Friday, June 16, 2006

Warmly Welcoming the War on Terror into Our Hospitable Homes

Ever since the Famoksaiyan meeting in April I've been living in a beautiful reality bubble. A sort of insulated sphere where my ideas are not radical, not maladjusted, not insane, but rather commonsense, important and vital to thinking about the place of Chamorros past, present or future. Famoksaiyan has in a way functioned for me the way San Francisco has functioned for the American left over the past few years, a sort of fannuhong'an, a haven where commonsense is structured slightly different, where people seem to be thinking at least a little bit more than usual about human life, human freedom, dignity and justice.

As I prepare to go back to Guam this summer, I am also preparing for this bubble to be rudely broken. Of course, what I believe and what I may think about Guam's past, present or future may be shared by many people on Guam, but the gap between what we feel and know and what we can say is huge.

In my master's thesis in Micronesia Studies for example, I did more than 100 interviews with Chamorros who lived through World War II. Nearly all these interviews began with your typical war narrative. Where I was when the war broke out, what our family did, broad strokes about how we survived, not a day to day account, but broad generalizations. Finally, the bombing begins, and days later liberation happens.

I don't want to discount these stories, but I do want to point out that because of the prompting that takes place each year around particular celebrations (most notably July 21st) these stories tend take the same truncated feeling. They come out in a very particular form, some things talked about, other things absolutely not talked about.

After doing a number of interviews, I began to sense that people were actively self editing in their storytelling. That they were actively working to omit certain feelings, certain events from their narratives of the war. I can understand this of course, because the war was painfual, todu mamadesi, but this self-editing wasn't just related to the harshness of war, it was most closely linked to how these manamko' connected themselves to the United States, not through a public connection, but at the personal level. When I say this, I'm discussing how difficult they found it at times to narrate a relationship to the United States when the landscape of memory and history they found themselves in didn't offer an easy structure of feeling to operate through. What I mean by this is, the breaks in their narrative appeared when the public history of the war didn't cover or didn't connect to their personal memories or experiences, or where the common phrases such as "liberator" or "patriotism" didn't fulfill the scope of emotion in the memory that demanded to be told.

Chamorros that were telling me their war stories felt compelled when this conflict arose between what is publicly common or acceptable for speaking about the war and the United States and what they felt far beneath all of that, to edit themselves out of their own story. It created a far different portrait of anguish to see this take place, where un bihu pat biha stands on the edge of their memory, and feel prodded forward by something from their past that demands to be told, yet nothing waits before them to catch this memory, this feeling, this opinion. All that seems to stretch before them is a desolate empty gap, which stuffed full with overwhelmingly entrenched notions of "liberation" and "patriotism" can only appear empty and frightening to someone who is clinging to a memory or to a feeling of anger or loathing against the thing (United States) that these feelings of liberation and patriotism feed into. It is clear to me that after the war, so many Chamorros feeling that their less than patriotic thoughts of the United States were unwelcome or impossible given the new patriotic public sphere that is formed, silenced themselves, and continue to silence themselves today.

Some of my interviews lasted for several hours, trying to find a way around/behind this resistance, trying to get at this kernel of discontent which was so present gi i kuentos-mami because of the war it was always being talked around.

The moment that I found the most resistance, the most discomfort over speaking, over putting themselves into their own narrative, was when the war begins, when as one amko' put it, "Uncle Sam lies to us and abandons us." At this point, the loving rhetoric for the United States that sprouts and blossoms publicly after the war tends to crash brutally with the actions of the United States prior to World War II, when it refuses to defend Guam, refuses to let Chamorros leave the island, and refuses to even tell Chamorros the truth about American geopolitical machinations that soon led to war.

My thesis committee for my Micronesian Studies' Master's Thesis didn't quite get why I had an entire chapter on this moment, when the United States abandons Guam. But it was because of the crucial role it played in creating this forces of self editing, meaning the way Chamorros seeing this contradiction between the stories of the pre-war indifferent colonial United States and post-war Uncle Sam who came back as a liberator stories, are forced to basically chose the United States as a liberator if they are to speak publicly without being shouted down or disavowed, thus leaving any discontent their private burden to bear and never speak of.

Over the hundreds of hours that I interviewed manamko' I was given the honor and responsibility of sharing these burdens that they had kept with them for so long. The anger they felt towards the United States, for taking lands, for their racism, for their abandoning Guam, for their destroying Guam, it was a picture far different then what we tell ourselves daily or what we are given to consume each July 21st or December 8th.

But after nearly each of these interviews, the discontent that I had found was once again reburied. So many people I interviewed asked to be made anonymous once the interview was over, or asked that I not use their story at all. It was interesting, most did not even feel the need to explain why they should ask this, they knew that I would understand. In some way we all understand, that's why we don't speak of these things.

It is along this rift, this gap between what people feel and think privately and what people feel they can say publicly that I constantly find work to be done in building a better future for Guam and for Chamorros. For those familiar with hegemony, this should be a familiar tale, the interests of some become the interests of a wider group, through particular phrasings of articulations of culture or value. For example, in the United States, general polls on issues of social and governmental policies tend to prove Michael Moore right when he states that Americans tend to be more liberal. Up until 9/11 at least, when Americans were asked about whether they felt more money should go to social spending or military spending, the majority always stated that more should go for social spending. In fact many felt that taxes could even be raised to improve social spending.

Government policies however move in an entirely different direction and tend to follow completely differente principles. This was most obvious under Reagan who was able to push through programs which were according to polls incredibly unpopular, meaning Americans when just asked generally about them, said they would oppose them. How was he able to do so then? Rhetorically, Reagan was able to make the particular interests of the military industry and the richest class of Americans seem like they were the interests of everyone else. We find a very clear example of this in Bush II's administration, where in a "populist" furor, he has vowed to get rid of the "death tax." A number of Americans see themselves as the potential victims of this tax, despite the fact that the tax clearly affects only the richest Americans. To rescind this tax would have little to no affect on the savings of the majority of Americans, but for those who have taxable estates between $10 - 20 million in value, they will save more than $3 million.

Returning to the gap between what people "really think or feel" and what can be said, it is not nearly enough for me to just found out these things, to learn them and then to publish them. The space must be made for them to be spoken. A revolution in values, a radical shift in commonsense must happen, so that these things can be understood, can be heard as something other than "noise."

At the Famoksaiyan follow-up meeting in May at Oakland and Berkeley, we decided that although we aren't an official organization yet, the massive increase of Marines is something that nonetheless must be addressed. The momentum and lack of public critique over it is almost appalling.

In the next fear years 8,000 Marines and 9,000 dependents and Si Yu'us tumungo' hafa otro will be coming into Guam, and can anyone who is actually thinking about this increase meet it with the near orgasmic joy that so many elected officials and patriotic Chamorros are doing so?

The pathetic public watchdog, limp fourth estate status of The Pacific Daily News is being proven over and over as the lack of leadership by the Government on this increase is being eagerily parroted by the paper. If anything, The Pacific Daily News will occassionally seem to berate the Government for not being sufficiently useless enough in not doing anything but cheer for this increase.

I came across the commonsense that so frightens me and waits to welcome me back on Guam on another Chamorro blog, Auntie Charo's soapbox, Lao adahi yanggen pon bisita gui', sa' i "colonzing commonsense" gof atdet, mampos atdet guihi, mas ki malamana.

I hate to reproduce her words her since they are pretty vapid yan taibali, heavily invested in keeping everything the same. For that reason though they are very helpful in getting at how the colonization continues, how it is protected, rearticulated and defended in daily life, through everyday speech, emails, political rhetoric and media representations. I've numbered a few of my numerous objections to this post and you can read more on them below.

I'm embarrassed that I live on an island that can't handle hundreds of thousands of dollars that Uncle Sam gives this government (1) and we still keep our hands out asking for more and groups such as yours continue to yap at the moon whining about the land that you have no idea how to use. And if you don't know what I mean....look around, How much land do you see being used to grow produce?

Lady, you should be thanking your lucky stars Guam's in a strategic location...cuz the only thing we've got going for us is the very fragile tourist industry and we've got that by pure luck! (2)

I suggest you plant some plumeria trees so that you can make some leis for them Marines when they get here.....that's what'll save this island!

In the meantime, I'd choose my friends more carefully. The activists from Korea, the PI and Japan? They're a radical bunch.......sure wouldn't want to be known as one of the birds that flew with that flock! (3)

Note to the U.S. Forces....there aren't many activists and they don't speak for the majority of us. We welcome you and look forward to making you a part of our world. Most of us are hospitable and warm, honest! (4)

(1). Isn't this an interesting slip? I'm pretty sure she meant to say millions of dollars, since if Uncle Sam only gives us "hundreds of thousand" of dollars it actually isn't that much of our economy, and her whole argument is pretty meaningless because it touches the history of intentional American underdevelopment in Guam and Micronesia which you can find discussed in texts such as Remaking Micronesia by David Hanlon, The Colonies in Question Surina Khan or The Secret Guam Study. Of course, you can find it in these scattered places, but never the places where it needs to be discussed the most, Guam and Washington D.C.

(2). Why is this thinking useless for Guam and its future? Becuase, as I've written many times before, she refuses to recognize a possibility for Guam as being anything other than something attached to or dependent upon the United States. She reiterates the rhetoric of former Governor of Guam Joseph Flores, who in his inagural speech made the same point, which can be paraphrased as, "all that matters is that we matter to the United States." Colonization at its most tragic form is the position where the colonized understands themselves brutally fortunate that their colonizer wants them, that they have something that makes them important to the colonizer. This thinking will ultimately lead to Guam's destruction whether by the bombs stored there by the United States, or as in the days prior to its entrance into World War II, by aggressive posturing that pushes the island into war. Why? Because according to this logic, we have no needs other than what we can find through the United States, what they are willing to recognize and give us. Its hegemony in such a horrifically distilled form, since we don't think of ourselves as having any needs or interests independent of the United States, whatever they want from us, or want for us, we should just be grateful for it!

(3). The everyday mission of The Pacific Daily News and the desire of the United States military is accomplished as Guam's relationship to anywhere else in the world must first be filtered through its colonial status to the United States. The relationships and political/economic/social connections that we make to other nations must always be secondary to the American hand that feeds us just as often as it slaps us in the face.

(4). This statement is the reason why I wrote this post in the first place. Here we see the gap between public common sense and multiplicity of feelings and logics that people have. Of that multitude of opinions and feelings on this issue, this singular sentence, that we welcome and want you, makes it out to be the thing that we must all match up and articulate ourselves in step with or in conflict with. Are the majority of Chamorros and others on Guam really ready for this increase? Perhaps they might say they are, or it might seem like they are simply because commonsense says we are all just fine with it. The military history of Guam and our familiarity with it comes full force here in making this seem just fine and dandy. In a radio interview in Australia Robert Underwood said that the majority of people on Guam are fine with this move, since we've seen the island just as militarized before, like when he was growing up. Therefore commonsense would seem to indicate nothing is really happening, when Auntie Charo ludicrously states, that we on Guam are "look[ing] forward to making you a part of our world." Its an easy ass statement because you already are a part of our world right! You are the Marines that saved us in World War II, you are the military whose largesse we live off of. You are the military that gives us democracy, education, politics, everything good in life!

But this simple shortcircuit of weight and potential impact is too too easy when you have the Governor of Guam speaking of the Marines as if he is a love sick teen, and the military are Farah Fawcett-like posters of them on the walls of his room (do I see a billion dollar nipple peaking through the 10 billion dollar bathing suit?). Or the main critique that we get from the media is that we (Guam) suck at utilities and infrastructure so bad that we may not be able to handle as much military as we want to have.

What is not being discussed enough is how dramatic this increase is. Almost 20,000 more people on Guam, and not just any people, but military people, currently fighting the War on Terror. In 2001 people spoke out against the possibility of "enemy combatants" being incarcerated on Guam, because they feared the War on Terror being brought to Guam. With these Marines we find the exact same possibility, the War on Terror bringing brought into Guam, this time split into a number of ways. Yes the Marines will make us more of a target. Yes they will have an incredibly negative effect on everything from social fabric, politics, to environment. Yes, they will subordinate us even more to the interests of the military and hitch our fate to whatever militaristic designs and drives for global hegemony the United States military has.

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