Friday, January 04, 2008

100 Years

As I've written regularly about over the past few weeks, in March of next year at UCSD, my department of Ethnic Studies we'll be hosting a conference titled "Postcolonial Futures in a Not Yet Postcolonial World: Locating the Intersections of Ethnic, Indigenous and Postcolonial Studies."

To say a little bit about the goals behind the conference, we are hoping to take each of the three previously mentioned academic disciplines as well as the political realities they mean to study, and bring them not just into conversation with each other, but also bring them in conversation with the idea and the force that is the global. For those who don't know what I mean by global, since it is kind of an utguyosu na academic term, its not anything too abstract, but is simply anything which can appear or is asserted to stand in for, represent or touch the entire world.

Indigenous, ethnic and postcolonial studies, are all academic domains which are directed towards particular peoples or regions of the world today. Ethnic studies is primarily thought and written to be a US based discipline, providing theoretical and political challenges on behalf of minority and non-white groups in the United States. Postcolonial studies can potentially be about any nation or people, which has struggled against colonialism and in differing ways started the process of decolonization, but is widely considered to be a discipline for Asian Americans, in particular people from India and South Asia. Indigenous studies could also potentially refer to a wide range of people, since close to 400 million people in the world today can be identified according to the United Nations as indigenous. Indigenous studies however tends to be a discipline which doesn't just follow the existence of indigenous people, but rather depends upon indigenous people having a certain level of visibility or political power, whereby they can form the basis for these academic traditions.

In all of these disciplines we find the potential for their vision and scope to be global or to include at least huge sections of the world in their analysis and theoretical subjects, yet for the most part, this dimension isn't explored. The main goal of this conference is to break or at least transgress the borders that these disciplines put around themselves, and see what the particular struggles, successes, failures, epistemologies and challenges that each is invested in, can provide in terms of better theorizing and mapping means to fight contemporary injustices.

I am considering writing up a proposal for this conference, which discuss Guam and what its political status today can tell us about the current make up of the world and where it might be heading. Guam is one of the few remaining official colonies left in the world, making it sort of a sad exception in a world which has appeared to have "gotten over" colonialism. There is no easy way to talk about colonialism or the current status of Guam, because the obvious weight and course of history can make even the most ignorant person today reply as if they were the wisest person in the universe, "Colonialism? Yeah right!" Yet despite this almost stone solid blindness of so many people, colonialism persists in Guam and a few other places around the world in such banal and frustrating fashions.

This status makes Guam one of the world's most insignificant places. In newspapers, websites, blogs, by both Chamorros and non Chamorros, everywhere, you'll find this. Its not really exotic, not really prosperous, not really authentic, not really America, not really Asia, not really the Pacific. Yet at the same time, Guam is one of the world's most important places. It is one of the United States' most important military bases, because of its proximity to Asia and because of its ambiguous political status, the fact that its a colony and not a state or a foreign country.

This is what I think a discussion about Guam can bring to the conference. A discussion about the importance of small things, places which are supposed to be insignificant and tiny, invisible, yet at the same time, for power such as the United States, these places are crucial, critical, important and have their own forms of hyper visibility as military bases. One of the things that Guam can help us get at in terms of the global order, is that there is an incredible amount of power that goes into something appearing to be nothing, and there is an incredible amount of power in the ability to benefit and profit from something and continue to have it appear as nothing.

Another issue, which Guam can help us understand emerged recently on the campaign trail in Iowa a few days ago, and that is the issue of American bases on other people's backyards. In a townhall meeting, Republican Presidential candidate John McCain was asked what he thought about US troops staying in Iraq for as long as 50 years. McCain responded, "why not make it 100." For McCain the issue of whether or not troops should remain in Iraq, or anywhere else didn't seem to be an issue of timeliness, necessity or even respect to another nation's interests or sovereignty, but it was simply a matter of how US troops are treated. For McCain the determining factor was whether or not US troops are dying and being killed daily. If not, then just as the US has stayed in places such as South Korea and Japan for more than five decades, they can stay in Iraq as well.

This position isn't simply John McCain's alone, its an assumption that the Defense Department seems to be using to reconfigure its global sea of military bases. This is a dynamic which Guam, as a site which will soon be receiving unwanted military from South Korea and Okinawa can be important and very helpful in explaining. In Guam we find another site where the out of place presence of American troops is nonetheless naturalized in such a way that it seems not just that they've been there forever, but that they are wanted there, and that there can be no "there" without them. In Guam we find this displayed in such visceral and grotesque ways, as Guam is dependent upon the United States military for almost everything past and present, and could not exist, past and present without the US military. Without them Guam would have been destroyed in World War II, or in the Cold War, or today destroyed by terrorists. The economy could not survive, Chamorros could not survive, there would be no infrastructure, no prosperity. The logic which justifies the presence of the US military in Guam and elsewhere, but also keeps people on Guam trapped in a very colonial mindset in thinking about the island's dependency on them as being eternal, is the fantasy of an imperial military. Everywhere we go, we do nothing but good and liberation, and wherever we stay, could not exist or survive without us.

We can find this rhetoric also in other American military bases, how they run the economy, how the nations they are built on could not exist without them because of the historical liberation they provided and the contemporary security they provide. But it is in a place such as Guam, which has the unfortunate status of being both small and kind of American, where this rhetoric reaches incredible heights.

Ai na'ma'ase na manchenglong hit gi este na gigao "dependency." Gi unu na kannai mantaibali hit, gi i otro gof gaibali, lao i bali ti mismo iyo-ta. I Amerikånu siha, manggefsaga', manriku, manmetgot. Hita, manggagu, mampopble, manñalang. Ma sangåni hit na tåya' hit sin Siha, ya fihu ta hongge siha. Ti ta atotga tumacha este na hinengge, fihu ta aksepta kulang lai Yu'us. Ya i hinasson Siha ni' umaksesepta este, kulang acho', osino gi i fino' Ingles, ma'i'ot i hinasson-ñiha. Ma li'e gi i kannai i Amerikånu siha, todu i kosas lina'la' yan adilånto. Ya giya Hita, tåya' minaolek, puru ha' binaba. Pues humuyongña, todu ni' Chamorro, ti nahong, ti kabåles, buente bunita didide', lao ti dudayon na ti nahong. Pues debi di ta akihom yan fa'iyo-ta todu ni' Amerikånu. Sa' ayu ha' taimanu sina ta na'kabåles hit. Lao gi este na estao, todu tiempo para ta fanafa'chatli'e put iyo-ta dependency taifinakpo', ya ta guaiya ya dimuyi i Amerikånu put i tinakhilo'-ñiha.

McCain in NH: Would Be "Fine" To Keep Troops in Iraq for "A Hundred Years
From the Mother Jones Blog

The United States military could stay in Iraq for "maybe a hundred years" and that "would be fine with me," John McCain told two hundred or so people at a town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire, on Thursday evening. Toward the end of this session, which was being held shortly before the Iowa caucuses were to start, McCain was confronted by Dave Tiffany, who calls himself a "full-time antiwar activist." In a heated exchange, Tiffany told McCain that he had looked at McCain's campaign website and had found no indication of how long McCain was willing to keep U.S. troops in Iraq. Arguing that George W. Bush's escalation of troops has led to a decline in U.S. casualties, McCain noted that the United States still maintains troops in South Korea and Japan. He said he had no objection to U.S. soldiers staying in Iraq for decades, "as long as Americans are not being injured, harmed or killed."

After the event ended, I asked McCain about his "hundred years" comment, and he reaffirmed the remark, excitedly declaring that U.S. troops could be in Iraq for "a thousand years" or "a million years," as far as he was concerned. The key matter, he explained, was whether they were being killed or not: "It's not American presence; it's American casualties." U.S. troops, he continued, are stationed in South Korea, Japan, Europe, Bosnia, and elsewhere as part of a "generally accepted policy of America's multilateralism." There's nothing wrong with Iraq being part of that policy, providing the government in Baghdad does not object.

In other words, McCain does not equate victory in Iraq--which he passionately urges at campaign events--with the removal of U.S. troops from that nation. After McCain told Tiffany that he could see troops remaining in Iraq for a hundred years, a reporter sitting next to me quipped, "There's the general election campaign ad." He meant the Democratic ad: John McCain thinks it would be okay if U.S. troops stayed in Iraq for another hundred years.....

Well, it was straight talk. And McCain's combativeness livened up a session during which he alternated between the old McCain (as in punchy, feisty, humorous) and the old McCain (as in just plain old). He moved a bit stiffly on the stage set up in the middle of the Adams Memorial Opera House. And he--somewhat oddly--shared the spotlight with Senator Joseph Lieberman, who has endorsed him. Lieberman did not merely introduce McCain; he stood by McCain during the entire event, helping McCain to answer questions about education, climate change, and the Iraq war. Several times, Lieberman gave more coherent and animated replies than did McCain. Repeatedly, Lieberman maintained that McCain could rack up bipartisan successes as president. (The Lieberman sidekick bit was curious. But an elementary-age girl in the audience did say, after being handed a microphone, that Lieberman was her role-model and that she fancied McCain. Lieberman hugged her, and the whole crowd oohed at this cuteness.)

1 comment:

janinsanfran said...

Good to have such a clear account of how McCain came to explain that he thought the US should (get to decide to) have bases in Iraq for 100 years. That is, an antiwar activist made him spell out what he meant. We got work to do in this time....


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