How the Activists Hurt Guam (...and America)
In her recent trip to Guam in August, where she facilitated a number of CNMI and Guam related hearings and meetings with Donna Christensen the non-voting delegate from the Virgin Islands, Guam’s Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo was very much invested in using this idea though to deflect any criticism or questioning of the positive impacts of this military buildup. She was very careful however not to outright yell kulang machålek that the “activists” and the “anti-military” people screwed up, but instead took a clear, but ambiguously passive position of Guam as a poor helpless thing which has at last “learned” about the value and necessity of the United States military.
It is truly bubulao and terrifying that the people who are in contact the most with the military about what Guam needs, what Guam wants or doesn’t want in terms of the military increases the island is already facing, are two of the people who have made it clear that we shouldn’t say, do or demand anything, but should merely wait patiently for the 15 billion dollars worth of solid gold bars to fall from heaven (Ya ta fandiseha todu na ti mangekematai). Both Congresswoman Bordallo and Governor Felix Camacho are playing the waiting, fawning, praying game, and doing little else. What kind of leadership can we really expect or hope for from these two, when Camacho’s official statement after the initial announcement of the transfer of 7,000 Marines included the very adult-sounding statement, “We really want them here.”
Congresswoman Bordallo’s position over the past month, in her scores of public statements responding to far more negative feedback and questioning than she probably anticipated from Guam’s community, has been “Nangga nå’ya. Guaguaha ha’ tiempo.” Her position has basically been a paradoxical call for action and inaction. To the business community of Guam and to the people who are poised to make billions from this military increase, she is clear that we need to move now, there is no time to waste or spare, we need to take advantage of every opportunity! Laguse’! Fanå’gue enao na katpenteru siha! Bende todu enao na tåno’ siha! Lachaddek!
To those of us who want her to make demands to the military, who know better than to imagine the military as our mas mafñot na ga’chong, or who just want our Congresswoman to provide some sort of fake non-voting oversight to make sure the island isn’t poisoned, damaged or destroyed anymore than the military has already helped make happen, her response is a cautious and quiet plea for patience and for people not to jump to any conclusions and not think anything or do anything yet, since the military move is still several years away! Her position is a frustrating, “Nothing has been decided, don’t worry about anything.”
I’ll return to the scariness and the intriguing quality of our Congresswoman’s stall tactics in a moment, but first let me return to the base closings of the 1990’s, and what that can tell us about the “powerful” and “powerless” position of Guam today. The argument as I’ve mentioned before is that we need to welcome the military now, because in the past we made the mistake of cursing them, biting the hand that feeds us, and then paid the price when they left us to give Middle Class jobs and chances for the American dream to people who are more patriotic, more military loving and have higher rates of American flags on clothing and in front yards.
This argument, because our relationship to the United States on Guam is ultimately an emotionational one, meaning it is fraught with burning desires to be American, is always a tempting one, because it transforms the way we exist in relation to the United States, not as one between colonized and colonizer, territory and owner, or even tip of spear and Valiant Shield and Spear holder, but rather one which is felt more as a drama, or a soap opera. This argument however that people on Guam caused the closing of Naval Air Station by rejecting the military or by saying bad things about it, is frankly stupid, but nonetheless something which we should investigate more because of the twisted fantasy that this idea is based on. Think carefully the next time you hear this mentioned in a letter to the editor of the PDN, or even just some of the ngokngok comments that people post on its website, or even during the tirade of a caller to KF7 and you can trace out this peculiar fantasy. Guam, is an island which both locally and nationally is everyday referred to as powerless, insignificant, small, backwater, corrupt, nothing truly important save for how it is used by the US military, but for some reason when people drink this fantasy in (ya kalang mambileng), this tiny little territory somehow becomes big and hulking enough to not just hurt and wound the world’s last remaining superpower, but also possesses the sudden incredible ability to chase away its massive military with nothing but protest signs and Kephua haircuts!
It is important to be wary of moments like these, where things like the military which are incredible powerful, are suddenly painted to have no power. The reason for this is because these sorts of strange refocusing of power, responsibility and victimization are the moments where authority is maintained, where the worst forms of self-aggrandizement and privileged protection take place. In Sherene Razack’s important book, Dark Threats, White Knights: The Somalia Affair, Peacekeeping, and the New Imperialism, she discusses this dynamic in terms of First World victimization through humanitarian efforts in Africa. She makes a number of very insightful points, but I don’t want to go too much into them here, I highly recommend the book to everyone though. One of her main insights however, is discussing the ways in which through stories of the humanitarian greatness of the First World, stories of liberation and stories of black, native betrayal against the pure, white intentions of Americans or Canadians, the most powerful nations in the world somehow in the continent of “victims” become the victims of the tragedy. (Black Hawk Down, Shake Hands with the Devil)
Connecting this to Guam and its power against the United States, the point is that power is maintained here by appearing to be powerless, to be the victim. As the victim, there is no question of motives, only well-intended innocence. For the perpetrator, who may have nothing (in terms of money, in terms of resources, in terms of military) in comparison to this newly christened victim, all the advantages suddenly appear to be theirs, they have all the power in the world, and have used it in this moment to wound and hurt the poor United States.
For instance, I often receive annoying comments and emails from people in the United States who yell at me condescendingly about all the pathological waste and corruption of Guam, and how it is given SO MUCH money from the United States, but can’t do anything else but squander it all and give it all to their cousins and their relatives. In almost all of these emails, the United States is positioned as a helpless, innocence thing, perfekto Tihun Sam. The United States is a kindly old man, who cannot help but give away money, and always seems to be cheated by Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Third World countries that it gives SO MUCH MONEY to (para u fanmanmåhan paki siha). But because he is always so nice, innocent and bumpkinish, the money keeps flowing and the poor bihu is continually taken advantage of by scheming natives, greedy dictators yan i manngekematai yan i manmamataiñålang. To these people, the innocence and good-natured and well-intended thoughts of the United States are the central issue, and because of the way this is being taken advantage of by corrupt and pathological Chamorros, this abuse of Federal money is the height of injustice! The most insane and destructive thing in the world!
Most here would respond, well some money is lost, wasted, or bribed away, but there’s corruption everywhere. This weak response leaves us in the same place, with the United States somehow victimized by the greedy and all-powerful Government of Guam! Oh, ai adai, kao siña un imahina? First it kicks the military about of Tiyan and then it takes all of its lunch money!?!?! Whoa che’lu, kulang un fotte’ gå’ga ayu na Guahan, no?
The point here is to insist on some perspective, and to not let the strategic victimization of the United States take place, especially at our expense. Here is one such response that I wrote to a comment which was entangled in this dynamic:
In the past few years, the United States government through is Iraq policies alone has squandered and wasted billions of dollars, which intensified through so many ugly layers of American corruption have led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis and Americans, and basically destroyed a country. I for one, feel very comfortable with Guam's level of corruption, because at least we don't invade countries, tell them we are liberating them and then take over their economy and basically turn them into client states for our own strategic and economic purposes.
The idea that both the United States and Guam have corruption cannot be the end, and if you stop the conversation there, then you basically allow that self-aggrandizing ploy to continue unscathed. The United States, its Government and its military are some of the most powerful, corrupt and violent entities in the world and to allow even for a moment, the Government of Guam to appear in this scene as their violator is ridiculous and masks and naturalizes their power. I am of course not endorsing per se Government Corruption, but only saying that you must be wary of those who are pathologizing you, those who are telling you what is wrong and what is right, and how you must exist and what you are doing. This is especially so, if they are your colonizer, and seek nothing more than making you responsible for everything they have done and they do.
I will continue this post later, and discuss more about what power we on Guam do and do not have in relation to this military increase.
Gof yayas yu' ya guaha miteng-hu agupa' gi i Club Chamoru guini giya San Diego.