Thursday, July 05, 2007

Act of Decolonization #8: I Long to Live Under the Ass of No One!

I received an email the other day from one of the world's finest historians. From the power of this email, I can only assume that this man is one of the greatest and most resepected and revered historians in the world. You might be surprised or shocked once you read his words, but let me give some background first, so you'll understand my point better.

Power is often associated with simplicity, with idea that something arrives with the force of law, or the force of the natural. For Hegel the only ethical and fully developed political community, is not a democracy, but rather is a hereditary monarchy. In order for a political community to be fully formed, the rule of law, the status of the sovereign and the transmission of sovereign authority must place consistently above or apart from, the play of meaning, the game of hegemony, where identities and meanings are never secure but constantly being contested. In democracies, the figure of the sovereign is supposedly filled through a regularly occuring election to determine the will of the people. For each candidate, for each possible subject to fill that sovereign role emerges, he or she must ride a wave of explainations as to why he or she is the best person for the job, or must be chosen for that role.

While we may be used to this sort of thing, and say its an obvious point, for Hegel this need for justification means simply that this political community has not matured enough to the point where they fully embody the Spirit of their nation. Society is still open, there is still uncertainty, indeterminancy, the will of the people is not complete and is always left open to be contested and questioned. What the creation of this ruling class does, is it closes off society, leaves the ruling of it to a group which has become developed in such a way that they inherently embody the will of those who they rule but are no longer truly accountable to.

The argument appears to be more logically than practical, if something can be argued about, then it hasn't evolved or been developed enough to the point where its essence is known or can be felt. If society must continue to debate who will be its leaders, then its obvious that society hasn't figured out what it wants, what makes it tick, or what its spirit is.

That which is powerful is therefore that which arrives with shock, force, incites awe and stuns those who view it or are ruled by it, into dumbfounded, quiet and complacent silence without comment. My reference to Rumsfeld's infamous statement about "shock and awe" is intentional. The military hardware and conventional war power gap (non-nuclear) between the United States and the rest of the world is huge! In a way it might seem to duplicate the distance that Hegel proposes for a fully evolved society. When the United States military rolled like thunder and death into Iraq and Baghdad they expected to be felt with the incredible power of that military gap. They intended and expected that the roar of their tanks would be felt as truth and their bombs from heaven be read as the Word of God himself. That is of course why, the planning for the invasion and occupation was so poor. It was not that the Iraqis would actually feel in their hearts that they were being liberated or that the US was bringing freedom to them. It was rather that the force of the invasion would be so massive and imposing that whatever the Iraqis were would melt away beneath the power of this simple strike, leaving behind fawning beings, which if they were told to lay down flowers would do so, of even if they were told to lay down chocolates or bonelos aga', would scurry to do so.

I have gone through this long explaination because I received an email the other day, which was delivered with the same "shock and awe" simplistic force. Because of the almost pure and obvious way in which this man made his arguments, it could only be assumed that he was either 1. the world's most incredible historian, so well advanced in the ins and outs of history that what to him was the rich intricate complexity of Guam's history appeared to me just like a lightning quick punch to the face. 2. someone, who expected that because of his position everything he did would be interpreted as such. So that whatever he said, because he was possibly American or possibly in the military, due to the distance from which he hovers above me in history, in technology, in politics, in culture, in wealth and in development, all should feel like a strike from heaven upon poor old me, and therefore he expected his simplistic, stupid statement to be treated as if a high speed transmission from God.

Finally, let me introduce this person who with such force and deftness seemed to feel that history was his to wrap around his finger and shove into my face so that my identity and my resistance, my disgust may fade away and I be re-made in his understanding of the world.

This world-class historian was an anonymous, I'm assuming apa'ka person, named Jeff Kruger, who sent me a one line email, on the history of Guam. This line was:

Who saved your ass from the Japanese?

For the next large conference that Famoksaiyan has, which should be either sometime this November or next Spring, I would really like to either organize or develop a workshop to prepare people for this sort of historically, supposedly indefensible bumrush. Over the past few years I have met many Chamorros and people from Guam out here, who desperately want to speak out on issues such as justice, decolonization, Chamorro activism, or other necessary but risky critiques of the United States. I tend to get worried however, when seeing the energy and drive in the eyes of these young Chamorros, for despite their obvious enthusiasm and emotional investment in helping their people or their homeland, nonetheless seem to be little prepared for the hegemonic smackdown that awaits them. Where a digustingly stupid sentence such as "who saved your ass from the Japanese" is not just made with the twisted hope of shutting you up, but also might actually have that effect on you. For many Chamorros, the liberation of the Chamorro by the United States, i magoggue-na, and therefore its eternal dependency on its colonizer is a sort of foundational common sense. When someone says, hayi gumoggue hamyo ginnen i Chapones? its intent is to smack you in the face with that which you as a Chamorro whose legacy is supposed to be loyal subordinate patriotism to the United States, is already supposed to understand as the ways things simply are...

For those of us who have dared tread (hoben yan amko') into the frightening world of questioning the "liberation" of Guam as a political project, and furthermore devling into the fact that if it was not a liberation, then how should our lives and the structuring of our island and history change to make clear that fact, we know very well, the response meant to snap us back to reality and shove a flag full of patriotic pills into every orifice imaginable. It is this simple, but supposedly terrifying phrase, "Would You Rather Be Under the Japanese?"

The invoking of the brutal occupation of Guam by the Japanese during World War II is supposed to be some sort of magical gesture whereby the sins of anyone else, ko'lo'lo'na the United States must be forgotten or washed away as if nothing. As the spectre of Japanese colonialism in Guam haunts the present, propping up the necessity and liberating aspects of the United States, its role in keeping us happy, healthy, alive and American, then we reach the point that in Puerto Rico can be defined as the "none of the above" complex, where colonialism in whatever banal, racist or comfortable forms it exists in locally, seems to be a much more attractive option than anything else. To bring this to Guam, as one Chamorro, very much a reckless American apologist put it, “If America colonized Guam, then maybe colonialism isn’t so bad."

Within both these statements we find a twisted, logic which keeps the most basic assumptions about colonization and Chamorro inferiority and impossibility in place. It is an obvious logic, which probably seems insane and stupid to everyone except those who actually say these things. This colonizing logic stems from the assumption that the coordinates of Chamorro existence can never leave the realm of colonized. That the Chamorro and its limits of possibility or life are defined by its being passed from one colonizer to another like a "spoil of war." There is here no sovereignty for Chamorros, in any formal or obscene sense. If we critique the current prevailing framework, if we call into question the legitimacy of American rule over us, or the veracity of its claims to benevolence, greatness and exceptionalism, the tangled logic here will never lead us out of the colonial world, but instead lead us to the dubious rule of a former colonizer, or dangerous rule of a new potential colonizer.

To patriotic Chamorros or even to liberal and conservative Americans, if we critique the United States, it is never something which is attached or understood to be related to our own sovereignty. In the most common instance, for those possessing some knowledge about Guam and its history, we are rudely thrown against a wall, and confronted with an angry fist before us demands to know if we would prefer to be under the Japanese again? For without the United States in 1944, that is precisely where we would be, suffering under the yoke of their rule and not basking in the greatness of the United States. The Chamorro, as we all are supposed to know is impossible, and so from the perspective of both a patriotic Guam Chamorro and your average American citizen, the United States has and continues to give you everything you need to exist and prosper, without it you are nothing. The terrible fantasy here is that life without the United States, life without the ability to share in its wishful glories and technologies whether it be democracy, electricity, food or happiness, is akin to the suffering our elders endured during World War II at the hands of the Japanese.

In terms of potential new colonizers, we have scattered throughout Asia, an incredible number of nations which, if the United States is critiqued, threatened or pushed out of Guam, would overwhelm and ultimately destroy us. Its important to remember, that Guam is barely a First World Colony! At any moment it could descend hellishly into Third World Country status, and it is only the goodness of America and its colonizing grip on us, which keeps us from that free fall. If critiques are made of the United States from Guam, its very common that someone with a base knowledge of the geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific region, who is in some way invested in represented, defending or protecting the "greatness" of the United States, will respond that such ideas are bad and dangerous since, if you are not with the United States, then the Chinese will take over you!

I had written about this point last year, when I was discussing the work of Chamorro organic intellectual Jose Camacho Farfan in my post, "From the Invasion of Guam to Liberation of Guam," and want to reiterate some of my points. When people use these two phrases to reproach critical speech or to incite fear and dread in those who are attempting to be critical, they are using the heavy emotional and material damage and weight of the war experiences of Chamorros, to continue the colonization of Guam. To continue to make hegemonic or keep dominant the idea that the Chamorro and its island exists as a thing to be passed amongst larger powers, and can not and should not have any sovereignty or real power in the matter. They use those very real and concrete, raw, angry and fearful scenes and emotions, to create the feeling that to speak ill against the United States, to make necessary critiques of it, or to attempt to surpass it so called awesomeness and weaken its authority and influence, will bring about the destitution, violence and destruction of World War II. The colonization of Guam through this everyday statement is perpetuated because the fantasy that drives almost any process of colonization and control, is the eventually development and concretization of a relationship between colonizer and colonized, whereby the colonized understands itself as existing solely because of the colonizers kindness, largese, wealth and power.

Decolonization here means making very deliberate and concerted efforts to break this mindset and to destroy the notion that in order for our lives to be livable and enjoyable on Guam, we must not have any control over our lives, any semblance of sovereignty. As I've put it in other works and posts, we must break the links between negativity and Chamorroness, and positivity and Americaness, which creates the impression that for the most part, as we move closer towards the United States and further away from what is perceived to be Chamorro (laziness, corruption, oppressive family structures, loinclothes, backwardness, violence, etc.) we get better, we exist better, our lives are just all around better. If, even in the smallest and most mundane ways we assume this dynamic to be true, whether excitingly or grudingly, then we condemn ourselves to continued colonization, because we will only be able to perceive decolonization as an acceptance of all the negative, suicidal and corrupting things in the universe. If this is the case, then colonization is necessarily to "fix" or "civilize" the native, and therefore must always be governed, administered and controlled.

Decolonization is fundamentally a breaking of this "spoil of war" "impossible culture" consciousness, and the mindset that we exist to be passed back and forth between all necessary, but some better and some worse colonizers. It means carving out, clearing out and demanding nothing less than the simple admission that the Chamorro can exist, can survive without it being helplessly colonized. Gi finakpo', when any of us interested in decolonizing Guam are asked the question of "under who ass would you prefer?" it is crucial that we do not respond within the framework of the question, which is narrow and crudely assumes the impossibility of the Chamorro. Instead we must reject the limits of these question, and reject forcefully and in everyway we can that colonizing notion that the Chamorro must be under someone's ass in order to survive.


brent said...

Great entry. Grandpa was as Seabee here in '44. He had fond memories of the place, so I moved here on a whim. I was fed up with San Francisco, the conspicuous consumption, the stupid war, I didn’t like America any more, but hey I worked for the government so I decided to move to the frontier. I didn’t think people in Guam live in huts, or ride carabao carts to work or anything like that. I moved here with good intentions with a job to help farmers. I thought my work would be appreciated by the honest, hardworking, farmers of Guam. Didn’t turn out that way,…no farms. Other than a handful of full time farmers, most farms are hobbies on a garden scale. This island could produce enough food to feed itself. I must have at one time or another. A person of Chamorro decent could lease a couple of acres for next to nothing and grow enough food to feed their family and have enough left over to make a good living selling tropical fruits to tourists. There is government help to get such a business started. No takers. People here are so complacent. The government is fraught with fraud and nepotism, just like everywhere else I suppose. But here it’s so blatant; it’s right there in the PDN and an internet search might raise some questions. Instead people just shrug their shoulders accept that’s the way it is and go BBQ something. I’m not dissing BBQing, either, Chamorros could possibly be the worlds best; and it’s something that should be capitalized on, more than just Wednesday nights. But, I guess the point is the complacency. The tourist industry, the second largest source of revenue is run by American corporations and the Japanese. Not all that different than back in The City (that’s what locals call San Francisco). Locals get mid to shitty jobs, the shittier jobs that locals won’t do go to Micronesians and Philipinos. Well, kind of like back home, I’m sure you know what I mean. The war,…well a lot of Chamorros join the military; I wonder what the per capita percentage is compared to the States, I imagine it’s pretty high. Those joining the military must support the war. Which brings up the subject of the military; the way some of these people conduct themselves, wonder the locals hate haolies. Make no mistake about it, no matter how many fiesta’s, BBQ’s, and birthdays I get invited to there is always an immediate, deep, hidden sense of distrust. Must be a reason for it. This is making me sound like an apologist,…well too bad. I wish the military liberated the island with some sense of the prime directive (in a Star Trek kind of way). Hardly possibly in today’s global society. Guam is about to be trampled,…decolonization isn’t going to happen, and things are about to get a whole lot worse. The Marines are coming and the Japanese and Koreans are going to buy what the military doesn’t take over. Do you think the $6 billion coming from Japan is going to benefit the indigenous people of Guam? That money is going to go to Japanese subcontractors and the work is going to be done by Philipinos. In order for things to change for Chamorros, things have to change from within. The complacency has to end. Some real, fair, progressive, local leadership has to emerge. Guam must have been a sustainable island at one time. Chamorros are still the dominant ethnic group on this island, it’s up to them to make the island competitive and sustainable. Blaming America for Guam’s problems isn’t going to help. It’s evident what has happened, the responsibility is shared equally, America is at fault for destroying the Chamorro culture, and it’s the Chamorro’s fault for letting it happen. When grandpa was here Marine Corp Drive (which he helped build) was just a dirt road. He described locals as hospitable, modest, respectful, polite, with a tremendous sense of community. What the hell happened.

Nicole said...

this was a powerful reminder for me of how significant our different projects of decolonization are. thank you.


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