Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Guam Loses Any War

The recent attacks in Mumbai even has people in Guam whispering about security issues and the threat of terrorism right here on island.

This conversation is hardly new, in particular since World War II, after the island was invaded and occupied by the Japanese and later reoccupied by the United States, discussions of this sort, about potential attacks or threats to the island are always feared, always lurking in the backs of our consciousness. In the Cold War, there was always a fear about the Soviet Union and the United States going to war and Guam once again being caught in the middle of an apocalyptic conflagration. Today, the island's proximity to China, North Korea and the Asian continent in general, helps to stimulate even more fears about Guam being erased from the face of the world by an errant nuclear missile, or swallowed up in an all out war.

This ongoing discussion is completely understandable, and absolutely necessary. Guam's history, Guam's contemporary reality, its position, everything about it that makes it valuable to the United States clearly indicates that Guam is not only a vital strategic military point, but also at the same time, a constant and perpetual target for those seeking to weaken the United States. This of course is always the paradox of anything that is meant to exude, project power or force, and also guarantee stability or control. Whatever increase you make in terms of militarizing it, of consolidating or capitalizing upon its potential, of making it more essential or critical, more powerful and secure, also increases at the same time the probability of that site being decimated or destroyed, it causes a drastic shift, a reaction in the world around it, which doesn't just increase the likelihood that that site's new power will be tested, and thus in the case of Guam destroyed, but you also increase that sites ability to weaken you, should it be attacked or taken away. In the language of everyday Guam, "I mas meggai na militat un konne' magi, i mas kulang target hit para i enimigu-mu siha." "The more military that you bring to Guam, the more we are a target for your enemies."

Over the past four hundreds years, Guam has been invaded and occupied several times, and thus has been passed from one colonizer to the other in violent ways. The most recent instances of violence are not centuries old, they happened when my grandparents were in their twenties. The fear of another war, and the pervasive presence of military always leads to fears of another war or another violent shuffling of colonizers will take place. This is one of the key reasons that independence as a possible political status is so feared on Guam, pi'ot gi entre i manamko'. Because although being the "tip of America's spear" already puts us in plenty of obvious danger, if we weren't their spear tip, then surely somebody else would invade with the intent of making us theirs.

Although this sort of fear does frustrate me, as it is tied to so many kinds of illusions and a silly fantasy about Guam's relationship with the United States, I do not in anyway want to take away from the danger that Guam is in. A Rand study published in 2006, gave more weight to the everyday fears of so many on Guam, namely that "China is Targeting Guam Bases."

Since 2005, these fears have become far more pronounced, and more freely pushed into everyday discourse. The reason for this of course is that since October 2005, Guam has been getting plenty of international and national news coverage over the fact that it will be getting more than 8,000 Marines from Okinawa by 2014. The Marines make up, at least in media representations, the core of what new military presence Guam will be receiving, in reality it is far far more, not just in terms of bodies (there will be an estimated population increase of anywhere from 42,000-50,000 people) but also in terms of facilities and weapons of death.

The threat of North Korea has been waning in recent months, since deals have been reached and there is even a chance that the nation's long-standing terrorist status will be retracted by the United States State Department. But as the American economy falters, and the United States is renegotiating base deals in Asia and militarizing the hell out of the Pacific, the threat of China is bigger than ever. In the past few days, talking about the military buildup, the attacks in Mumbai (which incidentally caused England to cancel the rest of its cricket tour of India), and even discussions in my class, all reminded me of a statement that I helped draft in December of 2006 in response to the saber rattling that was going on in Guam and in the United States about the North Korean menace, and how it might obliterate Guam. This statement was written for the Chamorro Information Activists and can be found in Minagahet Zine and also on this blog under the title "Survival Amongst Rogues and Empires."

I'm pasting below most of its text, because it has so much relevance to the discussion so far:

Survival Amongst Rogues and Empires:
Statement of the Chamorro Information Activists on the North Korean Nuclear Threat

The dominant media pieces about the nuclear threat that North Korea represents to Guam and the United States are so narrow in their focus that they barely scratch the issues they claim to discuss. It is important to complement these media pieces with the following statement from the North Korean government and an article from an anti-nuclear activist which reveal a much larger and danger which is conveniently left out or dismissed.

The first is the statement by the North Korean government justifying their recent nuclear tests and ambitions. Their position is clear and it is the difference between Iran/North Korea and Iraq, namely that a war amongst those who have or might have nuclear weapons is subject to the logic of The Cold War, negotiations, sanctions, wars of words, while those with nothing are subject to the logic of The Third World War, which is subversion, invasion and colonization. The North Korean investment in nuclear weapons is clear, survival. If the North Korean Government had not named Guam as an intended site to express the wrath of North Korean nuclear power, their development of the weapons would still put Guam in danger because of our geographic proximity and military importance to the United States. The convenient and risky mistake that the media and governments in Guam and the United States make is the assumption that the only danger here comes from North Korea. The truth of this situation lies in interpreting or reading the dangers of North Korea's aggressive posturing alongside and in relation to the United State's only reckless and dangerous posturing in defense of its own ambiguous "survival," which has brought terrible tragedies to Guam in the past and continues to do so in the present. Guam Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo has stated that our safety in Guam depends upon the following equation, "more military = more safety from terrorism and war." This point has been disproven or at least contested numerous times, in history, most notably, as Guam's status as military base prior to World War II brought 32 months of horror to the island, as it was caught in the middle of a standoff between the imperial ambitions of Japan and the United States. In contemporary times, this equation has contributed to a plague of medical and environmental disasters.

Given the colonial history of Guam and its continuing colonial status it is important that we recognize that we are not attached to the United States through any love or benevolence, but because of strategic military importance. At different points this has translated into citizenship, welfare benefits, cheaper long distance calling and other things, at others it has translated into racism, colonialism, being abandoned in 1941 and being deprived of justice and equality at many different points over the last century.

The second is an article written by anti-nuclear activist Helen Calidicott who through chilling statistics remind us that those who represent the most danger today are not "rogue" nations such as North Korea, but rather "rogue" superpowers such as the United States and the former Soviet Union. Combined these two nations possess 96% of the roughly 30,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, and despite the end of The Cold War, several thousand of these weapons are still kept on "hair trigger" status for instantaneous launch.

It is truly scary that North Korea has threatened to attack with nuclear weapons anyone who threatens its existence, however in a world which can easily be sparked into a global nuclear conflict, it is just as scary that the United States in its national security policies has claimed the same right. Despite the framing of newspaper pieces and statements of local and colonial governments which instruct us to fear only countries such as North Korea, the aggressive posturing of the United States combined with its massive arsenal of nuclear weapons, shows that we have very much to fear from them as well. For us on Guam, and elsewhere in the world, if we are truly interested in survival, both in terms of locally in Guam, but also regionally and globally, then we need to rethink our anger or fear over North Korea and its nuclear ambitions, to include the United States and Russia and their current nuclear arsenals as well!


In my classes over the past few weeks, as students have discussed the political status project I gave them, the mindset of Congresswoman Bordallo mentioned in the above statement was invoked so many times.

"Guam Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo has stated that our safety in Guam depends upon the following equation, "more military = more safety from terrorism and war."

The groups who were arguing for statehood as the island's best political status regularly used this logic to their advantage. One group argued that the way Guam was abandoned to the Japanese in World War II, is something that would never happen again if Guam were a state. Those arguing against independence would use Guam's being invaded in World War II as a horrifying certainty should Guam become independent, and they would weigh this argument down, provide it some teeth and some emotional punch, by asserting that this weakness and vulnerability would all be tied to the kicking out of the United States and the weakening of their hold or presence in/over Guam.

The quote above was meant for the Congresswoman Bordallo of 2006, but the Congresswoman of today eagerly makes the same case. Whenever the safety of Guam is brought to her attention by constituents, who fear that Guam will become more a target for terrorists or for China and other "enemies" of the United States, the answer is always the simplistic equation of "more military = more safety." In a dangerous world like this one, in such a dangerous corner of the world, wouldn't you rather have more military, especially from the most powerful country in the world, instead of less?

Although these discussions regularly scare me or frustrate me, I do often times, whether in class or in public, see them as "teaching moments" or times and contexts when I can help lay bare some of the underlying structure of what people are saying, why they are saying it, and how they are shaping reality through the mentioning/recognizing of some aspects and the forgetting or ignoring of others.

For instance, the framework of Congresswoman Bordallo and most people on Guam is a simple opposition between more or less military, and the dangers, the potential violence is always from the same antagonistic sources. Terrorists will read the articles from The New York Times or The Washington Post and learn about how ripe a target Guam is and then make their way over to the island in order to wound the United States. Or China is looking for world domination, and if they can't strangle the United States economically, they will do it militarily, first by gulelek Guam.

For both of these potential violent or damaging threats, the United States military operates as a very convincing deterrent or foil. Keep buildup up Guam, keep militarizing it, keep hehemmot kosas militat guini, and you will surely catch any terrorist who steps on to "the rock" or you'll surely scare away any Chinese military threats with all the nuclear subs you have stationed on Guam. Even if you feel that Guam is made more of a target the more military that is put here, you still assume that all of the violence that Guam can expect comes from sources which the United States can protect us from, that it can operate as a guardian to defend us from.

When I say that these conversations can be used to open up the conversation or the given coordinates, I mean that while we are discussing the external dangers to Guam that the United States may or may not be able to protect us from, we might as well also talk about the internal dangers that the United States military represents to Guam. These dangers range from those which are slow, seeping, reeking poisons, to massive spectacular accidents. Each increase to the military presence of Guam increases the amount of violence the island will experience, on an everyday level and also the possibility of something truly terrible or horrible happening.

We see or hear about these things everyday, we read about them in the paper, see them everywhere, but we don't necessarily connect the dots. The high disease rates on Guam and the environmental degradation have multiple causes, but one of them is most definitely the military presence on Guam. This is one of those instances where the tendencies in the discursive landscape keep some violence or tragedies in our lives free-floating and without a source or explanation. The aura of liberation, of economic upward mobility or even just Guam's "pathological" economic dependency all keep our eyes in check, keep them from perceiving the military presence as something which does not just give money, or provide defense, but something which also rots the island, and has literally helped make the cancers that rot in our bodies or the bodies of our family members.

But then there is the simple dangers of having weapons of war around, piled up around the island, occasionally being tested or use or transported. Its important to remember, and I take every opportunity I have to remind people, that for every massive weapon of war that is placed on Guam, the more safer it can be argued to be, but also, less safer and more in danger. More military can act as a deterrent to keep people from invading or attacking Guam, but it also makes it more of a target. The military and its mission of "defense" is so emotionally packed, so teeming with commonsensical emotional responses or assumptions, that more military on Guam can take on the aura of being able to protect Guam from literally anything.

Everything that is except itself.

During the military buildup forum last week that I participated in (ya ti apmam bei fanuge' put i hinasso-ku put ayu), one of the audience members asked a very basic and obvious question for those of us living on an island that will soon play host to thousands of Marines from Okinawa. "If the military buildup is so great, how come Okinawa wants them out?”

In the Marianas Variety article "Military Buildup Forum draws huge crowd," you can see Fanai Castro's profound answer.:

Fanai Castro of the Guahan Indigenous Collective asked, rhetorically.“One of the major drives as to why the people of Okinawa started organizing against the U.S. military was because a helicopter crashed at a university in Okinawa,” said Castro. “So, that question is kind of clever—it answers its self. It is because the U.S. military is so great, it is the reason why the people of Okinawa want the military out.”

In other words, we seem to forget on Guam very regularly, that the mission of the military is destruction and death. Defense is one aspect, but to kill and to cause destruction is another, and the weapons of war, especially in the United States have advanced to the point where they, regardless of whoever is using them, are very very effective at obliterating everything around them. That's why no matter how many innocent civilians are killed by American bombs and weapons in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, I never hear any cries to demilitarize or shelf these weapons, because they aren't working properly and they are resulting in massive death tolls amongst those they aren't supposed to kill. Of course not, no matter who they are killing, they are fulfilling their purpose.

If the war that people are always claiming that the US military protects us from and will protect us from every actually happened, all the Stryker tanks the island wouldn't prevent it from being wiped from the face of the earth. Let us forget for the moment the recent Rand study that reports that if the United States and China went to war over Taiwan, the United States with its power projection capabilities in the Pacific and Asia-Pacific rim, would not be enough and it would probably lose. If it ever came to a war between two or more of the world's big nations, especially those separated by oceans, and wasn't just another example of the United States or another big power beating up on tiny nation that represented a "gathering threat," then whatever we have on Guam probably wouldn't help us. A nuclear war would make vanish all of us on Guam, military or otherwise. It probably wouldn't matter how many Marines you have, or many fat new construction contracts there are, the increased militarization of Guam will result in an increase in tensions in the region, and as history has shown us, peace favors Guam, whereas increase in tensions will leave the island to be sacrificed.

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