Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy (Belated) US Imperialism Day!

I first wrote this article "Happy US Imperialism Day! Rethinking the Chamorro Place in the American Empire" in 2003 for the first issue of Minagahet Zine. I intended to post in on my blog each December to commemorate the anniversary of the Japanese invasion of Guam, which helped pull the United States into World War II, and sparked the beginning of I Tiempon Chapones.
I last posted it in 2006, after forgetting to publish in in both 2007 and 2008. But with the proposed massive mampos na'ma'a'nao military buildup coming soon, and the island drowning in the thousands of pages of the buildup's Draft Environmental Impact Statement, I thought it would be appropriate to post this piece again. When I first wrote this piece, I wrote the following blurb to go with it:

Militarism has been the lifeblood of Guam for so long in terms of the American presence and interest here, and it has become an integral part of Chamorro culture as well. And in "celebration" of the 62nd anniversary of the Japanese Invasion of Guam, let us rethink the idea of war by re-examining the causes of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and placing them in their proper imperial context. While most of Guam and the US still believe that the Pearl Harbor attack was an unprovoked, surprise attack. In reality this couldn't be further from the truth.
Some of the things mentioned in this article will be out of date or out of mind by now. It was written when the War in Iraq was only eight months old and the War in Afghanistan a little over two years old. It was written around the time that the first Chamorro, Christopher Rivera Wesley died in the Iraq War. It was also written at a time when I was first working on developing a critical consciousness and a public voice in terms of writing and philosophy. I had been involved in "activist" things on Guam since 2001, but in a very small way, attending meetings, talking to people and doing alot of my own reading and research. 2003, was the year that I first actively began engaging people, primarily through the internet since I was off-island for most of the year preparing to attend graduate school.
But at the same time, I think this article and the issues of war and imperialism that it deals with remain timeless simply because the war and militarism remains timeless and essential in our lives on Guam. The relationship of Guam and of Chamorros to the military and to war defines who we were in relation to the United States. It makes us on the one hand a helpless victim to their wars and their battles and their contemporary "strategic interests," but at the same time, seems to give us some visibility, some strength and some way of escaping the pathetic colonial existence of Guam.

Puede ha' guaha un diha annai manmacho'cho'cho' i taotao-ta para pas, en lugat di gera.



by Michael Lujan Bevacqua

This past December 8th was the 68th anniversary of the Japanese invasion of Guam, and coming next year in July, will be the 66th anniversary of the “liberation” of Guam. But before we unpack our American flags, or start practicing singing Uncle Sam won’t you please come back to Guam again, it is time for Chamorros to really rethink about what they are celebrating, which is far from a liberation, or reoccupation, or patriotism, but in actuality war, imperialism and militarism.

But how could this not be expected, really? Considering that our, and therefore Guam’s value to the US has always been military in nature. And the most influential and jarring event in Guam’s recent history was the second world war, and I Tiempon Chapones. And even after the war, the military became a ticket off the island, or a paycheck to find that better life, after so many lands were stolen/taken and even more livelihoods disrupted. Today, the idea of war is much closer to your average Chamorro, than it is to your average American, for three reasons; one: the impact of the sufferings of i manamko’ lives on in our daily discourse through regular constructions like “before the war” and “after the war.” Two: The fact that close to 1/3 of the island is held by the US military. Three: That every Chamorro has several relatives who are members of the armed forces. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the military is a big part of Chamorro culture.

When the United States was mobilizing for the “war” in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of men and women around the country shouted and protested “no!” Around the world, millions more echoed the same. On Guam however, while many may of felt that the war was wrong, there was no organized dissent, no shouts for "no war for oil" and so on (I only remember one protest, and it was small, organized by some UOG professors and mostly Academy girls). The loudest voices and the ones which ended up in the PDN or on KUAM all said it was our patriotic duty to support our troops, or that this was good news, because it would surely help our economy.

One of those arguments doesn’t make sense, and the other says the wrong things. “Support our troops?” I have always been of the mind that the best way to support our troops is to bring them home, and most people not standing underneath an American flag or attending a NRA meeting would feel the same way. What really scares me is the economic excitement over war that we all, not just Chamorros tend to get on Guam when we hear more troops are coming in, or maybe a ship will home port here. Are the hundreds of thousands of deaths in the Middle East, as well as the hundreds of US and Coalition deaths worth the construction contracts Black Construction gets for new hangars or readiness centers? Most people would say yes probably, as long as the war was just, or necessary or in the interests of our defense.

Good wars or just wars?

Most American justifications for wars or interventions in other countries come from their romantic memories of wars such as the American Revolution which was fought against colonialism. Or the Civil War which was fought to end slavery. Or the Second World War, which was fought to stop Hitler and save the Jews from the Holocaust. And besides, America's not bad, they only jumped in after they were attacked at Pearl Harbor. I guess if these justifications were all true, then Americans would have the moral high ground in terms of war, all the wars they fought were good ones, because they were for good reasons. But this couldn’t be further from the truth, and on Guam, the real nature of these wars and war in general is a vital distinction that we need to digest.

The Revolutionary War didn’t save the world from colonialism, as Guam and many others are still very much American colonies. The Civil War wasn’t fought to end slavery, as Lincoln very clearly said that if he could save the Union without freeing any slaves he would do so, and the racism that drove the slave trade, now ensures that some minorities and African Americans remain underclasses. And World War II? This is where Guam fits into the American picture, and this is the point with which we must begin.

Pearl Harbor is thought of as an unprovoked attack on the United States. And the US because of blatant Japanese aggression is brought into the war. At the same time Japanese planes from Saipan attacked Guam, bombing Hagatna and Sumay. A few days later the Japanese invaded and the occupation began. The US saves the world from the brutality of the German, Italians and the Japanese, and starts a new world order in which idea of freedom, liberty, capitalism and democracy are spread through the world, like the gospel. With press like that, it would be hard to imagine that war is a bad thing. In fact, it is because of this overwhelming propaganda effort that the US media has termed the Second World War, “the good war,” and refer to its soldiers who served overseas and helped keep the economy alive at home as the “greatest generation.”

Since the war has played such a large role in shaping our people to this very day, it is vital that we look at it with clear eyes and heads, and not become consumed by the patriotic propaganda. Because if we are to actually look back at the beginning of the war, with Pearl Harbor, and reread what unfortunately became our history, when we accepted the red, white and blue, we can see very clearly that the Untied States not only expected war, but actually forced Japan into war.

Books such as President Roosevelt and the Coming of War published in 1941 and more recently Day of Deceit by Robert Stinnett chronicle the steps that the White House and President Roosevelt took to force Japan, and therefore America into the world war. One step was the imposing of economic sanctions on Japan, others were ultimatums and demands to the Japanese that they rescind their treaties with Germany and Italy and pull out of China and Indo-China. In other words, capitulate to American economic and political dominance and stop your imperialistic activities. The Japanese unofficial response was classic: We’ll stop our imperial activities as soon as you do; we’ll pull out of China, when you pull out of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. Faced with an uncompromising imperial power such as the US, the Japanese were either to surrender or go to war (in the face of resource shortages, such as oil, they decided to go to war)

In his text Dreaming War, Gore Vidal discussed at length the intentions of Roosevelt in bringing about the war. For instance, if Roosevelt had actually wanted peace, he had plenty of chances to pursue that route. In the year before war, there was a Peace Party in Japan, led by Prince Konoye, who repeatedly asked President Roosevelt that they meet and discuss a plan for peace. Roosevelt however, continually postponed their planned meetings, all the while meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and preparing for the upcoming war.

As for the idea that the United States was taken surprise by the attack, it most certainly wasn’t. By November 1941, the US had broken the Japanese diplomatic codes, but also most of their naval codes. And on November 15th, 1941, General Marshall, the US Army Chief of Staff called in several Washington newspaper bureau chief, and informed them that the Japanese attack would come in the first ten days of December.

Even the stories of America valiantly saving Europe from Hitler’s grasp, or of the US rushing in to save the Jewish people needs to be rethought. Hitler was a monster yes, but much like Saddam Hussein, he was allowed to be a monster by other industrial nations. Men such as Churchill and Roosevelt (like California’s current governor, ARNOLD) admired Hitler for his skills in re-energizing Germany’s economy, and for whipping his country into shape, at a time when much of the world was hurting from the Great Depression. They did nothing to stop his preparations for war, did little initially when he began expanding his empire, and despite reports of atrocities against Jews for years before Pearl Harbor, the US did nothing, as American businessmen were too busy making money off his war mongering.

What does all this mean for Chamorros? First of all, our ideas about Pearl Harbor and the war need to be rethought with this information. If the United States people were set up to go to war, because of the agenda of the President, then that means that the Chamorros on Guam, were set up as well. And in actuality we have known this for a long time, but never really acknowledged it.
The idea that the US abandoned Guam was never really given the credence it needed, because Chamorros were so happy to be “rescued” in 1944, but it is something that we should always remember, especially at the most patriotic times of the year, such as now. Chamorros then knew it, even if they didn’t openly discuss it, or talk about it. Nowadays you will find it spoken of, mostly by younger Chamorros, but occasionally by i manamko’ who still can’t understand how “the greatest country in the world” would just abandon and leave people to die like that?
Let’s acknowledge this year what this anniversary truly represents. Yes, it is the day the Japanese invaded and attacked, but it is also the day the American’s left, and the day many Chamorros learned that to America they meant nothing. And although the roaring wave of patriotism of the last half century has washed away most of this dissent and discomfort (at least consciously), the old questions still persist. Why didn’t the US defend Guam? Why didn’t they tell us? Why didn’t they prepare us? If they evacuated their families, why did they not evacuate us? I was in the Navy, why didn’t they evacuate my wife, or my kids? These are all valid questions, from people who suffered so much, and unfortunately they can only be answered in a rough and difficult way, and that is that the US interest here have always had to do with the military and nothing else. The Chamorros on Guam were considered expendable during World War II, they were considered expendable during the Cold War (in case of a nuclear attack), and we are probably considered expendable today in case of any North Korean aggression or terrorist attack from Indonesia or the Philippines.

All nations become imperial nations and empire when they become large enough and the United States is no different. The US has hundreds of army bases around the world, in Guam, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Great Britain, Japan, Germany (and now in Iraq and Afghanistan) and more. It has colonies in Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands and others. Through the CIA and other interventions it has installed or supported loyal dictators and puppet regimes in Congo, Indonesia, Chile, Venezuela, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, Haiti, Greece, Italy, Iran, Iraq, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, South Vietnam and others. The United States is a global empire, and we on Guam are just a piece of that puzzle, nothing more. In broad and general terms, we are a pawn on the imperial chessboard, and to prove that we should think of these two things: first, if another island had a bigger harbor than Guam in 1898, the US would of taken that. Second, the US “liberated” Saipan first, which was a Japanese colony, rather than save their loyal subjects at Guam. Pieces on the board, nothing more.

The forcing of Japan into the Second World War shows that the interests of nations and empires go beyond mere human concerns. They are governed by other less rational concerns like hegemony, geo-political theories about dominoes and rogue states and so on. The United States stopped Japan, because it was forming an empire in Asia and the Pacific, similar to the one the US had in the Americas. The United States unofficially endorsed Hitler’s economic expansion and empire building, because of the economic benefits it brought, however they were forced to remove him, when it became apparent that he couldn’t be contained.

These are the true natures of war and of empires and governments. They care nothing for people, most especially people who don’t pay direct federal income tax, or have votes in Congress. And it is with this in mind that we must negotiate our place in America or our place outside of America. It is with this in mind that we must move forward into our future, not relying on the goodwill of a country that didn’t give us Constitutional protections because Chamorros were dark and spoke a different language, or won’t make us an equal part of the US because we are too small? But rather knowing full and well our history, and the fact that it is a colonial history and not one based on equality or altruism, but one based on exploitation and racism.

These are all things that you should remember the next time you wave that flag high. Happy US Imperialism Day!

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