Friday, October 28, 2005

Matai hit! Mamta' i Militat Ta'lo

Oh no, no, no, mungga fan, put fabot, ai nina'ye yu' ni' kanset siempre put este na news.

My day and possibly weekend has just been ruined by the charming news that the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force currently stationed in Okinawa will be moved to Guam. Wait, ruined temporal units doesn't quite capture my dismay. Its so much worse, and if you read the article below from this morning's PDN then you'd understand why.

First there is the association of this increase with the "liberation" of Guam in 1944. Its so interesting, because in nearly all articles about increases in military presence in Guam, this connection is implicit. We host and we accomodate because we understand that we have this obligation from the US saving us from the Japanese. The fact that this particular military unit is one that helped liberate Guam more then 60 years ago shouldn't be seen as cool, unique or special. It doesn't create any different thinking or statements, it just allows the statements which under pin most all enthusiastic military support in Guam to be said openly. To basically say what everyone is already thinking (whether they know it or not).

I'm currently working on a paper for a conference next February which will discuss the role of particular hegemonic images in Guam, such as the one which this article absolutely reinforces, that of an arriving American military force bearing gifts of necessity and survival. The images power lies not it what is specific historical, but in how it can be stretched, how things within it can be replaced over time, to maintain the power of the image itself. These Marines no longer hand out Spam and powdered milk to starving Chamorros, but the connection remains the same even as the objects and uniforms change. The Marines still impart something vital to surival, something that we can literally not live without. (this is why its strange that the author of the article gave the 30% statistic on military support, because in most articles a number is never given, only enhancing the desperate and utterly insurpassable dependency). But now that vitalness becomes reconfigured into things like shishkabobs purchased at Chamorro Village or contracts for local construction firms.

Unfortunately, little other than this amorphous and highly ambiguous positive is ever even discussed. This is a particularly important point, since the for a generation after World War II in Guam, the military wasn't interpretted in such a narrow way. Military did not automatically equal life or safety, but was understood more fully as also implying war. A large number of Chamorros who left Guam during the 1940's and 1950's cited the fear of another war as being a reason for their leaving. This is one thing which has been almost completely eliminated from public speech in Guam, this side which no amount of ideological proliferation can destroy, but only twist and turn into something blindly patriotic. A rare moment when this fantasy was shattered came in 2001 just a few months after the 9/11 attack. After weeks of speeches and statements all eagerly asserting that Chamorros (and others on Guam) are ready to do their part for help the nation in its time of need and war, Chamorros were given such an opportunity.

Those that the Bush regime had deemed "enemy combatants" from Afghanistan were in need of incarceration, Guam was considered a possible site for their detainment. That which Chamorros had claimed they desired and wished for (a chance to prove their patriotism by participation in the newly christened war on terror) appeared in a form to appropriate, yet they did not snatch it. In fact the majority of people on Guam were terrified of this prospect that Al Qaeda prisoners might be held on Guam. Why? Because the thing which The Chamber of Commerce, The PDN and even the shift in name from War Department and Department of Defense all are invested in denying, that where there are militaries there will always necessarily be wars, had emerged from the patriotic mire that seeks to hide it. The return of the Real in refreshingly poetic form.

This whitewashing of the military can of course be found in this very article, and the movement from Okinawa to Guam is what does the washing. Note that violence, crime and rapes in Okinawa by US troops are part of the reason for this troop shift, yet why do these terrifying facts of militarization not carry over into Guam? Why does this article or any others attempt to have this discussion? Shouldn't people on Guam be concerned about similar things? Several thousand Marines in Guam doesn't just mean, 28,000 more plate lunches purchased at the Chamorro Village each month, it means more fights in clubs, more racism, more nasty gendering, more potential environmental damage, more annoying patriotism.

These issues are of course rarely discussed in public and in politically useful ways, but tend to be private fears which aren't to be mentioned out loud except amongst radical troublemakers such as myself. These are things which most Chamorros feel ashamed for feeling, because we are instructed in too many ways to conceive of that American soldier as an emissary of our father/Uncle Sam, our savior, a member of our family. Because of this, we understand the military as having just as much claim to Guam as its indigenous people do. Because of this, we follow the logic of this hegemonic point, made clear in an PDN editorial from 1980, Guam is American soil, it can do whatever it wants here. Incidentally, this editorial was about the base issue in Okinawa.

7,000 Marines Pentagon announces shift to Guam
By Gene Park Pacific Sunday News
epark@guampdn.com

Guam will be receiving the bulk of up to 7,000 Marines being relocated out of Okinawa, Japan, the Department of Defense announced today.

Although there is no exact figure of how many Marines will be moving to Guam, Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo announced that the headquarters of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force will be moved to Guam. The Expeditionary Force is the same that helped liberate Guam from Japanese forces during World War II.

"The decision to bring U.S. Marines to Guam represents another acknowledgement of the strategic value of Guam and the increasingly prominent role our island plays in America's national security," Bordallo said this morning. "We will now celebrate many Liberation Days in the future beside the men and women that carry on the tradition of those that freed our people. It will be a wonderful reunion."

Guam makes most of its money from tourism, but the existing military presence represents about 30 percent of the island's economy.

Guam's business community and elected leaders have pushed for a greater military presence on the island, citing the economic benefit.

"This is not only great news for our economy but also for Guam and our nation, as it places the best fighting forces in the world on U.S. soil while simultaneously keeping them at the tip of the spear," said Lee Webber, chairman of the Armed Forces Committee of the Guam Chamber of Commerce. Webber also is the president and publisher of the Pacific Daily News.

"Marines cleared the way on Guam some 60 years ago and that has enabled our island to grow into its current position," Webber said. "They will most certainly assist us in maintaining that growth position well into the future."

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan Nobutaka Machimura and Minister of State for Defense of Japan Kiyoko Ono made the announcement at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

Bordallo this morning stressed the need to prepare the island, including Guam's infrastructure and schools, for the incoming Marines and their families. Important discussions, including cost sharing with Japan, remain in the future.

While no exact time line for arrival of the Marines has been established, Bordallo said the island should expect a planning period and then a phased movement of forces to Guam during the next two to eight years.

The move from Okinawa is part of a bilateral agreement to reduce the burden on base-hosting communities, Japanese Defense Agency Chief Yoshinori Ono is quoted as saying in a Japan Today report.

The personnel will be mostly from command posts -- office personnel and supply officials --and not operational troops, in order to maintain deterrence, Ono and his agency officials stated in Japan Today.

The United States has 14,460 Marines in Japan, the largest contingent overseas, most of whom are on Okinawa.

Okinawans long have complained of crime, crowding and noise associated with the Marine presence. Protests against the presence peaked in 1995 after the rape of an Okinawan schoolgirl by three U.S servicemen.

The United States recently agreed to close the Futenma Marine Air Corps Station in the crowded southern part of Okinawa and move its functions to Camp Schwab in the north.
And it was announced Thursday that Japan will allow a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to be based in Japan for the first time, possibly in 2008.

The carrier would replace the USS Kitty Hawk, a diesel-powered carrier based in Yokosuka, Japan, which often makes port visits to Guam. Commissioned in 1961, the Kitty Hawk is the Navy's oldest aircraft carrier.

Originally published October 30, 2005

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