Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Local and Global

One of Chamorro singer K.C. Leon Guerrero’s most famous songs (and he totally has so many) is Guam U.S.A, which features the very catchy and memorable line that Guam is Good/ Guam is hot/ Guam is just such a little spot. Most people, even those who don’t know anything really about Guam would agree that Guam is truly just a little spot, and that in the context of global events and world history, it doesn’t really matter that much. Even for those of us who live on Guam and love Guam, we might be inclined to agree that even if this little spot is great, it’s still just a little spot.

The Guam history book Destiny's Landfall for instance has a heavy ideological load to bear in terms of what story it is supposed to tell and what its own historiographical assumptions require. The book is supposed to be about Guam, it is the most comprehensive history book written about Guam up to this day, but it is also a story about Guam and its meeting with its "destiny," which over the course of its hundreds of pages becomes a quaint metaphor for talking about how history comes from the outside of Guam and not the inside.

Now there are some instances where I would absolutely argue this to be true, since change does work in that way, with some figure or event or force which necessarily must be seen as coming from outside to cause change within. But in the case of Rogers' text, his argument is a much older one, and historians used to not have to come up with various excuses for why their histories of other places were written in such a way to not take those other places or their peoples as their objects or subjects, but in today's cases, they usually have to. Perhaps, its just the nature of Guam's proper historical archives and primary sources, that because there is so little which comes from the Chamorro side of things and so much from the colonizer's side of things that any history of Guam has to be written in this way, in order for it to stay true to what little we do know.

I have read Destiny's Landfall numerous times, but each section always ends with a similar message, that the history of Guam does not belong to the Chamorro people. Sometimes this is stated as a critique of previous histories. Sometimes it is stated as a tragedy and something which is not necessarily right, but simply the way that events have mistreated this people. And finally sometimes it is made clear that this is the way it should be. Rogers creates early on in his book categories of people, those who adapt and persevere and those who are peaceful and beautiful, but tend to get conquered by others. It is irrelevant what Rogers personally thinks, because the effect of his book is that idea that history, Guam's history included is made by large places, big countries, big empires, big militaries, they cause shifts, transform things, and make things happen. This is one of the things that you have to be careful about when reading a text. If we want to see what the discursive force of Guam is in a book such as this, we don't count how many times Guam is mentioned, but rather we look at where the author places Guam in the saddok estoria that he is creating. It is very easy to come away reading Destiny's Landfall with the idea that even after you have read this entire history of this place, it still doesn't really matter that much, and still is tragically not capable of very much. In the larger global context which created the Guam of today, it did not matter much and still doesn't really matter that much.

But speaking of Guam mentions, in the 2009 book Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base at Diego Garcia, author David Vine mentions Guam just a handful of times, when talking about the tragic history of how the peoples of the Chagos Islands or Diego Garcia have been displaced by British and American militaries to build the base there. In one such mention, he quotes a foremost expert on US global security issues, who talks about Guam in a completely different way, as not just any tiny little spot, but one which can literally be used to take over the world! According to this expert:


It’s the single most important military facility [Diego Garcia Island] we’ve got,” respected Washington-area military expert John Pike told me. Pike, who runs the website GlobalSecurity.org, explained, “It’s the base from which we control half of Africa and the southern side of Asia, the southern side of Eurasia.” It’s “the facility that at the end of the day gives us some say-so in the Persian Gulf region. If it didn’t exist, it would have to be invented.” The base is critical to controlling not just the oil-rich Gulf but the world, said Pike: “Even if the entire Eastern Hemisphere has drop-kicked us” from every other base on their territory, he explained, the military’s goal is to be able “to run the planet from Guam and Diego Garcia by 2015.

What Pike’s comment reveals to us is that, the smallness of Guam is irrelevant in terms of its importance, and this should be taken seriously in considering the future as Pike is, but also in terms of the past. In other words, we shouldn’t be blinded by the smallness of Guam when considering its place in history, if we do, then we don’t only miss the place that Guam and other small places have in world history, but we weaken Guam in terms of what it as a place means, for its own future. If we do accept that smallness and unimportance to Guam, than we limit ourselves to only understanding or considering and living the smallness of this place, and we leave open its strength, its stragetic importance and its overall meaning to be determined and plundered by others. One of the problems with the smallness doctrine is that it does not strip Guam of any meaning or value, but creates the impression that only a select few (those big avatars of history) can make use of that smallness. Only a few nations or empires have what it takes to truly unlock the potential of these minute sites, and this is something which even the people who live there cannot understand or accomplish.

As I am teaching World History this summer at UOG, this is one of the key themes that I am trying to draw out. To get them to see that the world is not made by big places, but by small places. And that so often history is as Michel Rolph-Truillot wrote "a bundle of silences" and so that its study must not be about the grand trumpets and te deums of victorious nations, but of the quiet small conquered places, the details of Empire as Catherine Lutz called them, the things which had to cease to exist in order to create this world order. Or in the case of the Guam (and so many other places), the things which have to cease to matter in order to make the world what it is.

2 comments:

afaxedfish said...

I have enjoyed your comments on both the unemployment issue and the attitude of UOG. I find it strange that UOG does not offer a correspondence or an on-line course for the "history of Guam." The department chair I talked to says that it is necessary for the student to be on the island to get to know the Chamorro people. I find this concept to be short-sighted and only limits the knowledge to people that are wealthy or can get the time off without losing their job. I would think if they wanted their voices heard and known in the issues brought up such as; high unemployment, military build up on Guam, voting rights in the national elections and disappearing Chamorro culture they would want to make that course widely available to the public. Also, there is a large population of Chamorros living off the island, this would be a good way for them to reconnect with their roots. Currently, I am doing a self-study on the history of Guam for a portfolio assesment, I was wondering if you could recommend a book by a Chamorro author that is positive and uplifitng. I can't read another depressing story.

afaxedfish said...

I have enjoyed your comments on both the unemployment issue and the attitude of UOG. I find it strange that UOG does not offer a correspondence or an on-line course for the "history of Guam." The department chair I talked to says that it is necessary for the student to be on the island to get to know the Chamorro people. I find this concept to be short-sighted and only limits the knowledge to people that are wealthy or can get the time off without losing their job. I would think if they wanted their voices heard and known in the issues brought up such as; high unemployment, military build up on Guam, voting rights in the national elections and disappearing Chamorro culture they would want to make that course widely available to the public. Also, there is a large population of Chamorros living off the island, this would be a good way for them to reconnect with their roots. Currently, I am doing a self-study on the history of Guam for a portfolio assesment, I was wondering if you could recommend a book by a Chamorro author that is positive and uplifitng. I can't read another depressing story.

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