Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Militarism in the Land, the Water and the Schools

I am constantly surprised at the ways in which people are surprised at things.
I suppose that anywhere, you go, you can find things which are normal there and abnormal or incomprehensible elsewhere. Coming from Guam, a pretty little American territory/colony in the Western Pacific, I find alot of things which "shock" regular Americans, aren't so strange to me.
Often times, when people remark that Guam is so gof gof suette because we don't have to pay Federal income taxes, my response is a very sincere request that our positions be changed then. That this person I am talking to and whatever state they call home, switch its political status so that it becomes like that of Guam. So yes, by all means, take the no Federal income tax rule, but, you simply can't just take this benefit alone, you also have to accept with it, the overall dinimalas of being a colony. You have to take the lack of a voting Congressional representative, and also regardless of your population, no representation in the Senate whatsoever.
What generally shocks people, however and makes them realize the unsavoriness of becoming like Guam, is the fact that, then your state must give up 30% of its area to the United States military to be transformed into Air Force, Navy and soon to be built Marine Corps bases. Most of these people, who think very simplistically about the fortune of being the colony of Guam, never make it to considering this point, and even if they are patriotic, flag waving Americans, who profess a profound love and respect for the troops, this idea of having 1/3 of their states controlled by the military, tends to shake them to their very core.
It is almost as if, they are forced to see past their rhetoric, their illusions, and confront what they truly feel about something. That while the military defends, protects, it is also a fearsome creature, in many ways what Giles Delueze called the war machine (i makinan gera). In addition to protecting life, the military destroys life, and not just the enemies lives, but the lives of those it protects as well. The military sucks away resources, and rarely in very balanced or well managed ways. For instance, in my department, someone has on the door of their office a cartoon that wishes for the day when public schools will be well funded, and the military will have to hold bake sales. This is the sort of illusion that the military actively engineers in order to protect itself, and to keep its image positive.
In high schools for instance in California, JROTC programs are advertised as bringing in income and money to schools. They are advertised as being important programs for getting kids into college as well. Both of these points however are rarely true. In fact, JROTC programs can end up costing schools far more than they bring in, because of the gap in what the Department of Defense reimburses the school, and what they require the school pay in order to set up the program. Furthermore, in the California state college system, military science courses taken through JROTC do not count towards college. As if to make things worse, the money put up to establish JROTC in schools, tends to get taken away from actual college prepatory programs.
In Guam, we have the idea that the United States military is an "environmental steward," or a good and loving caretaker of the environment. While in some ways, we can see this, as certain pet projects such as the eradication of the brown tree snake or the protection of endangered species on Guam become central to the public relations campaigns of the military. We also get this impression of the military as being better at watching out for the environment because of dikike' na kosas, such as the pristine conditions of their lawns, the lack of abandoned cars by the roadsides in their bases, and in an almost ridiculous way, the better paint jobs on their houses.
All of this evidence in favor of the idea that the military is simply mampos kapas gi i umadadahi i tano', i tasi yan i aire, is nonetheless contradicted by the actual poisoning of the earth the military perpetuates in times of war and peace. Agent Orange, Depleted Uranium, Nuclear Fallout, Toxic Waste, Mustard Gas, these are all weapons of mass destruction of chemical warfare which have been brought to Guam and affected the health of its residents, and as some cancer research indicates, has affected our health and environmenta in catastrophic ways.
I think that when I ask people to imagine what it would be like if 30% of California or Oregon or New York was military bases, it shatters that sort of positive illusion that surrounds the military, and forces these people to think about what the military means in their lives, and to think beyond the platitudes about defense, and also see what other less "patriotic" impacts it can have.
Recently, as I've become involved with the group Project on Youth Alternatives and Non-Military Options or Project YANO, I have found another point which can shock people into rethinking what the military means in daily life.

For instance, when I tell people that in San Diego the JROTC has built and is building firing ranges at San Diego high schools, most people react with almost pure shock. Although these firing ranges aren't using real weapons, but just air powered rifles, the idea that young high school students are being trained to handle weapons, forces people to recognize not just the violent aspects of militarism, but more so the predatory aspects of it, which we see through the recruitment of students at increasingly young ages in order to meet recruitment targets.
In order to build these firing ranges and fund the JROTC programs, money has been taken away from college prep courses such as AVID and Advanced Placement. In addition, in the hopes of giving the impression of enthusiastic student support for JROTC, at Mission Bay and Lincoln High Schools, students were enrolled in JROTC without their or their parents' consent.
For the past few months, The Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft has been conducting public meetings in order to gauge community outrage over the firing range issue, and has ciruclated petitions, held protests and built up a diverse coalition, with the hopes of addressing the following issues:
1. Removing the firing ranges from San Diego high schools (since they violate the no weapons ban in schools)
2. Stop the violations of California Education Code 51750, which prohibits involuntary enrollment in military science classes.

3. The inadequate offering of college prep classes and academic electives that students can take instead of JROTC, and require that parents and students be informed that military sciences classes do not count towards college admissions.
On Feb. 12th, San Diego parents, students and teachers held a protest as the city school board met, hoping to receive a full and fair hearing on this issue, and that their concerns be addressed. I'm pasting below photos from the protest:

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