Guam: Where America's Military Empire Begins

An article I wrote recently for Draft Notices, which is the newsletter for the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft. As I mentioned earlier in the week in my post "Militarism in the Land, the Water and the Schools," I've been working alot lately with the group ProjectYANO, and so it was through them that I was asked to write this piece to inform people in the United States about what is going on in Guam.

From Draft NOtices, January—March 2008
Guam: Where USA’s Empire Begins

— Michael Lujan Bevacqua

A part of the U.S., yet apart from it; a colony in a world where colonialism supposedly no longer exists; the “tip of America’s spear” in Asia — welcome to Guam, USA. This is a place where the residents, including its indigenous population, the Chamorros, are U.S. citizens, yet cannot vote for president and have no voting delegate in Congress. And notwithstanding the promise of American democracy, all federal laws apply to Guam and supercede all local laws.

Despite this colonial relationship, or perhaps because of it, most U.S. Americans know nothing about Guam – not only that it is a colony, but that it is their colony. The place of Guam in the U.S. American consciousness is constituted through a paradox of everyday popular ambiguity and ignorance along with an almost solid military certainty. Because of this, in U.S. popular culture (such as blogs, movies, newspapers, magazines, and novels), Guam has been represented as literally anything – a foreign country, a tropical paradise, an island full of cannibals or exiled homosexuals, and Guatemala.

If the average U.S. American is unaware of or unclear about Guam, this perspective is not shared by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), for whom Guam is one thing only: a military installation. From the moment it was first taken during the Spanish American War in 1898, in order to provide a transit point for U.S. military and economic interests into Asia, this mindset has governed U.S. policy and control over the island.

In the century since it was taken, Guam has played a critical role in every U.S. conflict in the Asia-Pacific region, including as a forward base; a site for the transportation of U.S. troops and bombs into Japan, Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East; and a transit site for the evacuation of refugees from Vietnam, Iraq or Burma. This role continues today, evidenced most recently in the magazine Foreign Policy, which listed Guam as one of the six most important U.S. bases in the world.

In both of these mindsets, the will and presence of the island’s indigenous people, who have long endured the poisons and disruptions of U.S. colonialism and militarization, are largely absent. This is most troublesome in terms of the DoD’s control over Guam, which has consistently dismissed or rejected the interests and demands of the Chamorros in order to capitalize on the strategic nature of their island.

The importance of Guam can be expressed in a number of ways. The first, according to former U.S. Pacific Command Leader Admiral William Fallon, can be found by simply looking at a map. In terms of targets in Asia, which is where the Pentagon sees most of its future threats, Guam provides a secure base for land, naval and air forces, and it is much closer than the continental U.S. or Hawai’i.

The second way we can see this strategic importance is one that Guam shares with places like Diego Garcia Island and Guantanamo Bay – political ambiguity, the fact that Guam is neither a U.S. state nor a foreign country. Returning to Admiral Fallon, the advantage of having bases in Guam is that it is an “American territory” and that “the island does not have the political restrictions, such as those in South Korea, that could impede U.S. military moves in an emergency.” In other words, the U.S. military can do things here it can’t do elsewhere, and as a bonus, those who call it home have no say in any military decisions.

From the perspective of the DoD, Guam appears to be an ideal example of a patriotic, militarized society. Despite the fact that (a) 30% of the island’s 210 square miles are covered by Navy and Air Force bases, (b) the entire island has been severely contaminated by military dumping and use, and (c) federal policies have kept the island economically dependent to keep it from seeking independence, most on Guam don’t consider the U.S. to be a malevolent, militaristic colonizer, but rather a benevolent liberator. The most common reason for this is the U.S. role in expelling the Japanese who brutally occupied the island for 32 months during World War II.

On the surface, the Chamorros and other residents of Guam seem to overwhelmingly support the U.S. military and its missions. This is manifest most prominently through “Liberation Day,” the island’s largest annual celebration that brings together massive parades, parties, carnivals and beauty pageants every July 21 in celebration of the U.S. return to Guam in 1944.

To the Pentagon, Guam appears to be an oasis in a world where the tide of sentiment against U.S. bases is rising. In contrast to populations in the Philippines, Japan, South Korea and Iraq, who have protested U.S. presence on their lands, Guam appears to understand the role of the U.S. military in the world today. Hence, rather than resist the militarization of their lives or challenge the role of Guam as “the tip of the spear” of the U.S. war machine, the island seems to enthusiastically welcome military presence and actively participate in it.

Thus, while military recruiters in the U.S. are finding it increasingly difficult to convince people to join America’s “War on Terror,” they find no such problems in Guam. The combination of feelings about the U.S. role in World War II with the poor economy in Guam has created, in the words of many military officials, a “recruiter’s paradise.” In 2005 for example, four of the Army’s 12 highest enlistment “producers” could be found in Guam.

The DoD is capitalizing on all of this. In October 2005, the Pentagon first announced its intention to relocate 7,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam. The following year, this number increased to 8,000, plus as many as 9,000 of their dependents, who would also be joined by an undisclosed number of Army battalions from South Korea. These transfers, which should be complete by 2014, will be added to an island that already hosts several thousand military personnel, and which since 9/11 maintains at least four dozen fighter planes, a half dozen bombers, the next generation of Predator spydrones, and an unknown number of attack submarines and cruise missiles.

For the past few decades, a small but increasingly active movement among Chamorros has focused on stalling the militarization of their island by pushing for its decolonization. These efforts are often invisible to people in the United States and elsewhere across the globe. Guam is nothing to most Americans, and to those who maintain its military power, it is nothing more than a military installation. To the rest of the world, Guam simply belongs to the United States.

So long as this veneer of power, ignorance and indifference surrounds Guam, the prospects are slim for Guam’s decolonization and the aspirations of its people for a life not governed by the national insecurities of the United States. This is perhaps the most valuable lesson that we can learn from the militarization of Guam. Those invested in the machinery of death and war will always seek out places like Guam that are distant from the mainstream. Out of the sight and mind of the majority of the population, it is in these places where they can set up shop and recruit, poison, and project their power and authority without protest or limits.

For more information:

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


CarbonDate said…
Fantastic work. Of the blogs I presently read, yours is easily the best.
libhom said…
"This is a place where the residents, including its indigenous population, the Chamorros, are U.S. citizens, yet cannot vote for president and have no voting delegate in Congress."

Wow, this is worse than it was when I lived in Washington, DC. At least we could vote for president.
Wonn Roppots said…
Guam is a small island with a big heart. Guam is a beautiful, tropical resort paradise in the Pacific Ocean. There are private beaches in Guam where the sand sparkles like white diamonds. Snorkelling is popular to view all the cute fishies (referring to fish, not just the sexy gals in bikinis playing bally ball on the beach or actually that too, ha-ha) and coral. There's a few waterparks and alot of water sports too, jetskiing, gliders, parasailing, boating, canoeing, fishing, you name it. The islanders are pretty friendly, sometimes offering you to join their barbecues after they've caught their daily fish from the sea. Chamorro Village is a hot spot to try island cuisine on Wednesdays and to collect shell necklaces made from scratch by the local islanders. Tumon Bay is the hottest spot where I lot of vacationers hang out from Japan, and also accomodate a lot of weddings and honeymoons. The climate is similar year round, always warm with a mild breeze here and there, with the hypnotic sense of being in a sauna due to the humidity factors of the island. That's when you jump into one of the pools or take a dip in the clear blue waters. On the remote parts of the island's shores there are exotic sea shells to collect and tiny little crabs that are really cute. You must give credit to the police department as they've upgraded the security forces on island and are doing far more tracking of the strip to keep it safer than in the past. The tourists love shopping in Tumon Bay as there are lots of designer stores. There are also lots of popular hotels, including Hilton & Hyatt (which have neat outdoor beachbars), plus Marriot, Outrigger, and Westin... which seem to be the most friendliest for partying on vacations. Some of the not so expensive restaurants include Planet Hollywood, TGI Fridays and Outback, plus there are a few neat Sushi bars in the area. As far as nightlife on the town, the Globe is a hotspot if you like dancing. Bully's makes some really good drinks if you're into pubs. There are also a few exotic dance clubs where performers are very entertaining if you'd like a more wild side to partying in Guam, one of the most popular on island that is the safest is Club USA as there are security cameras and security guards for everyone's safety while partying away... and judging by all the military stickers pasted on the stage... I have a feeling it's the military's most favorite funspot on island. Once in a blue moon the club flies in beautiful gals that are more than the average of exotics, a few I found on my most recent vacation to be a nice treat and rare breeds (mixed gal of German, English, French, Vietnamese & Chinese decent with chrome aqua green eyes like tourmalines that does an amazing little baton show and another Korean gal that could work the pole like an acrobat from heaven, but their stay is not permanent as they're especially flown in at $2,000 a plane ticket. I can't say those two cuties will be there on your visit, though. I'm glad they were there on mine!). Then once you're all worn out of partying away from the delicious exotic restaurants and tropical beachbar drinks, try a deep tissue massage at Grace Massage (a real massage, not a happy-go-lucky), one that actually gets the knots out of your back, then a jump in the jacuzzi. Oh, how vacations can be well worth it. Just allow yourself to breath in the relaxing aroma of the sea.
What's fun in Guam other than hanging out at the beach for a tan? There's golf, jet skiing, sailing, canoe rides, tiki beach bars & pools. You could also do a little fishing and barbecuing on the grill. If you enjoy site-seeing, take a drive around the island. The cliff views are amazing, not to mention historic caves & stones. There's several malls & shopping centers if you need supplies. What about the night life in Guam, what is there to do? You could start the night off with dinner at a Tumon restaurant. Then check out one of the live bands at the pubs or dance at a nightclub. What about frosting on the cake, what else is fun to do? If you really want to have a wild time, try one of the dance clubs. After checking out several, my favorite is Club USA, very popular with the Japanese tourists & military personel. You can tell by how many military stickers are all over the stage! Some of the chics that use to work at Club USA fell in love & married military guys. Here's the new batch of single hotties... All the imported models put on a very exciting show performance. Olivia has the biggest set of well-endowed chest at any of the clubs. Tiffany is so small she looks very cute, yet performs like a wild maniac. Sweet is like a jungle panther, & Diamond is Wonder Woman on the pole. Kwimi has an alluring hour-glass figure like the mermaid in front, and Kwimi does out of this world backflips and bends, plus a baton show. Joellee is very athletic on her pole routine and is also well-endowed. Grace has a spicey hispanic look, also well-endowed and shakes it well. Skye, of Australian background, is another well-endowed blondey. Sassy is a very sassy teenager, Scarlett is fever hot, & Honey is an Irish bunny. Party away with the Club USA chics! Fun, yeah! If you're car-pooling try sharing a room at the Westin or Guam Reef, walking distance of shops & nightlife, that way everyone can party. Otherwise, make sure to appoint your designated drivers ahead of time.

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