Monday, August 24, 2009

Guam Resists Military Colonization

Last month I had the privilege of meeting peace and US demilitarization activist Ann Wright while she was in Guam meeting with the group Codepink Osaka. I got to attend the meeting, where they not only talked about what is going on in Japan right now, but also wanted to hear more of the stories of Guam and Chamorros and their particular struggles against US militarization.

The meeting was an interesting one, as translators were used and made communication difficult, but it was still an exciting experience for me. Meeting Ann Wright was a great pleasure. She is someone who I'd seen interviewed on Cable News, read plenty about on the internet and long admired for her willingness to not only speak out against the Iraq War, but even go so far as to resign from her position in the United States State Department after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. The years since the Iraq War started have been filed with plenty of retired military or diplomatic officers from the US, who now that they are no longer employed by the United States, feel they can speak freely in criticizing things they were apart of and violence or stupidity they helped enable. That is one of the most frustrating things about the military, is that you are expected to simply follow orders while you are serving, and only allowed to refuse and speak out against what you feel is wrong or immoral, after you have already done it or participated in it.
Its for that reason that you really have to admire those who felt the moral responsibility to speak out, to resign, to opt out when they felt they were being ordered to participate in something illegal or immoral. Hu gof konfotme i finayin Si Hardt yan Si Negri gi i lepblon-niha Empire, annai ma sangan na debi di u guaha statue gi kada songsong para i mandeserters siha. Hunggan, hu tungo' na meggaiggaiggai ma sasangan put i minaolek i manhanao yan manggera, lao debi di lokkue' ta honra i ti manhanao, ayu na taotao ni' sumangan ahe'. Ti mismo mangkubatde siha. Lao para kada na rason na sina un alok na maolek pat guailayi i gera, guaha ga'chochong-na na rason na ahe' ti maolek.
It was also very refreshing meeting peace activists from Japan.
As someone living on Guam, I see plenty of Japanese people all the time, and as someone who spends every Wednesday night at the Chamorro Village in Hagatna, I interact with Japanese people all the time. Of course, with the exception of talking to Mr. Ken Haga, who does historical and cultural tours of the island and publishes a tourist magazine which actually talks about issues such as the military buildup, the Japanese that I interact with appear to be in an almost perfect bubble. We can blame both them and ourselves for these bubbles. The collective desire amongst Japanese after World War II to forget and bury their imperial and military sins, has led to a very formative whitewash of their history. A whitewash so effective and complete, it is most likely the envy of other nation's with violent pasts, who can't seem to get their ghosts busted so easily. Japanese tourists can come to Guam and have no idea that Japan was ever here, and absolutely no idea that Japan ever came, bombed the island, occupied it, killed hundreds of Chamorros before the US returned.
But, since the birth of Guam's tourism industry, we've also helped enable this particular whitewash of history on Guam, as well as a generation marketing whitewash. For several generations, Guam was regularly portrayed to the Japanese market, as a poor man's version of other places. A paradise island, so close, yet still with flavors of the United States. A place where one could relax, shop, watch Polynesian dancers, and practice your English. Its only the past two decades that Guam has made an effort to market itself to Japan, as Guam and not someplace else, where tourists wish they could go to instead (lao ti nahong i salapen-niha).

The focus of any tourist economy and society which defines itself by performing and catering to outsiders, is always this mix of putting on your best face, showcasing your best parts, but also hiding away and making sure no one can see any ugliness or any discomfort. If Chamorro or decolonization activists on Guam were criticizing the tourism industry more, or calling for Japanese to stop coming to Guam, or if the sentiments of Chamorros from the 1960's when Japanese tourists first started visiting Guam had remained instead of fizzling out, then you can bet this island would have more laws or harsher penalties for protesting and speaking out. Activists would be another one of those things on the list that Bert Unpingco and Guam Visitor's Bureau hate. We would be right up there at the top next to dirty bathrooms, litter and stray dogs. Naturally, the result is that Guam's current relationship to Japan and to Japanese people is about as fake and superficial as it can get. It is all based just on the idea that the Japanese have money in the pockets of their Hawaiian print shirts, or in their fanny packs that we must take from them. It is almost completely devoid of any of the other ways, both historically and today that we are bound together.

This means that the whole history of Japanese colonialism in Guam is non-existent, but it also means that any knowledge about the relationship between Guam and Japan in terms of the relocation of US Marines is also absent. But part of this reason is not simply because we are pushing the issue, but would be for the same reason that most people from the United States who might visit Guam would have no idea either. The majority of Japan's US military presence is in Okinawa, much for the same reason that so much of it is in Guam and Hawai'i. They are far away, both geographically and in the mind, and they are both communities who can more excitedly accept the idea of themselves and their lives, their economies, their lands, being dominated by the US military and its interests. If any "mainland" state or area of Japan had to shoulder the percentage of military presence that these islands had to, they might have a very different perception of it.

So meeting with people from Japan, who weren't as interested in dances, shopping or going to a shooting gallery, but wanted to know more about how Guam will be affected by the drastic increases in population and military infrastructure that are coming was a fantastic experience. I'm posting below one of the articles that Ann Wright wrote after the visit, and also a Marianas Variety piece about it.
Speaking more on this issue, don't forget that next month, Guam is hosting the 7th Meeting of the International Network of Women Against Militarism. The conference blog can be found here. There isn't much there yet, but there soon will be.

*********************

Published on Monday, August 17, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
Guam Resists Military Colonization
Having No Say When Washington Tries to Increase your Population by 25%
by Ann Wright

The United States and the Chinese governments have some remarkable similarities when it comes to colonization. The Chinese government has sent a huge Han population to inhabit Tibet and overwhelm the Tibetan population, even building the world's highest railway to get people and materials there.
The United States government, with virtually no consultation with the local government and citizens, is increasing the population of its non-voting territory, Guam, by 25%. 8,000 U.S. Marines, their dependents and associated logistics units and personnel-a total of 42,000 new residents-will be moved to the small Pacific island (barely three times the size of Washington, DC) that has a current population of 175,000. The move will have a tremendous impact on the cultural and social identity of the island.

These military forces are being relocated to Guam, in great measure, because of the "Close US Military Bases" campaign organized by citizen activists in Okinawa, Japan. The United States has had a huge military presence there since the end of World War II.

I thought I was reasonably well-informed about America's interests in the Pacific. I had worked as a US diplomat in Micronesia for two years and travelled many times through Guam, a US territory, located an 8 hour flight west of Honolulu.

But earlier this month, in Guam on a study tour sponsored by a coalition of Japanese peace activists spearheaded by CODEPINK-Osaka, Japan, which included a former member of the Japanese Diet (Parliament), I learned new aspects of the decision to relocate this large number of U.S. military to Guam.

Guam was first colonized by the Spanish in the 1500s, became a US colony in 1898, a war-trophy from the Spanish-American war and served as a stopover for ships travelling to the Philippines. During World War II, Guam was attacked and occupied by Japan on December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. American citizens living on the island had been evacuated by the United States government before the attack, but the indigenous Chamorro population was left behind. During the 31 months of Japanese occupation, the Chamorros endured forced labor, concentration camps, forced prostitution, rape and execution by the Japanese military. The United States military returned three and one-half years later on July 21, 1944 to retake Guam.

In 1950, Guam was made an "unincorporated territory" of the United States by a US Congressional act and residents were given US as one of 16 "non-self governing territories" left in the world.

Lands were taken after World War II from the native Chamorro population without compensation by the US military to construct major air and naval bases which the US military still uses. Currently, there are 3,000 US Air Force and 2,000 US Navy personnel and 1,000 employees of other federal security agencies assigned to Guam.

Three Guam legislators told us that the Guam government has not been properly consulted in the discussions between the US and Japanese governments on the relocation of the large US Marine force. Guam officials have been given little firm information about the military expansion plans. They are very concerned about the impact of further militarization of their island as its major income is provided by hundreds of thousands of Japanese tourists who visit the tropical island annually.

They are disturbed by rumors of proposed forced condemnation of another 950 acres of land owned by members of the native Chamorro population for a live fire range for the incoming Marines. Residues of Agent Orange left from the Vietnam War and other toxic wastes from the military bases, plus the possibility that artillery shells and other munitions made from depleted uranium will be used on their island, are all sources of concern for the people of Guam.

In order to get the 8,000 US Marines out of Okinawa, the Japanese government is paying $6 billion to the US government for their relocation. Guam officials are concerned that not enough of the relocation funds will be made available for the large infrastructure improvements that will be needed for the island's roads, water, sewage and electrical systems as it tries to support a 25% increase in population. They feel the military will take care of its bases but may leave the local population struggling with the new infrastructure problems created by the large number of military personnel.

The Japanese people, too, are in the dark about the details of the billions of dollars they will pay the US government to have US forces leave Japan. Japanese members of our delegation were shocked when they learned from local Guam activists that the relocation budget calls for the Japanese government to pay $650,000 for the construction of each new house on the base, while Guam activists told us the cost of a middle class home on Guam is around $250,000. The Japanese delegation was greatly concerned that their government is funding such inflated projects and is going to raise the budget with Japanese Diet members when they return to Japan.

Of concern to the Guam business community is consideration by US House of Representatives law makers to give Japanese contractors the same access as American firms to bidding on contracts worth more than $2.5 billion in upcoming US military construction projects on Guam. Apparently, the Japanese government, like the US government, likes to have its commercial firms benefit from government aid projects it is funding "overseas." With Japan's $6 billion contribution to the $10 billion cost of relocating the Marines, Japan wants some of that money returned to Japan through construction contracts on the Guam infrastructure projects.

Many Guam officials and a large number of Guam citizens are deeply concerned about the cultural, economic and security impact of the dramatic increase in population and militarization of their island the relocation would present. The current cultural divide of those living in relative luxury inside the bases with better housing, schools and services has been a source of friction between the US military and the local population over the years.

Guam officials said that they too have been perturbed about the extraordinarily high expenditures on US military base facilities, when the Government of Guam is strapped financially. The officials said they were amazed and horrified when they learned that the Air Force recently built an on-base animal kennel for $27 million, with each animal space costing $100,000, when locally, the government is unable to provide sufficient infrastructure for its citizens, much less animals.

Professors and students at the University of Guam expressed concern that there will be a sharp increase in sexual assault and rape on the island due to the relocation of US Marines. They believe one of the reasons the Japanese government finally was able to get the US government to move some military forces out of Okinawa was because of major citizen mobilizations that occurred in response to rapes by US military personnel.

In 2008, the US Ambassador to Japan had to fly to Okinawa to give his apologies for the rape of a 14 year old girl by a US Marine. The US military forces on Okinawa had a 3 day stand-down for "reflection" and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to express her "regrets" to the Japanese Prime Minister "for the terrible incident that happened in Okinawa... we are concerned for the well-being of the young girl and her family."

In April, 2008, U.S. Marine Staff Sergeant Tyrone Hadnott, 38, who had been in the Marines 18 years, was charged with the February 10, 2008, rape of 14 year old girl, abusive sexual contact with a child, making a false official statement, adultery and kidnapping.

On May 17, 2008, Hadnott was found guilty of abusive sexual conduct and the four other charges were dropped. Hadnott was sentenced to four years in prison, but will only serve a maximum of three years in prison due to a pretrial agreement that suspended the fourth year of the sentence. He was reduced to private and given a dishonorable discharge from the US Marines.

The rape accusation against Hadnott stirred memories of a brutal rape more than a decade ago and triggered outrage across Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said that Hadnott's actions were "unforgivable."

There are US Congressional stirrings of concern about the relocation of the Marines to Guam. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee chair Ike Skelton has raised concerns about the size, scope and cost of the move to Guam. "At over $10 billion (two and one-half times the initial cost estimate of $4 billion), it is an enormous project, and I am concerned that the thinking behind it is not yet sufficiently mature," Skelton said at a recent Congressional hearing. "We need to do this, but it needs to be done right."

In a challenge to US military "forward deployment" strategy in Asia and the Pacific, Guam activists strongly feel the US military should relocate large forces to the mainland of the US where there presence can be better absorbed by the greater populations and existing large military bases, rather than to their small Pacific island.

However, the US federal government seldom takes into account local feelings about their projects, particularly military projects in a region far removed from the Washington power center.

Guam activists want their voices heard and respected and not to be treated as merely residents of a colony of the United States.

Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. In December, 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is the co-author of the book "Dissent: Voices of Conscience." (www.voicesofconscience.com)

******************************

Former U.S. envoy backs Guam sentiments on buildup
Friday, 21 August 2009 00:25
by Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Marianas Variety News Staff
TAKING up the cudgels for local activists, former U.S. ambassador and retired Army colonel Ann Wright assailed the federal government for shutting out the local population in the planning process for the U.S. Marines’ relocation from Okinawa to Guam.

Ann Wright
“The U.S. federal government seldom takes into account local feelings about their projects, particularly military projects in a region far removed from the Washington power center,” Wright writes in an article titled “Guam resists military colonization” posted on CommonDreams.org.

“Guam activists want their voices heard and respected and not to be treated as merely residents of a colony of the United States,” said Wright, who accompanied members of the Japanese peace activist group Code Pink-Osaka during a fact-finding mission on Guam last month.

Wright said her visit to Guam has given her new perspectives about the Department of Defense’s plan for the relocation of 8,000 U.S. Marines to Guam.

“Three Guam legislators told us that the Guam government has not been properly consulted in the discussions between the U.S. and Japanese governments on the relocation of the large US Marine force,” Wright said. “Guam officials have been given little firm information about the military expansion plans.”

Anti-war
Wright is an outspoken critic of the Iraq war. Over the course of her diplomatic career that began in 1987, Wright served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassies in Afghanistan.

On the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003, Wright sent her resignation letter to then State Secretary Collin Powell, saying she could no longer work for the U.S. government under the Bush administration. Wright quit her job in protest over the U.S. invasion of Iraq without sanction from the U.N. Security Council.

Now taking up the Guam military buildup case, Wright lashed at the U.S. for its plan to deploy thousands of troops to Guam “with virtually no consultation with the local government and citizens.”

Guam concerns
“Professors and students at the University of Guam expressed concern that there will be a sharp increase in sexual assault and rape on the island due to the relocation of US Marines,” she wrote. “They believe one of the reasons the Japanese government finally was able to get the U.S. government to move some military forces out of Okinawa was because of major citizen mobilizations that occurred in response to rapes by U.S. military personnel.”

The $10 billion relocation cost will be subsidized by the Japanese government, which has pledged to shoulder $6 billion, a commitment that was cemented in the Guam International Agreement signed in February.

“The Japanese people, too, are in the dark about the details of the billions of dollars they will pay the U.S. government to have US forces leave Japan,” Wright said.

No comments:

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails