes, storms, tsunamis and earthquakes to destroy it.

Leonard Irriarte from the group I Fanlalai'an first proposed to me the idea that Fu'una and Puntan could have been either the names of the leaders on an expedition that settled Guam centuries or millennia ago simply words associated with things which were brought or words used to describe their journey to the Marianas. In this context I was intrigued if Chaife could have represented some antagonistic figure in the long distant past, someone who chased the original settlers out of wherever they had come from and perhaps even followed them here to challenge them?

An interesting theory, one that I doubt is true, but nonetheless interesting in the way it provides some possible color or depth to something to which we known very little details about, the peopling of the Marianas millennia ago.

Below is the text from the original version of the Chaife legend described above from Georg Fritz.

*********************

Si Chaife
Un kuentos ginnen Marianas, sinangan put Georg Fritz

Si Chaife, estaba gi sanmena'an i fragua-na gi tahdong pappa' giya Sasalaguan ya mama'titinas ante siha para u gaitentago' ya u masesetbe.

Ya ha su'su'on i guaife duru ya i fragua mapta': pinigan acho' yan saddok guaife ha yute' siha gi hilo' i edda', ya un ante gumupu huyong ya poddong pappa' giya Funia gi tano' Guahan ya mama'acho'.

Lao i atdao ha na'maipe i acho', i ichan ha na'manana, ya i tasi ha na'huyunggui kalang taotao.

Ayu nai ha li'e' i taotao, na i tano' gatbo.

Guiya mama'titinas taotao siha ginnen i edda' yan hanom, ya ha fa'tinasi siha ante gi minaipen i atdao, na Guiya ha tungo' ginnen as Chaife; ya ha fa'na'an famagu'on i tano'...

 Lao annai Si Chaife ha li'e' na un ante malagu, ha aliligao gi todu i lugat para u puno'.

Un ha'ani ha sodda' un patgon i tano' na mata'ta'chong gi oriyan i tasi ya pine'lo-na na i aniti-na ni' i malagu.

Ya ha na'hanao un napun dangkolu', sa' i hanom, i guaife yan i manglo ha gubietbietna.

I napu i chule' huyong i patgon i tano', lao ti ha na'sina pumuno'; sa' i aniti-na ginnen i atdao, ya este ti ginetbietbietna as Chaife.

Ya i patgon i tano', mama'guihan.

Lao Si Chaife ha tatttiyi i guihan ya ha susugon halom gi un hagoi, ya ha po'lo' un guaife gi pappa' asta ki umangglo.

Lao i guihan ti sina matai ya mama'hilitai ya luma'la'la' gi halomtano'.

Ayu nai Si Chaife ha songge' i halomtano' lao i hilitai mama'ga'ga'gumumupu ya humanao.

Ya Si Chaife ha na'huyong un pakyo', ya este ha yute' i ga'ga'gumugupu gi un ladera ya hinilok i pappa-na - ya mama'taotao.

Ha i taotao yan i anten atdao ilek-na as Chaife: Dialo, Hagu ti sina yu' un puno' yan todu todu i nina'sina-mu, sa' i anti-hu ginnen i atdao.

Este ha atan ya ilek-na: Ginnen Sasalaguan i anti-mu, sa' Guahu na maisa fuma'tinas.

Lao i patgon i tano' umoppe: i ante ni' fumalagunaihon hao gaige giya Funia gi tano' Guahan, na mama'titinas palu ante gi minaipen i atdao.

Ya sen magahet!

Ha na'tungo' maolek ni' i ate, sa’ dialu, Guahu i fina’tinas-ña, un ånte ginnen i atdao, ya i ma’gas taitiningo’ tainina’sina para Guahu…

Annai Si Chaife ha hungok este, nina’luhan yan maggodai ya ha hakot.

Sumuha gui’ kalang fehman na påkyo’, i ha pa’lo’po i hilo’ i tano’, i ekso’ siha manmuta’ guåfe ya ha pañot meggai siha na tåno’.

Giya Fuñ, mababa i tano’ yan i tano’ ha pañot i tatan i taotao, lao i famagu’on-ña siha ti ha hulat pumuno’…

I lahin i tano’ ni’ ma tatitiyi dumångkolu’ yan gainina’sina, ya ha na’huyong un råsan metgot.

Lai taiminagof, sa’ ha tatanga i tano’ i anti-ña.

Entonses Si Chaife ha hihuti gui’ yan i chathinasso-ña ilek-ña, Guahu hu li’e’ i mañe’lu-mu giya Guahan gi tano’ manmagof.

I anten-ñiha ti manmå’ho, ti manñalang, manmagof ya manmaolek sa’ manhaspok.

Lao Hågu må’ho yan ñalang put i tano’-mu ni’ i malingu.

Pues maolek! Na’i un såhyan ya ta’lo guatu gi i tano’ i manmagof!

Ayu nai i patgon i tano’ ha na’i un såhyan ya i manglo siha chumule’ para Guahan, ya ha li’e’ i mañe’lu-ña siha.

Lao siha ti ma ketungo’ gui’, ya ti ma tungo’ i sinangan-ñiha; lao siha manmaolek nu Guiya ya ma nå’i ni’ guinahan-ñiha ya manmalago’ ha fakkai i ginefsaga’-ñiha yan Guiya.

Lao i ginefsaga’-ñiha yan i taitiningo’-ñiha nina’fanggaibinibu: ha fa’nu’i siha ni’ i taitahok-ñiha ennao muna’siha manmamahlao lao, ya ha nå’i siha ni’ i pinepblen guinahan-ñiha; ennao muna’desde på’go’ ha ingen i tinekcha’ i tano’-ña; ha fa’nå’gue siha hafa i tininas-ñaih yan i isao.

Ya ayu nai manlayo’ ni i minalate’-ña ya i tininås-ña ya ma chatli’e’ gui’, ya manachatli’e’ maisa ya i unu chinatli’e’ ni’ i otro.

Este para Si Chaife un minagof yan un chinalek, sa’ i chinatli’e’ yan i linayo’ i mas manguaiyayon na famagu’on-ña.

Siha ha gu’ot i korason taotao siha kalang i gamson yan i nifen i halu’u, ya ha yute’ pappa’ ginnen i ininan atdao, ni’ i gumogoggue siha, para i tinahdong giya Sasalåguan.

Guiya na maisa, na ha na’fåkpo’ i ha’åni-ña gi minahgong, makmåta’ gi i tano’ manmagof;

Annai i niyok yan i lemmai siha manmanonokcha’ mas maolek, ya i tasi manggaiguihan mas mange ki i hilo’ tåno’.

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