Wednesday, April 18, 2007

From The Mouth of Fallon

Although I often say that Guam appears in empty ways in media representations at the national level, this doesn't mean that there is "nothing to see there." The absence of something is something which can and must nonetheless be interrogated.

In articles such as "Looking for Friendly Base Overseas, Pentagon Finds it Already Has One" or "Dot on Map Regains Strategic Stature" from newspaper such as The Los Angeles Times or The New York Times, Guam appears, sometimes with a history, sometimes tragically without it, but always because of the empty way it appears, as something which is purely an object or instrument of the United States. This emptiness is never simply reality or just simply a lack of knowledge about i bunita na isla-ta, but is always productive of something. Therefore, the structures of power can be felt in all of these texts, even if as we find too often in reports covering the "transfer" of 8,000 US Marines from Okinawa to Guam, Guam has no apparent presence in the article except for its mere mention.

For those who are interested in learning what the relationship is between Guam's colonial status and its military importance, you have to go beyond the simple logic that its pure geography and nothing more. To only critique or think in this framework gives the United States too much credit, basically absolves it of any dependencies and allows it to enjoy the fantasy of modern national sovereignty. To only think that the United States' relationship is Guam is one mediated solely through either the ability to strategic enjoy Guam's geographic value or to recognize the patriotism of Chamorros and others on Guam gives the United States a mastery over its existence and helps create that aura of elevation and floating above its subjects, which makes it appear as rightfully exceptional and morally and historically unique.

It means that when the United States engages with anything, whether it be Guam, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Third World, etc. it can do so without needing anything from those it is interacting and exchanging with. One easy way that this can be discerned is in agency or aura of benevolence that nation-states can make use of in the apparently massive gulf between the imperialism/colonialism of yesteryear and the imperialism/colonialism of today.

Take for instance the interventions of first world powers into the “violent” politics of Third World countries from Asia to Africa to Latin America, such as American intervention in Bosnia. According to the “old” understandings of how imperialism works, such an expenditure of resource and national capital could only be for domination of land or securing of resources. But since representations of Bosnia indicate that it is a lawless and savage land with nothing other then ethnic violence and terror, the United States could not be intervening for either of these things. In the absence of evidence of older imperialistic forms, the only remaining explanation can be benevolence! Or to put it another way, Bosnia has nothing the US wants, so its intervention there must be altruistic. But as Noam Chomsky notes, the United States and different European powers had a huge interest in Bosnia, and it can be articulated to you by “your friendly neighborhood Mafia Don,” who beats the person who owes him a hundred dollars, not for the hundred dollars, but in order to “maintain credibility.”

The power of any nation-state today, at the global level is dependent upon how well it can makes its local thoughts, global actions, and yet somehow both dissociate such narrow intent and associate its actions with global good and peace. To do this, distance must be put or secured from its actions and any interests in the site of intervention. The United States global authority is (re)produced through its ability to act in the name of all in Bosnia, and have its actions seem to be without interest.

It was actually a debate between Noam Chomsky and William Buckley on Firing Line that first made this clear to me. In response to a recounting of acts of American imperialism over the past century by Chomsky, Buckley attempts to de-activate the Imperialism mention, by claiming that the actions of the United States in those instances were “dis-interested.”

Since Guam is so “small” and so “isolated” and “distant” it becomes difficult to pragmatically recognize how in the hell the United States would be dependent upon Guam or how this reliance would translate into something important critically. But fortunately for us, Guam is a banal colony of the United States, and so teasing out these elements is not difficult, what makes Guam so important and necessary to the United States isn’t hidden, but rather openly stated. With this last point we reach a fairly complete equation of why Guam is so important to the United States. 1. Geographic location on the edge of Asia. 2. Ambiguous political status. 3. Invisible and Banal on both national and international levels.

Admiral William Fallon, was up until recently the leader of the US Pacific Command, and is now the commander of the US Central Command in the Middle East. During the discussion for the military buildup of Guam over the next few years, Fallon made many disturbingly revealing and simple statements which have been very helpful for me in writing my prospectus for my dissertation and also helping explain to people the link between Guam's status as a colony and its importance to the United States.

You can find scattered statements by Fallon all over the internet, but one of the more juicy ones was written by Richard Halloran from Hawai'i and then republished in different papers throughout the US and Asia. To read the whole article just click here.

1. Why is Guam important to the United States?

According to Admiral Fallon, just "look at a map." He then continues on by describing what this position on the map means:

He pointed to the relatively short distances from Guam to South Korea, the Taiwan Strait across which China and Taiwan confront one another, and Southeast Asia, the frontier of terror in Asia.

US officers often talk about the "tyranny of distance" in the Pacific Command's area of operations, which runs from the west coast of North America to the east coast of Africa. Guam, when it is fully operational, will provide a base for land, naval and air forces that is closer to targets than to forces on the US mainland or Hawaii. Guam was a major air base during the war in Vietnam.

Most would isolate this importance as belonging strictly to military discourse and planning only and not have any real bearing on Guam's other relationships with the United States, except as a way we can prove how patriotic we are by supporting the military. But for anyone with even a decently honest understanding of Guam's recent history, they would know that this strategic military importance is the primary means through which the Federal Government understands and treats Guam and through which even the rest of the country barely knows it.

Take for instance the recent Congressional delegation which came through Guam. Like most delegations following World War II which aren't a part of the Department of Interior, the focus of the trip is military, and basically the only knowledge which any of the group arrives with deals with either Guam's military role protecting US regional interests or the patriotic luster that Guam's brown Chamorro and sometimes Filipino bodies bring to the red in the American flag. Speaking of any other issues, educational, politically, colonial, economic to these Congress people will ultimately be weighed, balanced and inputted into an equation of Guam's military importance versus to cost of helping Guam out. Or they will just be completely ignored.

This military importance is always there and never goes away (in fact, you could argue its been there since the Spanish era). It is the only reason that war reparations is even an issue. The possibility of Chamorros ever receiving compensation for their suffering during World War II will mainly depend on whether or not their island is worth the millions of dollars it will cost Congress. But in the meantime, its existence on the floor of Congress allows it to be used as sort of a historical fluff piece for American nation-building, maintaining and self-glorifying.

2. What does political status have to do with this?

According to Fallon, "Guam is American territory."

The island does not have the political restrictions, such as those in South Korea, that could impede US military moves in an emergency. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who has repeatedly taken an anti-American stance, has suggested that US forces could not be deployed from South Korea without his government's approval.

Again we can treat this point in a very narrow way, where we think of what Fallon is saying strictly in military terms. Such however is one of the most common ways we embody our colonization in Guam, by conceiving of our interests and the military's interests as the same thing.

Territory is of course a commonly accepted euphemism both in the colonies and the states for "colony." Rather then get into that silly debate however, which is fueled completely by the understandable fact that many people feel less American if Guam is a colony of the United States instead of a "territory." What we should focus on here is the empty notions that the term invokes, as if the land being describes is iyo-ta ha', taya' ha', and is ours to do whatever we wish with.

The value of Guam, in addition to its geographic location is the lack of restrictions, lack of oversight which is only enhanced by Guam's ambiguous and, as well as the incredible invisibility of Guam. This was first articulated to me several years ago by Nasion Chamoru member David Babauta Herrera:

"Why are we so important to them? It is because they can do things here that they can't at home and they can't do in other countries. We don't really have an say in what happens, if they want to do something."
Several years ago, a few months after 9/11, during a relatively polite argument with a group of white military serving on Guam, I was told by one of them that I should "go home," or "go back to whever you came from." It stunned me at the time, to conceive of that on my island, in the homeland of the Chamorros, I was being told to go back to whever I came from.
For a long time, this made absolutely no sense to me, that on Guam, where the military is a guest, those who were serving there for a few years, a few months, whatever, were telling me that they owned that island, owned the land and had the right to call it their own, simply because they were either white, American or serving in the Armed Forces. The reasons why they feel they can say that, and why so many people on Guam are willing to accept that the interests of the military are more important then our own, have become more and more clear to me as I have thought through what the invisibility and banality of Guam means. What it produces, stimulates and allows. What it means to be one of the six most important American bases in the world, yet at the same time be a base which the Pentagon can forget it already has. It means that can Guam can be one of the most important dots on the map linking together the various parts of the American empire, yet at the same time it is nonetheless a simple dot over which both the United States nation and the simple American service or even average American writer, journalist or internet surfer can make their own.

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