Thursday, August 28, 2008

DNC Day 3 - Looking for the Other Side of American Militarization

Tonight theme for the convention looks to be military, security, having the right judgement when wielding American might and power. Once again however, I find myself out of place in the fervor of the rhetoric and the excitement of the Democrats attending.

In this election, but more so in the last election the Democrats will be straddling a very thin line, trying to find a balance between being the default anti-war party, but also proving to be the most militaristically adept party, and the one who should be controlling the troops and the bombs.

Coming from an island which has a far more intimate relationship to the military than any other military community (with the exception perhaps of the Marshall Islands), I'm struggling to find a place for the expression or even just mention of Guam's particular relationship with the United States military. Can any "real" "formal" American community, meaning those in states, know the feeling of being occupied in an American war, being displaced from your land to transform your island into a massive base, and also have your people then serve and die in that same military in record numbers? And this is all history which is not ancient, but has all taken place in the lives of my grandparents and thousands of other Chamorros.

Our relationship to war is such a complex one. It is something that gives us life, Guam's military value, allows us to be Federally funded, allows us to be recognized as an American community. Both Congresswoman Donna Christensen and Congresswoman Elenor Holmes Norton mentioned the incredible sacrifice and service of Chamorros as being the thing which makes possible any favors their receive from the Federal Government. It is through war, through serving, through praising America and its wars that we get to be Americans.

But it is war that destroys us as well. Chamorros have the second highest per capita KIA rate in the War on Terror, following Samoans. Chamorros have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Bahrain. The military is something which prior to World War II took away our language, and since then took away so much land, and has poisoned our island with its munitions and waste. It is also something which fuels our ever-growing diaspora, keeping our young people moving off island.

So when I am looking for solidarity or dialogue at the DNC on this issue, I am coming from the perspective of someone who wants to be a real discussion about militarization, about war and about peace. Because as I come from an island which is celebrated as the "tip of America's spear" this is not simply just another issue for me.

This means that finding a place in the Pepsi Center at the actual convention, amongst politicians and Party leaders is almost impossible. The antiwar sentiment that you find in the convention, in its speeches are all skewed to clearly that it would be more accurate to call it "anti-Bush Wars" sentiment. Tonight's lineup of speakers will thus denounce wars and militarization, but only so long as it is the Bush kind, the point of all this of course to make the case that although they are not the party of the current wars America is fighting, they are far more capable of being the War Party for America.

I submitted a request to speak to Dennis Kucinich yesterday following his floor speech, but unfortunately it wasn't accepted. I had wanted to ask him more about his proposal for a Department of Peace, because amongst all the "anti-war" Democratic candidates for President this year, he and Senator Mike Gravel alone entertained the idea of shrinking the size of the American military or limited its reach and power. I've made several more interview requests tonight, for former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed to speak on the party's platform and if there is any room for "change" in terms of America taking seriously the governmental and grassroots discontent that is spreading around the world to existing and planned American bases in other countries.

If I do get the chance to speak to them (which I'm pretty sure won' t happen) then I'm sure I'll get a "kao lungga hao?" look, and a banal assertion of the greatness and moral goodness of American military might. I'll be trapped in a sort of circular logic trap, where the fact that there is no other side to the debate about US militarization, is reinforced by that idea that there doesn't have to be, since the American military is the most advanced, most restrained, most respectful military out there. There is no other side to this issue because there doesn't have to be. Its a familiar sort of argument that you hear from all governments, but which the Bush Adminstration has perfected, you don't need oversight or information, since everybody who is working on it is doing a good job and can be trusted.

I was happy to see amongst the delegates present, members of Codepink who were passing out pink cardboard fingers formed into peace signs, with the words "I am a delegate for peace on them."

Outside of the Pepsi Center I was fortunate to find more voices such as these, but at the same time there is a real disconnect. In March of last year, 400 activists from 40 different nations came to Ecuador for a gathering calling for the abolition of foreign bases, which the United States controls 95% of. Medea Benjamin from Codepink and The Gobal Exchange wrote a very informative piece detailing the demands of different activists, and included in this demand were not just bases on "foreign" soil, but also colonial soil. It didn't just call for bases to be taken out of the backyards of those who are recognized as other sovereign nations, but also sites such as Guam which are recognized as colonies of the United States. I had hoped, since so many of Benjamin's allies were present in these protests, that they would continue with these sorts of arguments about the relationship between war, militarization and bases.

Those outside were far more "anti-war" than those inside the Pepsi Center. But what people I talked to didn't seem to get was the connection between war and bases. They were protesting violence and deaths, suffering, and calling for an abstract end to these things in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, being against "war' and its violent spectacles, doesn't get anywhere near the heart of the violence of war and militarization, that takes place through the establishing of bases. Which in different areas boils down, what Chalmers Johnson calls a new form of American colonialism, with bases colonizing different countries by the occuping of foreign lands, and the application of all sorts of diplomatic, economic and military pressures through these bases to secure American interests. You can end the visceral violence of open warfare, alot easier than you can rip out bases from foriegn lands, because these bases worm their way into local communities, economies, governments, and become entangled in life there, and eventually become just another part of the landscape. The collection of more than 700 bases the United States operates around the world, are what give it its power and its ability to dominate the world, and the support for this thinking is what has led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have allowed the United States to set up even more bases in areas where it perceives its future mortal enemies to be. So long as these bases are out there, American power will continue to grow, and continue to be flexed in order to protect itself and keep its global growth active.

I spoke to many protestors who wanted an end to the open and obvious forms of violence, but very few who were thinking about these deeper, less visible forms of violence. But if you are interested in building up that other side of the debate of American militarization, make it possible to speak about peace, as a process of opposing war and creating stability, and not simple a time absent of war, then it is the bases that America has around the world, most importantly in those places that American's don't know about, that the work has to begin. I pray everyday that the other side, this not just antiwar side, or anti-militarization side of American politics will grow and become concrete enough to create a real debate about the role of the American military in the world today, the size of its budget and influence, and the status of its bases around the world.

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