Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Life in the Colonies, and the Lies of Facts and the Truths of Fiction

What is life like in the colonies? I can't speak for other colonies with more visibility and more tangible natural resources that the colonizer desires or need, but in Guam, due to its distance, smallness and its persistant conflict with the bedtime stories that America tells about itself (we don't like colonization), it means that the truth of your existence (whether political, imaginary or otherwise) will often appear, in fiction rather than fact. Or in some instances, a mistake in political terminology or historical accuracy will accidentally reveal the truth of Guam's current situation.

Several months ago for example, people on Guam, whether they knew it or not, were stabbed in the face with one such truthful mistake. In June of this year, the United States military pulled off one of its grandest military practice exercises ever, called Operation Valiant Shield, involving 30 ships, 3 aircraft carriers, 22,000 troops and 280 aircraft. In an MSNBC article covering these war games which were taking place off the coast of Guam, they positioned Guam geopolitically, amongst the community of nations and in terms of its political status as the U.S. Owned Island of Guam . For everyone who knows the "politically correct" language of political status, this is a gruesome mistake, Guam is an unincorporated territory of the United States, which is completely different! We are partners with the United States! Equals!

But what this incredibly revealing mistake makes clear is that for all of us on Guam, the difference between being a piece of property owned by the United States and its loyal territory, is basically just what we fill with emotionational identifications and colonizing desires. We conceive of ourselves as being incredibly close to the United States and different things make us feel that we are. Why are more Chamorros and others on Guam on Myspace than Friendster, even though throughout Asia that surrounds us there are more people on Friendster? Why was there so much nagging, fermenting anger over the fact that we on Guam had to wait two weeks to watch what people in the states saw as soon as it was premiered on TV?

Or since today is September 11th, how about an example in honor of today's dubious anniversary. Less than a month after the 9/11 attacks, Guam had been left out of an economic stimulus package, as well as a new series of stamps titled "Greetings from America." As we should already know, this is standard, this always happens. We may infuse the delegate with great responsibility and a noble task of participating in America awesome democracy, but in reality the degrading task of the non-voting Guam delegate is to make sure that Guam is not forgotten, not left out of the task of running America. The rationale for the stamps was to boost the nation's patriotism as well as its economy. Incidentally not just Guam was left out, but also the other Insular areas and territories such as Puerto Rico, CNMI, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands and others. Earlier Guam and the other territories had also been left out of the national coin program, which issued a special quarter for each of the 50 states. In a PDN article covering this Federal snub, Guam's deledate to Congress then, Robert Underwood said that "this is a direct slap in the face at a time when we are trying to show national unity." A Dededo resident added, in almost shrill tones, "Guam is a part of the US. We can't let them just forget us."

The huge reality gap of political status must constantly be filled, not with political content, but with emotional content! With our hopes, dreams, desires, our cries for inclusion, our cries for recognition. The oneness with the colonizer which we are taught to feel and desire from a very young age in Guam, constantly disappears in Guam, and it becomes our task to fill it, with an ocean of flags, with an aramada of bumper stickers, with decisions not to teach our language, with plans to leave our islands, and most viciously the naming of the United States not as colonizer or colonial master, but rather liberator, savior.

As I've said often, in Guam there is a very real fear of being "third world," meaning reaching the point where it becomes very clear, in different patheticly simple terms, that we are not part of the United States. Maybe the cable goes off, and you are thus clutched in a fear that since nothing like this ever happens in the United States, Guam must have slipped into a third world coma which only a drastic infusion of FEMA money can pull it out of!

The "third world" fear in Guam is linked to the distance and amnesia over us which creates a constant "foreignness" in us, whenever an American unfamiliar with Guam comes across us. Since the United States isn't supposed to have colonies, then Guam cannot be an important part of America's narrative, except as a site through which the opposite of what it exists is represented, namely liberation. Guam can therefore be what is on ebay, a site where military history is told and sold. For those unfamiliar with Guam and ebay, search for Guam on the site and you'll discover another interesting accidental truth. When the search results for Guam items appears, it will be followed immediately by either "transportation" or "militaria."

There are only two reasons that I like the film Max Havoc: Curse of the Dragon. The first is because it features the song Tuleti, which I love listening to, especially when its my nieces and nephews doing the singing. The other reason is that instead of dealing with the complex colonial history of Guam in relation to the United States, they completely skipped over it and invoked instead the archetypal tropical island paradise. It was an almost exciting surreal experience watching the film, and later realizing that the action was all taking place on Guam, and not Guam U.S.A!

So much of the nervous colonial tension in Guam surrounds imagining shortcuts just like this. Where the foreignness of Guam translates into different types of fantasies coming to life. The ESPN debacle last year is the perfect example of this. As a freelance writer for ESPN.com visits Guam he does not translate the facade of an island bastion almost overflowing with US patriots and citizens into "loyal American appendage," but instead into a third world country which wants to be American, and would therefore gladly give up their brown daughters to a white man walking through the village.

It the mixture of obvious distance, difference and historical absence that Guam can become something easily manipulated away from its precariously dangerous colonial existence and made to mean just about anything. For the past year, since I've been working on the concept of "patriotic blowback" and what I've realized about Guam and the way its imagined or connected narratively to the United States, is one of the ways which American sovereignty at both the macro and micro levels is (re)produced.

In Guam we find one of those crucial gaps in the symbolic network, where the subject, apparently escaping the watchful eye of the Big Other can enjoy without fear of reproach or condemnation. For example, in Guam in contrast to places like Okinawa or Iraq, the United States are called liberators and not just flowers, but the bodies of eager young recruits are thrown before them in the streets. But further in Guam we find what I refer to in Battle for Kamchatka as "labile meaning," or meaning which constantly changes or doesn't appear to have any meaningful source or referrent. If for example you were to the go through the numerous scattered entertainment references to Guam in the United States over the past twenty years, you would find an incredibly diverse range of potential existences for the island. In Dudley Doo Right Guam has an ambassador to Canada. In Kim Possible it is an island where giant spiders attack. In Wedding Crashers it is where homosexuals are sent to live in shacks. In the tv show The Critic it is where the Guamerians and Guami Bears live.

This "unincorporated territory," this colony of the United States becomes something akin to Timbuktu, a signifier of apparently nothing, which can therefore be used to mean anything without any fear of its content getting in the way. It can be American one moment, a tropical paradise the next, a shattered culture here, a military bastion there. It can be stuck in the distant Ancient past in one instance, trapped in American military history the next.

Although most instances which take advantage of the "foreignness" of Guam are pretty retarded, I'm posting below one of the most interesting I've come across. Notice how, the existence of Guam as a colony today comes out most clearly not in the speeches of Liberation Day or the banter of oneness with the United States, but rather in fiction like these. As this author articulates the United States in World War II attacking Guam, he is articualting accidentally for all, the point which I mentioned several weeks ago in an article by Jose Camacho Farfan and another by Brandon "Kaluko" Cruz, where they called the "liberation of Guam" what it was actually called, the "Invasion of Guam."

But this is life in the colonies, a life where the fiction that mocks you and that abuses you, tells you more about your situation, than that which professes to speak to the facts of your existence.

Did America need a
Pres. like Bush in WW2?
of TheColumnists.com

The Bush administration has just begun a campaign to gain support for the war in Iraq by comparing the terrorists to Nazi fascists, who would have encountered a far different foe than FDR if George W. Bush been president during World War II.

Dec. 7, 1941: After the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, President Bush declares war on Guam. As he tells Congress, “This is a day that will most likely go down in the history books--don’t you think I know that?” He says Army intelligence has revealed that Guam, now occupied by the Japanese, plans to attack the United States with an unknown number of machetes.

Dec. 19, 1941: Bush proclaims that Guam is part of an “axis of evil” that also includes Albania and Northern Scotland. He says Guam’s tyrannical government must be taken out so the small island is no longer a base of operations for attacks on Texas and elsewhere. In Bush’s words, “Without regime change in Guam, the war on terror in Europe will continue. I recognize there are those who disagree with my war policy, but there were also people, like John Wilkes Booth, who disagreed when Lincoln fought the slaves.”

Dec. 30, 1941: To show he means business, Bush defiantly orders 672 troops into Guam, which he predicts will welcome American GIs with open arms and coconuts. When the Japanese occupying Guam drive U.S. forces into the sea, Secretary of War James P. Forrestal says, “Hey, it’s Guam--stuff happens.”

Jan. 17, 1942: During the London Blitz, Winston Churchill pleads with Bush to consider entering the war in Europe to save Britain. “Look, we can’t be the world’s policeman,” the president tells the press. “We’ve got our hands full in Guam.” As a good faith effort to show America’s support for Britain’s battle against the Nazis, he orders 416 Marines into Northern Scotland. In a speech to the Veterans of the Spanish American War, the president compares the Nazis’ to the Redcoats in the Revolutionary War. “The only difference I can see is that the Nazis wear brown shirts, not red coats.”

March 27, 1943: Despite opposition from 98% of the world against the U.S.’s continuing war in Guam, Bush calls a press conference to announce the U.S. may impose sanctions on Northern Scotland, which he says harbors terrorists often disguised as golfers. He says, “Fighting it out in Scotland is like battling any tough golf pro. These are a determined people who hate our freedom to tee off wherever we like. I say that, under par or over par, whether at St. Andrews or Winged Foot, America will stay the course!”

July 7, 1943: Bush says he considers Churchill his closest ally in the war on Guam and, when France falls to the Nazis, vows, “We will never stop hunting for Adolf Hitler. Our intelligence says we’ve got him where we want him.” Though once reportedly trapped somewhere in the Scottish moors, Hitler managed to elude U.S. troops and is now thought to be hiding out in either Wales or the hills of Albania.

March 14, 1944: Guam’s provisional Axis government is toppled by U.S. forces after two years of fierce fighting in the jungles. Aboard the presidential yacht, a Life cover photo of Tojo is torn to shreds by the President, after which Bush, wearing a 10-gallon hat and a wide smile, declares that Japan is no longer a threat to Guam. He wears T-shirt reading “Mission accomplished! War over!”

September, 1944: When Guam erupts into bloody civil riots, Bush decides to turn his attention to Albania, declaring that America will not “cut and run” until Albania is finally handed over to Joseph Stalin, of whom Bush says, “I have looked into his soul and I see a man who has looked into my soul. We’re soulful guys. That’s all I need to know.”

August, 1945: After Berlin falls and Japan surrenders, Bush decides that Guam is now ready to govern itself, and, with any luck, the United States may also.

©2006 by Gerald Nachman. The Nachman caricature is ©2000 by Jim Hummel. The illustration is from IMSI's Master Clips Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd. E., San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA. This column first posted Sept. 4, 2006.

1 comment:

Mike Culver said...

"You were Chamorro long before your birth, ......Love your family, love your island, love your history, love your culture. Shout this from the islands highest mountains, from cliffs like mine of last defiance… I am rising… I am boiling… I am here… AND I AM CHAMORRO… "

"Western civilization, because of their greed, will destroy the chamorro culture. They long for what we have, but they cannot understand it." Seems the elder was right. How I long for the days of my youth when the most important decision I had to make was whether I wanted the papya on my left, the mango on my right or, did I feel energetic enough to fish.


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