Hafa Na Liberasion? #11: The Invasion of Guam
Despensa put i yinayas-hu på’go, siempre bai hu fama’tinas nuebu na post agupa’.
One of his statements which stayed with me and profoundly influenced the thesis in Micronesian Studies that I was writing at the time, dealt with the patriotism of our elders. In one piece I wrote about the colonial nature of the American rule of Guam prior to World War II. The wife of a Naval Governor referred to this period from 1898-1941 as a "dictatorship American style," making the autocratic rule over Chamorro lands and lives by the US Navy sound like some 1970's variety show. The list of injustices against Chamorros of this time are many, albeit banal, and therefore often forgotten or excused. Chamorros were kept almost completely out of the governence of their island, yet subject to all the mandates of the US Navy. The health and bodies of Chamorros were controlled, especially in schools and hospitals, the tongues they could speak, the layout and make up of their yards, the lengths of their skirts, the types of plants and animals they could have. Guam during this period was run like a military base.
(if you consider the impact this type of controlled life would have on Chamorros, it explains alot of the annoying complaints about how civilians on Guam and government on Guam can never keep things as nice as the military can. Recently for example, as we were driving by Tiyan (a former Naval Air Base, but since the early 1990's returned to the Government of Guam, and in the past few years, some of the land has been returned to the original landowners), my grandfather upon seeing many of the rundown former military housing, with paint chipping away, mold, tall kala'u na cha'guan, remarked about how beautiful Tiyan once was, when the military had it, but once they returned it to the Government of Guam, it becomes like this...)
(To me, the "beauty" of militay bases, and their neat and tidy yards and glimmering houses, holds no sway. I kustumbre-ku kalang babui, pues taya' minalago'-hu para ayu na klasin ginasgas. But for grandpa, who had grown up into the restrictions of the US Navy on Guam, the appropriate matrix of cleanliness and value was clear. To keep things ridiculously sparkling and clean, even up to the point of wasting huge amounts of money on it and not to mention water and other resources, was incredibly important. For those looking for answers as to why people are the way they are on Guam today, this fact is key to the ways we live and breathe militarization daily, even if we aren't in the military.)
Returning to my initial point, life in a "dictatorship American style" was for the most part tolerable, because the Department of Defense (just like the Spanish Government before them) never truly put any significant amount of funds for development into Guam, to force any massive change. So in pre-war Guam, you could go most of your life without seeing an Marine or a sailor, except for when you entered into the two centers of US military power on Guam, Sumai and Hagatna, or if you entered what I refer to as "spheres of Naval influence" or zones such as schools, hospitals, public offices where you would be persistently combarded with civilizing lessons and techniques of control. A few families encountered trouble with the Navy, having land stolen, being discrminated against, racism, fights with military, one family reported their house being demolished by the Navy for one of their members criticizing the Naval Governor at the time.
It was these methods of surveillance and control combined with the blistering hypocrisy of the Navy (preaching freedom and democracy, lao taya' giya Guahan...), that kept most Chamorros from believing the civilizing lies of the US.
The war would of course, as I've written many many times, would change all of that, transforming a people who, save for a few Chamorro elites, could care less about being "American" into people who were desperate to be American and in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and elsewhere, willing to die to prove it.
The Chamorro that I mentioned thought my litany of Naval sins was insane, and his weak commonsensical counter-reasoning contained the standard point, the liberation of Guam. According to this Chamorro, if things were so bad under the Navy, why don't Chamorros talk about it? Furthermore, all the Chamorros who lived during that time, are incredibly patriotic, and speak nothing bad about the military, but only good, for helping Chamorros, in particular for liberating them in 1944.
The simplicity of this point, is one of its most frustrating problems. In my research I found so much rage against the United States, whether in writings, articles, interviews, so many people upset and angry at the way Chamorros have been treated. The problem always seemed to be though, bringing that disaffection out, talking to people about it, sharing it. Most manamko' would list their gripes against the military, present and historical, but then ask me not to tell anyone what they had said.
In 2003, I wrote an article titled Nihi ta Fanagululumi: Inferiority and Activism Amongst Chamorros on Guam, which was partially published in The Galaide, from the Guam Communications Network and can also be found on the Minagahet/Kopbla Amerika website. The article tackled this problem, the idea that there is no critical consciousness amongst Chamorros, or that there is no legacy of disaffection or disgust with the United States. My lens for doing this was by discussing the legacy of Chamorro activists throughout history.
It is truly depressing the type of filter that World War II and the crass, ridiculous patriotism that emerges from the war as the most natural expression of a Chamorro, creates in terms of our history and what we value from the past and what we see as important for navigating the future. Following the war, through complex, occassionally intentional occassionally unconscious processes, the gloriously uplifting things about the United States and its military become public knowledge and common sense (liberators, civilizers, keepers of order and justice). On the other hand that which casts the US in a more colonial and less benevolent light, is to be cast on the cutting room floor of history.
So, the way things are supposed to work now is that the US should be remembered as the beacon of democracy who valiantly brought it with them to Guam and shared its wonders with us (positive). We are not therefore to remember how in 1899 the United States revoked the indigenous democracy which had formed itself in response to the power vacuum left by the removal of the Spanish and the indifference of the Americans. Nor are we to remember the tokenist and empty democratic gestures that characterized the pre-war and immediate post war years, where Congresses were created for Chamorros which basically had no actual power (negative).
In the whole of Guam history over the past 100 plus years, we find enough historical material for your average Chamorro to either love or loathe the United States. The coconut Chamorro whom I mentioned, weakly attempts to show that I have gotten reality wrong, that because his elders have never spoken a word of hatred for the United States, my history is inaccurate. He is incorrect however, because he cannot actually question my sources, he can only call me wrong, because my points don't reflect the levithan which has become reality, the common sense frameworks of meaning/history/identity which make the Chamorro a constantly pathetic depedent American in waiting.
For example, if the grandchild of a Chamorro who participated in the Guam Congress Walk-Out in 1949 does not know that his ancestor spoke out and acted out against the United States, does that mean that it never happened? I have encountered so many grandchildren of these brave solons, and few of them had an inkling of this act by their ancestors. The same goes for Chamorros who protested or went on strike after World War II, demanding better wages and an end to the Navy's policies of discrimination. Do the children of these men have any idea about these actions?
The injustice happens, it is felt, it creates a wound, it is remembered by those who cannot deny it and cannot forget it, but what is to be done with it beyond these few? What can be done with it, when the world around you seems to be built upon it remaining unspoken? These acts helped shaped the world that Guam is now, yet why is it that they are passed down in timid and often whispered ways?
History is a process which we take part in making at every single moment, most especially in our inaction, in our self-censorship, in our anticipation of our statements and ideas being rejected and the pragmatic silence that follows. Following the war, as the voices of those closest to the United States rose to deafening levels, the voices of those who didn't care about the United States or did not trust or like the United States were forced into silence.
Sometimes, such as in the case of Jose Camacho Farfan they were threatened into silence, but most of the time, Chamorros chose to silence themselves, to sungon ha', sa' i mesngon u manggana'.
The case of Jose Camacho Farfan is an interesting one, because he is one such voice which has almost completely been forgotten. In 1949 Farfan questioned a group of US dignitaries visiting Guam, about the political mis-treatment of Chamorros by the United States. For this question he was labelled by the delegation as a "communist."
He was truly an interesting person in Guam's history, but sadly one which has been largely forgotten as a larger than life figure in Guam's history. I was first introduced to him in an article from the Guam Daily News in the 1970's, which discussed his meticulous note-taking about historical events and village happenings. Later I found an article, pieces of which I will share today, that he wrote for the Guam Tribune insert Panorama, published in the 1980's under the editorship of Chriz Perez Howard.
In his article titled "Guam Notes and Remembrances of Wartime" Farfan provides one of the most clearest and well balanced accounts of the pre-war and war periods on Guam. When I say clear and well-balanced, I mean that the ridiculous patriotism that often fogs the lens of everyday history in Guam is largely absent. This does not mean that Farfan is a raging anti-American communist, although this is precisely what he was labelled in postwar Guam.
After arriving at this theoretical point, we encounter an interesting paradox. Any clear and balanced re-telling or interpretation of the history of Guam over the past century, will most likely be labelled as "anti-American" or "troublemaking" by the majority of the people on Guam. Why? Because any balanced account of the last century will put the conduct of the United States into a very poor light, making its status as a colonizer undeniable and unable to be covered up by any number of welfare checks or the addition of Guam to the North American Numbering System.
But furthermore, any position which positions itself as balanced in the sense of impartial or disinterested is most likely the most active possible positions. Me and i che'lu-hu Si Kuri were discussing this a few days ago in the context of patriotism on Guam. I was talking to Kuri about my master's thesis and my discussion about Chamorro patriotism and I guess what you would call a critique of those who provide indigenous explainations for why such excited and gushing outbursts of devotion to the United States exist.
In my master's thesis defense in Micronesian Studies, this very issue came up between me and Robert Underwood, whose work I did not directly critique in my thesis, but whose work my thesis nonetheless constantly brushed up against and utilized several dozen times. In his seminal article "Red, Whitewash and Blue: Painting Over the Chamorro Experience," Underwood discusses how the expressions of uber-patriotism that take place on Marine Drive each July, where Chamorros appear to be patriotic beyond belief, aren't really celebrations of America and its greatness, but really celebrations of the Chamorro, and its endurance, its survival.
While I recognize the important truth in this position ya hu tatangga todu tiempo na magahet este, based on what I deemed important in my master's thesis, political engagement and activism working towards the decolonization of Guam, it was meaningless to me what these Chamorros were celebrating. The division between their thoughts and actions, their inwardly indigenous celebration combined with their outwardly pro-American spectacle created a balance, a middle ground, through which political engagement was irrelevant, since the position itself, becomes the post-ideological award. This middle ground that the Chamorro persists in, rational to the core and therefore not fooled by the rhetoric of liberation that the United States trots out each year, may have the game figured out, but is politically useless if this realization is to be the end result of one's analysis or of one's actions.
This middle position, this position of balance is already skewed far on behalf of the United States despite its obvious passivity. To act only in your head, to figure things out there alone is just fine with the United States, its military and the Federales. They win this battle of Guam's exploitation by our inaction, by our inward enjoyment. To wrap this up very simply, whether or not the Chamorro waving the American flag truly believes or loves the United States is irrelevant to me, what matters is what that consciousness does and moves. If it becomes nothing but a source of secret indigenous enjoyment, and its own end, then it is not resistance and it is nothing to celebrate.
Returning again to Tun Farfan his article that I will share with you is definitely of the first balanced forms. The rhetoric of American civilizing did not sway this particular bihu, as he very clearly points out the flaws in American rule on Guam and their colonial character. As he states in his article under a section titled "Invasion,"
Guam was invaded on 10 December 1941 by the Japanese, the third nation to violate the sovereign rights of the Guamanian people. The Spaniards were the first and the Americans the second.
Similarly, the war is not whitewashed and American not cleansed of all its sins, as it is for most Chamorros. Instead Farfan recounts the sins of the Americans just as clearly as he accounts the sins of the Japanese. He provides in a section titled "Manifestation of Loyalty" one of the many moments which have almost been expelled from Guam/Chamorro history, this particular instance being the retaliation against Chamorro sailors on Guam who in 1941 had petitioned the Naval Governor of Guam for the opportunity to support the United States in other locales and in other forms then merely serving on Guam. For this expression of loyalty from more than a hundred sailors who were paid less than their white counterparts and considered an inferior form of human life by US law, the Chamorros were actually punished for submitted this petition of overzealous loyalty. Here is an excerpt from Farfan's article:
“On 3 March 1941 most Guamanians were prompted with a desire to serve beyond Guam in the war efforts, 128 members of the “Irregular” Navy petitioned the Governor-Commandant, volunteering to be transferred anywhere in the event of war. Instead of praise of their action, they were black-listed for violating Section 65 of the Naval Courts and Boards…Some of the leaders and instigators were punished by reducing their proficiency rating in seamanship, mechanical ability, ability as leader of men and conduct. In retaliation, since Navy Yard Piti had the maximum members of Insulars signing the petition, their work routine was drastically changed…When the Japanese invaded Guam the work routine was intolerable, much worst. This generation of men were not old enough to taste the Spanish lashes so evaluation analysis could not determine which was more severe. The right to petition was 768 years old, as old as the Great Charter of Liberties, the Magna Carta. The U.S. Congress had no power to curtail people from petitioning the government for a redress of grievance…"
What Farfan creates through his text is that position which is constantly lost on Guam, but always sought to be remade and maintained by those such as myself, the position of the Chamorro, politically independent.
When a number of Chamorros and non-Chamorros of the patriotic persuasion read an article such as Farfan's or even some of mine, their most common response to this sort of gentle critique of the United States is as follows, "Would you rather be under the Japanese?"
(One of my most common responses to this vapid and pointless point is, "Sure, they were much much better at economic development in Micronesia than the US was.")
What should be obvious to anyone who takes this ultimatum seriously is that it assumes that regardless of the time, history or circumstances, the Chamorro must be ruled by someone! That the Chamorro must be under the authority of someone, never standing on its own!
That is the simple beauty of Farfan's position, is that the Chamorro he represents and the Chamorro he writes from, the history he creates through his writing, is a Chamorro who stands between empires, and who sees them not as liberators but as they are, as they have treated us for so long, whether it be Spain, Japan or the United States, as empires, as colonizers.
The history that Farfan represents is such a crucial one for the future of Guam, and one which must not be hidden or renounced. It is a history which produces a Chamorro who can see through the rhetoric of liberation. I am reminded here of a letter to the PDN editor from Brandon "Kaluko" Cruz during the whole Marine Drive renaming mess. In his letter Cruz tells us readers that he has a copy of a photo from World War II with Marines on the beaches of Guam holding up a sign that says “Invasion of Guam." His response to this sight was a casual but obvious, “Doesn’t that sound awkward to you? I mean if they liberated us, then they should say “liberating of Guam?"
From the history that Farfan proposes, the truth "Invasion of Guam" remains, and is not reformulated and reworked to become "Liberation of Guam." The crass strategic intentions of the United States military remain in the history of Guam and are not replaced patriotically with rhetoric of care and concern and desire for liberating loyal Chamorros which cannot be found anywhere in any military planning documents from the day.