Saturday, August 28, 2010

From the Guam Blog: Jurassic Guam

Gof ya-hu este na tinige' ginnen i Guam Blog. Gof ya-hu i lepblo yan mubi Jurassic Park ya annai hu taitai este (ni' muna'yalaka i dos), chumalek yu', lao nina'hasso yu' lokkue'. I hinasson i DOD gi este na tiempo yan i hinasson i duenon Jurassic Park, kalang chumilong. Puru ha' somnak gi me'nan-niha. Taya' prublema yan taya' chathinasso. Achokka' ti matai Si Hammond gi i mubi, matai gui' gi i lepblo. Ya ayu i mita'-na para i binanidosu-na, i bachet-na.

Hafa na parehu na pinadesi gaige gi me'na'-ta put i bachet yan binanidosun i DOD yan i manakhilo' guini?

I’m still not clear on chaos? – Dr. Ellie Sattler. (Laura Dern), in the movie Jurassic Park.

It simply deals with unpredictability in complex systems. Its only principle is the Butterfly Effect. A butterfly can flap its wings in Peking and in Central Park you get rain instead of sunshine. – Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum).
The U.S. planners running the Guam buildup have something in common with the people who operated InGen, the company that created Jurassic Park. They are so confident in their ability to succeed that they are blind to the weaknesses in their planning.

John Hammond (the character played by Richard Attenborough), the CEO of InGen, illustrates the problem. Each time a concern was raised, Hammond had a ready answer.

The full fifty mile of perimeter fence are in place? -- Donald Gennaro, a lawyer who represented the investors backing InGen. (He was played by Martin Ferrero).

And the concrete moats, and the motion sensor tracking systems. Donald, dear boy, do try to relax and enjoy yourself –Hammond.

Hammond saw the problems facing Jurassic Park as a checklist. He believed that by mitigating each problem, he could control his park. But Isla Nublar descended into chaos not because of the failure of any one thing on the checklist, but because of a series of unforeseen and unexpected events across a range of issues. Dr. Malcolm’s warning had been plain: complexity increases unpredictability.

What Guam and Jurassic Park Share

Guam faces a similar problem with the military buildup. The buildup is reshaping Guam and is creating a system that in total is more complex than the list of mitigation strategies it identifies in the EIS.

The dinosaurs on Jurassic Park started eating people only after a series of things of things went wrong: A tropical storm muddied roads at the same time a disgruntled employee was attempting a theft; a flawed security system; computer systems without backups, and, of course, the ability of the dinosaurs to override genetic controls to limit their reproduction. All these things combined to cripple the park.

The EIS doesn’t, and can’t, consider how all the things it seeks to accomplish will interact and what new risks will emerge for Guam.

The Fictional 'No Action Alternative'

Buildup opponents believe that the sum total of the changes the military will bring to island’s infrastructure, environment and culture, will be too much for the island to bear. But the government has not responded to their concern because it can’t. The EIS doesn’t look at the buildup as a connected system of enormous complexity. Instead, it addresses one issue at a time. The comment responses make that clear.

In its summary of the 10,000 comments about the buildup, the EIS doesn’t recognize, as a category, those who oppose the buildup, the fictional “no action alternative.” The military's planners are as blind and as arrogant as Hammond.

But even in its piecemeal, checklist approach to Guam's future, the EIS analysis can be horribly lame.

John, the kind of control you're attempting is not possible. If there's one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free. It expands to new territories. It crashes through barriers. Painfully, maybe even .. dangerously, but and ... well, there it is. – Malcolm.
A revealing aspect of the EIS is how it reports the buildup's expected population impact. For instance, it estimates that in 2012 “dependents of off-island workers” will number 11,184. Why didn’t the EIS round-off its estimate and provide, as well, an estimated range? (Vol. 1, page 44).

The EIS Uses False Precision to Disguise its Fictions

The intent of precise population figures may be to give the impression to Guam that the EIS planners really know what they are doing, when all they may be doing is masking their uncertainty about the actual impact.

And does anyone really know, for instance, what impact 18,000 or so foreign laborers will have on Guam – a population increase of 10% alone? No.

The EIS talks about the need for recreational activities for foreign workers, cultural sensitivity training and organized outings, but it can’t imagine how those workers will interact with the local population, the environment, and how they may ultimately impact the island. The massive increase in population, not just from foreign labor, defines unpredictability.

The EIS's Failure

In 2000, Bill Joy, then chief scientist of Sun Microsystems, looked at the problem of complexity in an essay published in Wired, titled, Why the future doesn’t need us. One of the things he examined was the anti-technology argument raised by the so-called Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski.

Kaczynski's dystopian vision describes unintended consequences, a well-known problem with the design and use of technology, and one that is clearly related to Murphy's law -- "Anything that can go wrong, will." (Actually, this is Finagle's law, which in itself shows that Finagle was right.) Our overuse of antibiotics has led to what may be the biggest such problem so far: the emergence of antibiotic-resistant and much more dangerous bacteria. Similar things happened when attempts to eliminate malarial mosquitoes using DDT caused them to acquire DDT resistance; malarial parasites likewise acquired multi-drug-resistant genes.

The cause of many such surprises seems clear: The systems involved are complex, involving interaction among and feedback between many parts. Any changes to such a system will cascade in ways that are difficult to predict; this is especially true when human actions are involved.
The difference between problems Joy described and what the buildup will do for Guam, is not a reach. Guam is an island, a world to itself with limited resources, fragile on many levels, and with an environment that is completely interconnected.

Guam is now about to be rearranged by the U.S. government, which has prepared what is at best a grocery list of changes. But the EIS does not know how the buildup will change Guam and what new risks may emerge out of all the changes it will bring. The EIS does not prepare Guam for what’s ahead.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Buildup News from Okinawa and Japan

Daily Yomiuri Shimbun
Decision on Futenma Relocation Unlikely Until at Least 2011
Satoshi Ogawa / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent
Aug. 22, 2010

WASHINGTON--It has become almost certain that essential details of the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture will remain unresolved until at least 2011, as the Japanese and U.S. governments have basically agreed to abandon the Aug. 31 deadline they set earlier.

The two governments agreed Thursday on the outline of a report--to be released by working-level experts from both countries by the end of this month--regarding an exact location for the Futenma replacement facility and the design of its runway, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The outline calls for the forthcoming report to incorporate two plans as "feasible options" for the relocation facility: two runways in a V-shaped formation or a single runway, with the understanding that the facility will be located on the shore of the Henoko district in Nago in the prefecture, they said.

Incorporating both plans into the report means postponing a final decision on the specifics of the replacement base, which runs counter to the Tokyo-Washington agreement reached May 28 to complete "without fail" the task of specifying the location, runway design and construction method for the facility by the end of August, the sources said.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan's government sees the extension as inevitable, because finalizing the details of the relocation at this time would further alienate the Okinawa prefectural government, they said. The Okinawa government has steadfastly opposed relocating the functions of the Futenma facility within the prefecture.

The bilateral consultations among experts took place for three days through Thursday at the U.S. Defense Department, State Department and elsewhere in Washington, the sources said.

Broad agreements were reached on two points. One, the facility should be built somewhere in the seaside area of Henoko in Nago, in a method similar to what was agreed upon by Japan and the United States in 2006. Two, the facility should be built on reclaimed land.

The U.S. side reiterated its position that a V-shaped formation of two runways, conatined in the 2006 accord, was the best option.

The Japanese side, however, insisted that a single runway be included as a possible alternative in the report, the sources said. It did so in a bid to prevent Okinawa residents from feeling that a decision was being made with no consideration for their wishes, the sources said.

At the start of the latest consultations, both the Japanese and U.S. governments intended to finish compiling a number of details, but they were once again unable to avoid putting off a decision, U.S. government sources said.

According to the Japanese sources, the failure to determine details of the planned relocation has made it extremely difficult to hold a meeting of foreign and defense ministers from Tokyo and Washington, or two-plus-two talks, to formally decide on the relocation issue before the forthcoming Okinawa Prefecture gubernatorial election scheduled for Nov. 28.

Given that the Futenma problem cannot be settled in time for U.S. President Barack Obama's scheduled visit to Japan in mid-November, there are strong indications that the relocation of the air station will remain unresolved until 2011 and perhaps even later, the sources said.

Prior to the release of the report at the end of August, the two governments will hold a final round of expert consultations on the Futenma issue on Thursday and Friday in Tokyo to finalize the wording of the report and how to release it to the public, they said.

+ = = = = + = = = = + = = = = + = = = = + = = = = + = = = = + = = = = + =

Kyodo News
Gov't to Unveil Expert Report on Futenma Relocation by End of August
Aug 23 01:18 AM US/Eastern

TOKYO, Aug. 23 (AP) - (Kyodo) — Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said Monday the government intends to disclose an expert report on the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa, due to be compiled by the end of this month.

"It is yet to be decided whether the whole of the report will be disclosed or just its summary but it will be made public in some way," Sengoku told a press conference earlier Monday.

The Japanese and U.S. governments agreed in a Japan-U.S. joint statement in May that a fresh study by experts on the location, configuration and construction method of the replacement facility for the Futenma base would be completed by the end of August.

The report is expected to incorporate two plans on the relocation facility for the Futenma base -- two runways in a V-shaped formation and a single runway.

On the subject of easing the burden on the people of Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan, Sengoku said, "I believe the joint-statement agreed on May 28 covers the issue to a respectable degree." "We need to hold talks with the United States about the issue while taking note of what Okinawa has to say," he added.

In the joint-statement, the two sides recognized the importance of responding to the concerns of the people of Okinawa that they bear a disproportionate burden related to the presence of U.S. forces.


Kan Asks US to Cooperate to Reduce Okinawa Burden
NHK World
2010/08/24 17:08(JST)

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan has asked for cooperation from the United States on reducing Okinawa's burden of hosting US bases.

Kan made the call when he met the commander of US military forces in the Pacific, Admiral Robert Willard, who was accompanied by US Ambassador to Japan John Roos in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Kan said this year marks the 50th anniversary of the revision of the Japan-US security treaty. He said the two countries' alliance is the core of Japan's diplomacy, and that he hopes to further deepen bilateral ties in broad areas.

Admiral Willard said the Japan-US alliance is in good shape, and that recognition of the importance of the alliance is deepening among countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Kan also referred to the issue of relocating the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture. He said Japan will aim to build a replacement runway in the Henoko area in Nago City, also in Okinawa, based on a Japan-US agreement reached in May, but that it is important to obtain Okinawa's understanding.

Kan said he would like to ask for further US cooperation on decreasing Okinawa's base-hosting burden.


Futenma Move Flares Up As Budget Issue
Thursday, August 19, 2010

TOKYO (Nikkei)--The relocation of the American military's Futenma air base in Okinawa is becoming a flash point in the national budgets of both Japan and the U.S., which are at odds over how much Japan should pay for moving some of the Marines to Guam.

Japan is pushing to reduce its share of the costs of keeping U.S. forces stationed here -- dubbed the "sympathy budget" in Japan. The U.S. is not going along and wants Japan to put up more money for the move to Guam, which is part of a broader deal that includes replacing Futenma with another base in a less-populated part of Okinawa.

At a meeting Tuesday outside of Washington, D.C., foreign affairs and defense experts from both sides were unable to agree on the placement of the runway at the new base, or on how to build it. A decision is likely to be postponed until after the Okinawa gubernatorial election on Nov. 28. But Japan's Defense Ministry must submit its budget request for next fiscal year by the end of this month.

The multiyear bilateral agreement committing Japan to the sympathy budget expires next March, which marks the end of the government's current fiscal year. The ministry wants to include base spending for next fiscal year in a special budget category that pits programs against each other in an open debate over funding.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan would have the last word. Forcing the sympathy budget to endure this "policy contest" could strain negotiations with the U.S., says one diplomatic source.

A new agreement on the sympathy budget must be approved by the Diet. With the opposition in control of the upper house, deliberations could turn stormy.

The Defense Ministry aims to secure 500 million dollars, or about 42.7 billion yen, in fiscal 2011 budget funding for the Marines' move to Guam. That will not satisfy the U.S. side. On July 28, the House of Representatives advanced a bill that would provide 273 million dollars less for the transfer than the Obama administration had requested. The Senate is also leaning toward major funding cuts. The bill covers spending for Washington's fiscal 2011, which begins in October.

With the Futenma problem dragging on, there is little hope for completing the base-and-troop relocation on schedule in 2014. Washington sees this as a reason to ask Japan for money, but Tokyo is still clinging to the 2014 deadline. Both sides seem to be talking past each other.

(The Nikkei Aug. 19 morning edition)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Help Fund This Project!!!!

Hermon and Jeannae made the following short piece about the recent protest at the Pagat trailhead, while they were recently here on Guam filming for their project "Weaving Solidarity." If you actually watch it, you can see my dongkalo yan chatpa'go na face, and Sumahi's sleeping form on my shoulder within the first few seconds. Hermon and Jeannae interviewed me while at the protest and I guess what I had to say resonated with them. I'm not the only person that they interviewed while they were here, they also talked to people from the National Trust, Joe Quinata, John Benavente, members of We Are Guahan and even Carl Peterson from the Chamber of Commerce.

Pagat Rough cut from Hermon Farahi on Vimeo.

Later on we had more conversations about Guam's past and present and about what directions they can take with their documentary project, and so I think I'll be signing on to help as a producer. There are so many angles from which you can cover Guam right now, from either a journalistic or academic context and so it'll be both frustrating and fun trying to figure out which concepts to use and stories to tell. Is Guam a story of simple militarization? A resurgence of indigenous identity and community? The local struggling against the national or the global? An emboldening of colonialism proper? An attempt at decolonization?

In the meantime, Hermon and Jeannae's project needs funding. Its just at its start and so if you are able to please donate using the widget above. They are hoping to reach a goal of $3,500 via kickstarter (which if they reach will lead to more funds) and only have 12 days left.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Nagasaki Trip, Post # 6: So Our Children May Live in Peace

“So Our Children May Live in Peace”
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Marianas Variety
August 18, 2010

We on Guam should all know about the US testing of nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands and its deadly and tragic legacy. It is something that this entire region should take seriously, and teach to students of all levels, alongside Columbus sailing blue oceans, Americans and their independence or Chamorros suffering in Manengon waiting for liberation. It is critical because that history of nuclear testing speaks volumes to the relationship Micronesia has to the United States, by making clear this region’s strategic value.

But, one thing that we should always keep in mind is that the Marshall Island weren’t the only place where nuclear weapons were tested in the Pacific. There were US tests in the Aleutians, French tests in French Polynesia and British tests in Kiribati and Australia.

At the 2010 World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs that I attended last week in Japan, I got the chance to hear the story of Paul Ahpoy who is a member of an association for veterans from Fiji who were adversely affected by the testing at Christmas Island in Kiribati. Paul, who was a sailor in the British Navy and witnessed 7 tests, during his speech described a typical test day as follows:

…we would line up on the beach and were told to obey orders from a loud speaker on poles nearby. With our groups of about 400 servicemen, none of us wore any special protective clothing or monitoring devices. An airburst weapon would be dropped over the ocean about 12 miles away…, we would follow the drills, sit down, close your eyes, this would be followed by a searing heat flash, then sound waves enough to bust your eardrums. We would be ordered to stand up and turn around to see the huge moonlike object in the sky which then turned into a huge mushroom, blotting out the sun. We would then be yelled at to run for cover as strong winds blew in from the seas and black rain would pour down from the sky.
A British veteran of those tests, Ken McGinley wrote in his book No Risks Involved, that when the bomb exploded “…there was a flash. At that instant I was able to see straight through my hands. I could see the veins. I could see the blood, I could see all the skin tissue, I could see the bones, and worst of all, I could see the flash itself. It was like looking into a white-hot diamond, a second sun.”

Paul and other sailors were not warned about the radioactive materials they were transporting, nor the dangerous effects of the testing and were in fact being fed fish from the very waters which were being poisoned by the testing. For the past 50 years, these sailors and their families have struggled with unknown, horrible diseases, which have claimed the lives of their children in mysterious shocking ways or made them and their children sterile. It was common for them to kiss their children goodnight and find them dead in the morning having choked to death on their own blood. Paul summed up his own tragedies as follows: “Personally I have had 59 lumps removed from my body. I lost my daughter when she was 3 ½ years old. My son is sterile and I fully understand that I will never have a grandchild. “

Through their organization, the Fiji veterans won the right to sue the British Government for compensation last year. Despite this victory, they recently had to close their office, and as in all cases such as this, the more time passes, the more pass on and the heavier the burden is for those who remain.

Paul concluded his speech by recounting what these veterans were told prior to these tests; namely that what they were doing with these bombs was a great service to humanity so that all their children could live in peace. Prior to the US conducting their testing in the Marshall Islands, they told the people of Bikini a similar thing, that because of the tests their islands, there would be no more wars.

This is why, these tragic stories are so crucial for all of us in the Pacific. These tests were not conducted on the mall in Washington D.C., in Piccadilly Square in London or Les Champs Elysees in Paris. They were conducted in faraway, isolated islands where even if things went horribly wrong, who would really be affected? A few thousand people which as Henry Kissinger noted, no one gives a damn about anyways? Some sea turtles and some coral and coconut trees? In other words, these were places which matter precisely because they do not matter. The lesson here is that while geography is strategically important in today’s globalized world, so is smallness and invisibility.

While Paul was giving his speech, I had a copy of his prepared remarks in front of me. After remembering those words about the great service for humanity those tests meant, he choked up and he quickly ended his speech. I looked down at the text to see what he had left to say. It was just a single sentence, but perhaps the most important one considering his tragic tale. The last line of his speech was: “I now thank you all for sharing with me and hope that our combined efforts to remove forever all nuclear weapons from our planet becomes a reality, so our children may live in peace.”

Monday, August 16, 2010

Nagasaki Trip, Post #5: A $15 Billion Smokescreen

I was asked by a reporter in Nagasaki, Japan about what my thoughts were on the transfer of US Marines from Okinawa to Guam. This came after we had spoken for more than half an hour already on the issue, with me updating him on the latest protests from activists and responses from the Department of Defense. I think that in my statements I had been to rooted in the events I was describing and didn’t say anything which was useful in terms of summing it all up or being a good quote to use in trying to represent the feelings or the mindset of the people on Guam. So he asked a question which I had already spent quite a while answering again in a more direct way in hopes of getting me to give it that less academic, but more human touch.

I always have problems with media and these sorts of questions. Most reporters already have the story written before they speak to a single person, in their head or in their notebooks, and so your purpose is to confirm, deny or provide some details or soundbytes for what they already know or written. For me, my approach to talking about issues isn’t only historical, but more analytical and so my answers to simple or direct questions can often be a nightmare to try and sohmok hålom in an article you’ve already written and simply want a quote to plug in. For example, I could have simply answered the question of my thoughts on the Okinawa-Guam transfer by saying it “sucked” or that it is an “injustice” to the people of Guam. While I believe both of those things, that’s not the way my brain is hard-wired to answer the question. For me those sorts of answers might be true, but might be pointless, since they don’t really lead us anywhere in reality, especially in terms of gaining a better understanding of it in order to change or challenge something.

So when I answered this reporter’s question I gave into my instincts and hu tufoki gui’ a very nuanced and complex answer which would be impossible to transform into a nice, cute soundbyte, but which might make a good framework for a different, longer article. When you are challenging the prevailing interests or powers, all your actions must be attempts to expand your ideological message, to cast its net wider to bring in more agents, more arguments, and change the color of the world, change the meanings of things which you see as being strategic to your cause in other a supportive or antagonistic way. That is why, for me answering the question in a way in which I simply accept the transfer as a thing in the world which I will name in a negative way, isn’t enough. It is not enough to simply disparage it, you also have to try and get into its guts, to rend them, rip them apart, to try and literally dissect it and re-signify it.

I said that the US Okinawa-Guam transfer was a grand, expensive smokescreen. It was one of those instances where some massive or huge change is planned or proposed precisely to keep something else (hovering above or in the background) in place, untouched or perhaps even invigorated.

I don’t know what would be the best language to describe this phenomena since it is not a fail, a counter, a distraction, and neither is it pointless or meaningless. To say that it is a smokescreen does not mean that it is very real or concrete, it does not mean that it won’t affect things, damage or change things. But despite the massiveness and the ways in which certain places or things seem to be sewn into it, it is not meant to change the thing you are supposed to believe it does.

The US has been planning for decades and implementing for at least 10 years a restructuring of its forces in Asia and the Pacific. Part of that restructuring has been putting into effect The Nixon Doctrine or the Guam Doctrine which means letting US allies take more responsibility for their own defense. We can see this most prominently in South Korea where the US is paradoxically working to reduce and expand its presence there, although it is habitually behind schedule. The US is closing once key bases, such as those in Seoul, while expanding others further South, and even working to construct new ones such as on Jeju. Troops get pulled back and moved to bases further South of the DMZ, but with their movements come in new weapons and ballistic missile systems meant to box in or menace China. So the new facilities which the US builds are joint-facilities which both the US and SK militaries will use. As a result, restructuring, moving, change, but everything remains the same.

You cannot even call it a shell game, because there is no real mis-direction, everything remains pretty much the same, but there are certain large, symbolic shifts, which people take more seriously than they should, which they assume to mean far more than it does.

I am always surprised to hear people in Guam and elsewhere think of the move from Okinawa to Guam as the Marines being “kicked out of Okinawa” and implying that the US military is now gone from the island. The simple idea that US Marines are leaving Okinawa for Guam creates an impression of something larger than that move alone, it provides clues which helps reinforce the smokescreen. Too often these things are believed by those with liberal or antiwar tendencies, who wish for it to be true. Who wish that the idea of the US being moved from Okinawa to Guam, being something forced into reality by a peoples’ movement, by protest and by peace-inspired action. In the desire for it to be true, the rest of the story, the strings which make it a less inspiring, more complicated story are either forgotten or not even investigated. The protests are only part of the equation, and while they are my favorite part, the issue is so complex that it is even ridiclous to say something akin to the US leaving Okinawa, since it is blatantly not true.

One of the most hysterical things about the so-called move of US troops out of Okinawa to Guam, is that even if that move is completed, the troop levels there could remain exactly the same. Futenma might be closed, but the string attached to that closure is that Camp Schwab be expanded.

As I said to the reporter, this move is primarily a political one. And by that I don’t mean political in the philosophical sense, but political in a more de-contextualized sense, as something pathetically about politics and the illusion of action, or the way in which politicians solve problems. You use misdirection, pointless resolutions and sometimes big massive changes which are designed to keep as much the same as possible. The idea of US troops moving is important for both the Japanese and the US governments to keep intact a close militaristic relationship. The Japanese government needs to find a way of defying the wishes of the majority of its people who want less to do with the US military and are less inclined to accept their bases in its country, and the US military wants to find someway of appearing to follow the Guam Doctrine, or appearing to pull back or move back, while remaining in all the current backyards they are camped in. Although this thought probably didn’t translate very easily, I concluded by saying that this move was a $15 billion dollar public relations stunt, and not much else.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Nagasaki Trip, Post #4: Postcards from Okinawa

I've gotten so many cool gifts in Japan, small little presents which often times a Japanese activist would hand to me, respectfully bow, say their name and where they were from and then be gone. In both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I received several thousand paper cranes, sometimes tied together in huge bundles. I also got cards, letters, pictures, posters, buttons, stickers, bookmarks and plenty of other wonderful little gifts.

Some of the nicest gifts I received were from activists from Okinawa. I got a number of small, multi-colored, stuffed animal dugongs, which is an animal of national importance in Japan and whose habitat will be threatened if the US goes through with its plans to build new military facilities in Henoko Bay. I also received from an Okinawan delegate a set of three postcards, each of which was meant to provide a different perspective or piece of information on the struggle there against US bases.
The first postcard was a picture of Henoko Bay, which when I first saw, could not help but think of Guam in terms of similar natural beauty. In addition to the large shot you can find smaller images of the coral of Henoko Bay as well as the gof matungo' na dugong. The second postcard was of an aerial shot of Futenma Base which is dangerously located directly in the heart of Ginowan City in Southern Okinawa. This base is known as being the most dangerous US base in the world, due to the fact that thousands of people live in areas around the base which US laws require be empty in case of accidents. If Futenma was located in the US it would have most likely been closed or moved long ago, but since it is in Japan, the US is trying to force Japan to let it expand another base in order to replace Futenma should it close. The third postcard is of a protest in Okinawa several months ago which drew close to 100,000 people. The postcard has a tiny insert which is a picture of a sign at that protest that reads (I was told) "Do Not Trample on the People of Okinawa!"
Here are the images from the postcards below. Unfortunately I did not write down the name of the activist who gave me these postcards, but I did want to say Si Yu'us Ma'ase for them, and to all the people in Japan who did give me presents whose names I didn't note down either. Si Yu'us Ma'ase ginnen i mas tahdong gi korason-hu.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hiroshima Trip, Post #9: Picturing the Multitude

During the Hiroshima Rally for the 2010 World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen bombs, as an overseas delegate I got to sit in the very front row, with a great view of every speaker who stood at the podium or almost everyone who got on stage. This meant that even with my cheap K-Mart digital camera I could still take “cool” looking shots, which would have been mediocre or impossible to discern if I had been a hundred feet or so back into the crowd.

As I saw dozens of speakers cycle across the podium and dozens of activist groups from around Japan come up to present their efforts, I didn’t only take pictures of them, but also found myself taking pictures of the people who were taking pictures. For different speakers, a different, always evolving and morphing throng of people with cell phones, digital cameras and yes even disposable camera would be surging forward to get a better shot at what or who was on stage. For some there would be just a handful of picture-takers, who would laze about finding the best angles. But for others, i mas matungo’ pat maguaiya na taotao, you would have a mob, all wrapped up, arms and limbs twisting together, arms holding their cameras in flailing ways, attempting to somehow get a great random shot from over the unhelpful currents of people in the crowd. I’m certain that a lot of people after returning back to their seats, and looking at their pictures, were irked at the fact that they had taken a dozen quick and blind shots of the armpit of someone, the hair of someone, the ceiling, or even their own fingers.

After a while, I stopped just taking photos of those taking photos, but also decided to count them as well, to try and keep track, as best I could of who was the most popular, who was the one that the most people wanted to have a blurry image of on their Iphone, or something to share on their Facebook. Some people were press, from various media outlets and so they were always milling around the stage somewhere. One camera man, a short middle aged Japanese man was particularly visible and present, because he carried with him a short step ladder, which he would quickly open up and scale to give him an extra 3 or 4 feet over the rest of the crowd.

There was a small boy who was mampos kinute, in the way that he would run forward periodically to take photos with a digital camera that looked massive in his hands. He was short and would sometimes have the place the camera on the stage above him, and reach up to click the button to take pictures of what he hoped or assumed would be there.

The program was primarily single speakers representing groups or countries, but at times large numbers of people holding signs and banners and artwork would head up there, to represent a certain grassroots group or area. At a certain moment during a presentation (the moment I felt was the height of their “fame” in terms of people gathering taking pictures) I would quickly count and jot down the number present. Once the conference was all over, I tallied them up and will share with you now the top three.

Interestingly enough the top 3, all came on the second day of the rally, which was also the last day of the rally in Hiroshima, before the conference moved to Nagasaki. I’m assuming that part of this was because people had slowly built up enough nerve to charge forward, cameras ready and so by the second day more and more people felt comfortable with placing their dåggans in front of the faces of 7,400 people.

The 3rd biggest crowd was for the United Nations High Representative of the Commission on Disarmament, Sergio Duarte. Earlier in the day, the UN Secretary General had attended the memorial ceremony for the Hiroshima Bombing at the Peace Park and given a speech, and throughout the conference people had spoken favorably about Ban Ki-Moon and his being more aggressive on nuclear abolition as connected to issues of peace, security and survival in the world. During the NPT Review Conference in May, he had given a speech at the Riverside Church, which had given a lot of hope for activists from around the world, who would later be disappointed or frustrated with the lack of hope, change or progress from within the NPT negotiations themselves.

Although Sergio Duarte was most definitely not Ban Ki-Moon, the star of the UN Secretary General and the UN in general had risen so high in Hiroshima by that point, that High Representative Duarte got the spillover love and affection. I am more than certain that most people who took his picture had no idea who he was, but the fact that he was from the UN alone and probably passed Ban Ki-Moon in the hallways in New York sometimes or had fondue with him sometimes, was enough to get people out of their seats to take his picture.

The 2nd biggest crowd that I counted belonged to the former chair of the Communist Party in Japan, Kazuo Shii. This may come as a surprise for most people who read this blog, who might be left-leaning or liberal, but still staunchly distrustful of “communism,” but Japan (like most countries including the United States) has an established communist political party. In some places it is weaker than others, and so in Japan, several years ago around 40 members of both houses of its Diet were from the Japanese Communist Party. Today however, changes in how districts vote, make it more difficult for smaller parties to get seats and so one reporter told me that they only have about 10 seats now. Satoshi Inoue, a current JCP member of the House of Councilors and a former member Koizumi, both visited Guam last year in order to gather some information on Guam and whether or not it could handle or even wanted the transfer of Marines from Okinawa. I got to have lunch with them and their delegation while they were here, and it was refreshing since they represented the first politicians from either the US or mainland Japan to come through Guam and visit, who actually listened and were concerned to the point where they weren’t just looking for an excuse to say things will be okay and that the buildup train should proceed as planned. They were an important link for me in terms of finally receiving some word from Japan that they weren’t as mindless and stupid as the US media portrayed them, to enthusiastically agree to pay billions of dollars so that a foreign government can move its military forces.

At the Hiroshima Rally, which was a gathering of several thousand liberals, progressives, radicals and peaceniks of all kinds, the chair of the JCP was a celebrity of sorts. I have to admit though, that I didn’t know who he was, and since his name wasn’t listed in the program it was hard to figure out who he was. I had to ask one of the organizers who he was after I saw a huge mass of people rush to the front rows and aisles to get a picture of him.

Finally, put fin, the “presence” which drew the most flashing cameras, was not actually a single speaker or a single group. At the end of the rally, a few musical artists performed, and then everyone and anyone was called onto the stage in order to sing the song “We Shall Overcome.” As hundreds of people, activists young and old, delegates from all across Japan and from overseas all crowded onto the stage, a folk singer who had performed during the first day helped lead people in the verses of “We Shall Overcome.” People held hands, hugged each other, cried, and swayed back and forth, feeling the energy of the past few days, feeling the energy from their actions over the past few months, whether it was protesting, gathering signatures, folding paper cranes. As they stood on stage singing, hundreds more people left their seats and gathered around the stage, taking pictures and sometimes quickly shutting off their cameras to rush on stage to join the crowd there. This crowd of picture takers was so massive and amorphous that I couldn’t even accurately count it very well, which is why it’s at the top of my list.

It was a truly inspiring moment, to see not a single person or group, not a celebrity or famous face drew the most people to the stage, but rather this multitude, the manifestation of peace and possibility. People who are drawn to take a picture, to capture a moment, to idealize the commitment of someone else, the work they are doing, to admire them upon their pedestal (or stage), but then suddenly drawn into the movement, seeing that the difference is minute, that the difference between the supporter of a cause and those active in it is not only nothing, but something that can and should be overcome.

I’m almost embarrassed to say how many people took pictures of me while I was speaking. It was not a lot, but at least I can take solace in the fact that the photographer with the step ladder, got a lot of good shots of me from his perch.

Hiroshima Trip, Post # 8: 5,501 Names

I am not a journalist, and for anyone who has read this blog before, that should be obvious. Even though I do try to capture as many details as I can when I attend an event, or analyze something, too often the analysis is far more important to me than the communication of the basic facts of something. So for example, the majority of the blog posts which I've written for this trip to Japan thus far, weren't written in such a way that you would know the ins and outs of what's being going on here, or understand all the issues that have been brought up, or what the conversations are like. Instead, I often focus on a single thing or set of things and then interrogate them in such a way, that its easy to think that I'm talking about massive huge things, when in truth from the event itself I'm drawing evidence or inspiration from, I was only analyzing a single thing said, or a single exchange.

Most of the time I'm perfectly fine with this. I had once wanted to be a journalist, when I was an undergraduate, but the constraints of proper, garden variety journalistic writing did not appeal to me. The watering down or whittling down of something important or critical into a couple of paragraphs is an art which is nice to see other people have, but something I'd rather not even try to be a master of. But every once in a while I feel like I'm doing a disservice to people, since some might come to this blog or read my work hoping for that extra level of information. For instance, a friend who attended the NPT Review Conference in New York in May, told me that a South Korea activist who also attended and is based in the US, loved reading my posts from my South Korean Solidarity trip in June. According to this activist, in the states they are often disconnected from what happens on the peninsula, especially the on the ground work which different groups or communities are conducting, and so what I wrote gave her some of the most detailed insight into the conversations going on.

For this trip, since there is plenty of press everywhere, and these are not quiet meetings in hamlets which will be destroyed to expand training ranges, I've focused more on my own thoughts and analysis. This means, not only seeing things from a Guam or Chamorro perspective, but also thinking about questions of the nature of violence, activism, identity, ethics or war through what I've found in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But I did feel a bit sad that after witnessing the Peace Ceremony on August 6th in Hiroshima, I didn't take good enough notes to write up a decent peace just informing people about what had happened there. Thankfully, another delegate on this trip Darrell Miho, from Los Angeles, attended the event as press and not only got some great photos, but also produced an article on the event for the US based Japanese newspaper Rafu Shimpo. I've pasted his article below and the picture above is from him as well.


Calls for Peace, 65 Years Later
Rafu Shimpo
August 7, 2010

HIROSHIMA, Japan.—The shrill call of cicadas filled the morning air while hearts grew heavy as thoughts turned toward that fateful day 65 years ago when the first atomic bomb to be used in warfare was dropped on Hiroshima, instantly killing an estimated 100,000 innocent people.

An estimated crowd of 55,000 endured the heat and humidity at the 2010 Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony held at Hiroshima Peace Park. It is a day spent remembering a day many would rather forget. But those who show up cannot forget that day, nor the terrible days that followed. As the name suggests, this gathering is not only about remembering those who died and suffered, but also reminding us to work toward peace.

At 8:15 a.m., the audience stood while a bell for peace was rung eight times. Setsuko Thurlow, who now resides in Toronto, recalled that moment 65 years ago. “I saw the bluish-white flash and I still remember the sensation of floating in the air. That’s the end of my consciousness. When I regained consciousness in the total darkness and silence, I couldn’t move my body so I knew I was faced with death.”

She said she escaped being burnt alive with the assistance of a faceless voice which told her “keep pushing, keep kicking. I’m trying to lift the timbers which is keeping you [from moving]. I’m trying to free you.” Some of her classmates were not so lucky.

Officials from 74 countries is the most ever to attend the annual ceremony. The attendance of U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos, who presented a floral wreath, marks the first time an American diplomat attended the Peace Ceremony and is viewed by many Japanese as a good sign that perhaps President Barack Obama would visit Hiroshima in November when he attends the APEC Summit in Yokohama. Representatives from nuclear weapon states France and Great Britain as well as the United Nations also made their first appearance.

U. N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s childhood memories of trudging through mud toward the mountains while his village burned behind him during the Korean War is what motivated him to become a peace seeking leader. “All those lives lost, families destroyed – so much sadness. Ever since, I have devoted my life to peace. It has brought me here today,” Ban said.

As a hibakusha, Thurlow believes Ban’s presence helps recognize the seriousness and the urgency to the war problem. For her, the ceremony gave her an opportunity to contemplate and reflect what it was all about. “It was painful to remember, difficult [to] remember, but [we] say to those [who] perished that we haven’t forgotten them. We’re here.” And to let them know that “we have been working all these years to prevent the recurrence of that terrible thing which happened.”

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan noted in his speech that “the horror and misery caused by nuclear weapons must never be repeated. Japan, as the only country to have been struck by nuclear bombs, has a moral responsibility to take leadership to a nuclear free world.”

This leadership role was shared by Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, a long time proponent for peace, who urged the government of Japan to “take the lead in the pursuit of the elimination of nuclear weapons.”

Every August, people focus their attention on Hiroshima and Nagasaki for world peace, but the Japanese people focus their attention year round. Ban acknowledged their peace efforts, both young and old. “A more peaceful world can be ours. You are helping to make it happen. You, the survivors, who inspired us with your courage and fortitude. You, the next generations, the young generation, striving for a better day.”

Children in Japan are very keen towards peace in their world. Mikina Takamatsu, a sixth grader at Fukuromachi Elementary School in Hiroshima, stood on a wooden riser alongside sixth grader Kazuhiro Yokobayashi from Furutudai Elementary School to convey the youth of Japan’s commitment to peace.

“There are many serious problems in the world today. Many children have lost their smiles in the conflict and poverty that surrounds them. Sad things such as bullying and violence are taking place in our everyday lives. If we do not work to resolve these problems, there will be no future for us.”

After the ceremony, thousands of people fanned themselves as they patiently waited in line in the sweltering heat in order to pay their respects. Like Emperor penguins, they shuffled their feet and slowly inched toward the Cenotaph where the names of those who have died have been laid to rest.

Every year, the crypt is opened and the names of those who have passed away the previous year are added and then sealed for another year. It is a ritual that has been repeated 57 times since the Cenotaph was completed in April of 1954. This year, 5,501 names were added during the ceremony.

The Hiroshima Peace Ceremony is an annual reminder to everyone that it is our responsibility to create a world of peace. While there were several speeches given by much older dignitaries, the words of Takamatsu, the youngest speaker, summed up the feelings of many who were present.

“We cannot change what happened in the past, but we can learn from it and if each of us acts with the strong desire for change, we can build a peaceful world.”

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Nagasaki Trip, Post #3: Peace, Love and Reality

Conferences exists to bring together a large group of people who think and live on the same page, or who would at least like to try and do so. The conference is like a warm, safe blanket around which they can hopefully surround their thoughts, their identities, or at minimum at least something where they can trust the space as safe and will not threaten or antagonize them in certain expected, but unwanted ways.

You could all have the same job, be of the same ethnicity or race, or have shared research, political or professional interests, but every conference tends to be a great big bubble. And in that bubble you can hang out, speak jargon, share the feeling of being in your own imagined community and feel safe and secure in the fact that this bubble exists to limit certain potential challenges or critiques. If you are at an Ethnic Studies conference, then it is unlikely that in the middle of your presentation, someone will stand up and defiantly call Ethnic Studies a useless pointless discipline and a disgusting example of the perniciousness of reverse racism!! That type of rhetoric might be connected, but it exists to support a different imagined bubble community and is the type of discourse that space exists to challenge often times through analysis or simple exclusion.

Or, if you are at a conference dealing with the abolition of nuclear weapons, you would not expect to hear anyone defending the existing or use of nuclear weapons. The conditions by which you choose to enter that space or are invited to it, are such that someone who believe that nuclear weapons have a positive purpose would not be present.

But every space holds the potential for falling apart, every space, even those based on peace and love and unity, can easily be deflated or dissolved with the sharp sting of reality, or some errant discourse which everyone present does not agree with, want to hear, or rather not have to address. Although much of the discussion at this conference fit smoothly or evenly together, where people agreed with each other or at least tacitly agreed to ignore the things that didn’t quite fit nicely, there were some moments where cold, unwelcome water was splashed on people. As I’ve already written about last week, some of it centered around South Korea or Koreans and their desire to be recognized as hibakusha as well as victims of US imperialism and Japanese colonialism.

So much of the conference was built upon things such as dialogue, trust, partnership, taking the role of structuring global politics that nuclear weapons now holds. So from this framework, the usual bad guys for the US and its allies, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, were not the focus. Instead, the bad guys were those countries who rely on nuclear weapons for their power and authority, or who block attempts to abolish them.

People would qualify themselves in certain, precise ways to make sure that it was clear that they didn’t support the regimes or some countries, but rather they didn’t seem them as the greatest threats to peace or humankind. For example, North Korea, a tiny nation of 24 million communists, is often represented to be the greatest threat to peace in the world. Yet if you look at this in the most objective way possible, South Korea is a far greater threat regionally and internationally. South Korea is a much richer, stronger country and is constantly being emboldened by the military and diplomatic support it receives from the United States. Between the two Koreas, the Southern half is far more likely to do more than talk tough, it is the far more likely one of the two to provoke a conflict or start a war, because of that feeling of superiority and having the world’s greatest military backing you up. Or, how do the nuclear aspirations of Iran compare with the existing nuclear arsenal of the United States? If Iran successfully creates a single nuclear weapon, how does that stack up against the more than 10,000 the US already has?

Speaking of North Korea, a very awkward and difficult moment took place in Nagasaki, during a forum where representatives of different foreign governments spoke about their countries support for the abolition of nuclear weapons. A Korean man, from South Korea stood up during the question and answer, and asked that in this discussion of get ridding of nuclear weapons, a special exemption be made for South Korea, because of the dangers of North Korea.

Up until that point, hundreds of speakers over more than a week, in both Nagasaki and Hiroshima had deconstructed different ideas of nuclear deterrence and nuclear umbrellas and represented them as being false, misleading or ways in which certain power defend their hegemony over regions. But now, a person appeared who was asking that just in his case, or in the case of his country, you either allow nuclear frameworks to exist or find another way to effectively guarantee their security. For most people, the fear of North Korea, or other would-be nuclear weapons states, the case is abstract. It is something you should simply accept because you don’t know much or care, or in truth, this lack of connection makes it something you could just as easily reject. You can say, “No Nukes, Nuclear Free World” because that threat is not “yours.” It is not local, and so I can imagine around that, because for me it is not primal or mortal. Based on whether or not you have a North Korea, a US, a Iran or an Israel in your immediate vicinity, your relationship to the possibility, value or danger of nuclear weapons can change, and that fear can easily take over your thinking. The rest of the world can get rid of nukes, but in my case, we need them. We are dealing with an enemy who cannot be negotiated with, and so we need the wrath of God, the biggest gun possible, just in case we need to defend ourselves.

This fear is often nothing close to reality, even though its presence can often feel as if reality is flooding into the room ala Inception, starring Leonardo Dicaprio.

The effectiveness of any particular discursive or conversational space, such as a conference or the ideas/politics it represents, is always determined by how that space relates to or is engaged or disengaged with that potential flooding, overwhelming reality. For those seeking to preserve their space, keeping that reality out is absolutely necessary, it has to be excluded in order for you to keep your identities, protect them and keep them safe. For those who want the message or politics of their space to expand further, to become a link in a chain or move to engulf others, such an expansion intimately connected to how well one is able to engage with those ugly truths, those nasty things which people detest because they have the ability to make a once safe space, suddenly unsafe. That ability to engage in the anathemas to your cause or your community is what holds the power in terms of your message growing and shifting and becoming larger than those who attend the conference alone. It is the secret to your message being not just for the “true believers” alone, but something that others with “less consciousness” or faith can also see themselves as belonging to as well.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Nagasaki Trip, Post #2: Yoko Middle School and Guernica

The Museum of Modern Art in Nagasaki is having a peace exhibit as part of the 65th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb there. Although there were many incredibly moving pieces in that exhibit, one massive painting stood out above the rest.

Its title is "The Present, the Past and the Future" and was painted by 22 students from Yoko Middle School and their teacher. Its imagery is inspired by the history the student learned about the terror of nuclear weapons and war, and also their desire for a peaceful world. The clock which brazenly occupies the middle of the composition is familiar to people from Nagasaki, as various clocks which survived the blast in 1945, were all frozen with their hands at 11:02.

There is one more element which I found very interesting about this painting. Its massive size is identical to the well-known anti-war painting "Guernica" by Pablo Picasso. The shades of grey face on the horror and war side of the painting is inspired from the earliest cubist period of Picasso. "Guernica" was painted in an attempt to inform the world as to the horrible atrocities that were being committed during the Spanish Civil War, in this instance where German forces supporting Franco bombed the town of Guernica. What is most haunting about this image is that the distorted and cubist imagery which was common in Picasso's art, now takes on a political message, whether he intends it or not. The bodies twist around and become grotesque and malformed not out of the artists pure desire to break their forms and bend them to his will, because because of war and violence. The pain of sitting helplessly while people bomb you and destroy you is not simply a sound or anguish or a scream, but is an emotion, a force in the world which rends the skin, hijacks the very shapes of people, threatens to transform them into the violence they are crippled with. The limited hues of the painting are very interesting, since while war absolutely causes chaos, it also sucks the life, the color out of things. An interesting way of testifying to how something crucial or vital is always lost or drained away in a war.

Seeing this piece as its own art, and then seeing these connections to history and to art history made this painting truly inspiring to me. Some closeups of the painting are below, as well as a wide full shot of it, complete with people so you can judge for yourself its scale.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Nagasaki Trip, Post 1: The Importance of Small Places

One of the best things about the 2010 Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs is that they take the Pacific very seriously. I attended so many academic conferences at the states and interacted with various antiwar and peace groups, but the Pacific was always something which you had to struggle to incorporate, or struggle to bring into the discussion. Even if it was an Asian American Pacific Islander event, the emphasis was always on Asians or Americans and the Pacific was always sort of brought in as a cute, exotic or ill-fitting footnote. When talking about these fragments from the Pacific, the equality or horizontal nature of the space would quickly be revealed in its dimension of vertical hierarchy, as the Pacific presence would be dealt with through recognition primarily, as something that needs to be seen, and brought into meaning or existence. The way that you can “recognize” this is if your value to the discussion is all cursory, as if what matters is that we have heard or seen what you offer. Your analysis is not necessary relevant or integral to the conversation at hand, but rather an important or unimportant extra helping of information. You, what you are saying or where you come from cannot be enough to substantially change anything, because larger groups, more visible groups hold the floor, and so you have to be relegated to a small, but often times colorful corner of the conversation.

What I have enjoyed about this conference is how the Pacific has been put on equal footing with other regions, because the organizing committee understands that size does matter in terms of nuclear weapons and war, but not always in terms of larger being better, or larger being more strategically important. Small places, unknown and ambiguous places can be just as important to large countries who want to hide their empires or the weapons they use to maintain them.

In my speech in Hiroshima I concluded my remarks with the following, which I will also reiterate in my speech in Nagasaki:

I come from a small island in the Pacific and one of the lessons which the nuclear age, the age of globalization has taught us is that small, unknown places are critical. To the superpowers, such as the United States, they are valuable because to most of the world, and most of their own citizens these places are faraway, unimportant or unknown. They are places where the inhuman violence of nuclear weapons can be stored, tested or placed in anticipation of war. Their smallness, their remoteness, their invisibility is a veil which has its own value for those who feed off of war or rumors of war. Solidarity starts with and is strengthened by the tearing away of that invisibility, and leaving no place left in this world where it is acceptable to store, test or place these weapons.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Hiroshima Trip, Post #7: Through Luck, Not Wisdom

One of the speakers on the first day, Hiroshi Taka, the Secretary General of the group Gensuikyo, which is the main group who organized this conference, made a remark which has been a running theme throughout this conference, but the way that he said it ended up staying with me. Part of the World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs is solidarity with hibakusha or those affected by nuclear radiation, primarily in Japan, but also people the Marshall Islands, Tahiti, Christmas Island or even the Western United States.

…with the passing of 65 years since the A-bombings, it is as especially important task for us to share the experiences and struggles of the Hibakusha as a common knowledge of the human race. Here, in Hiroshima, hundreds of young people participating in this conference will visit Hibakusha and listen to their messages, to inherit their struggle for the survival of humanity. Their testimonies of the tragedies are themselves a powerful refutation of the “nuclear deterrence” doctrine or any other pro-nuclear argument.
One of the things that I loved about this conference was that while many people from many nations spoke English, they all spoke it differently, awkwardly, and sometimes a new or strange way of saying something helps break through the casualness through which I tend to receive or perceive something. For instance, Mr. Taka’s remark that this become a “a common knowledge” of the human race, peeked my interest and made me reflect more on what he was saying.

Hu gof konfotme este, gof impottante na este na tiningo’ u makilili gi todu i nasion siha. Este na tiningo’ gof didok, gof gaibali achokka’ gof na’triste yan makkat lokkue’. Para i mamaila na henerashon siha, i famagu’on i famagu’on-ta, gof impottånte na i tiningo’ put i dåno’ este na atmas siha u ma’ok ya u mago’te.

There are many reasons as to why Mr. Taka’s remark is true, and here are some from my perspective.

The monuments to Man, which each of us carry with us changes based on our background, our politics, but in almost all cases those monuments are positive. They are glowing insistences of heroism, innovation, ingenuity, boldness, all professing that man is truly the greatness and worst creation of God, since he “accidentally” created a defect in man whereby it is the only creation of his which can one day challenge God himself and possibly dethrone him. Even if we know that life is complicated and that bad things happen just as often as good things do, and that for every layer of comfort we might enjoy, there is something which is suffering, being exploited to provide that to us (it could be historical as well).

The poem “The History Teacher” by Billy Collins shows us one of the reasons why this is so:

Trying to protect his students' innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
"How far is it from here to Madrid?"
"What do you call the matador's hat?"

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart, mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.

It is unclear why the history teacher of the poem does what he does in the poem, just as it is assumed, but still unclear what his impact is. Did his pedagogy lead to the violence of the students, or was it already there and we use the teaching as an excuse for its manifestation?

But one of the impulses we can see at play can be found in Arthur Schlesinger’s statement on the chetnot historian, “The passion for tidiness is a historian’s occupational disease.”

There is always a desire to believe, to promote the greatness of some men or man in general. There is a feeling of needing to advertise the greatness of your nation, your people. Or sometimes this tidiness manifests in how there is a urge to tell a “strong history” one in which there are clear lessons or messages (usually more uplifting ones). One of the reasons why people feel this need to make history more neat is because of a feeling that the messiness of history, the horror of it, always makes us look over our shoulders when we act. We cower in fear of the past, what happened before, and always twitch away at the thought of those ghosts grasping at our backs. These ghosts exhale the stench of failure, betrayals, their limits, their problems. It paralyzes men and keeps them from dreaming larger, for fear that they might be suffocated by those ghosts, or worse yet make more of them!

But at the core of this, there is an unspoken belief that man has progressed, not really through hard work, but through sacrifice. Massive amounts of blood, sometimes literal sacrifices of people generally against their will. To build the comfortable and happy-cheerful-yanggen-magof-ya-un-tungo’-pakpakpak-liberal democratic capitalist world of today, required the suffering of billions, the deaths of tens or hundreds of millions and the loss of lands and sovereignty for thousands of peoples. The urge to be tidy about history in this sense is about ensuring that when people learn and know this, it does not keep them from continuing to dream and continuing to reach for the stars. That history be told in such a way that these things are omitted or left out, or that they are recounted solely to be recounted. They are written of in order to be written off. That even if the suffering from these acts continues and layers of injustice continue to pile upon each other, we learn of that past, as being past. Buried and gone where nothing can be done about it, or buried and gone in the sense that things have gotten much better after that. The point is never to dwell on that past, especially not in a way where that negativity affects you or your decisions for the future.

This mindset is simplistic, wrong and misses the point. First, we should always be reminded of the failures or horrific violence of the past because no matter what history lessons you’ve been taught about who man struggled against in his evolution over thousands of years, his enemy has for the most part be one thing. As man journeys on the road to being modern, he struggles against nature, God, each other, but the main thing which drives man on this voyage, is his struggle with fear. And the evidence of this struggle is the oppression, violence and subjugation that we find throughout history. The tidiness of history which each of us enjoy is the kind where, even when we can see the violent foundation upon which our lives our built, we make excuses and we pretend that what happened was for the best of everyone. That even though no one could claim that slaves from Africa volunteered to go to the New World, or that the indigenous peoples of the Americans volunteered, eagerly to be conquered and Christianized, we constantly make those excuses all the time. We imagine those grinning skeletons of the past as someone being part of a larger plan, since everything must happen for a reason, and everything always seems to be getting better and moving up. Si Yu’us ha’ tumungo’, sa’ siempre put ha tungo’ na gaibali ayu na sakrifisia siha.

But in a less abstract and more personal way, we envision that there was in some way a concession, that those people wanted that domination, deserved it, are better off with it, and therefore (in some way) that they wanted to fulfill the wish that we all have for the present moment, and as a result, the same cycle of violence can always continue. The selfishness we feel for what we have today makes us imagine those historical and violated souls as existing to give it to us. That selfishness locks us into the present and requires that we keep that idealized, tidy version of the past, it keeps us from looking at our past with clear eyes, but always makes our interactions with that past, tenuous, limited, nervous, for fear that we might dislodge something from that foundation of our lives, and lose all or some in the process.

But the effect it has on others is what is crucial. If you accept that those forms of violence in the past were necessary or correct, even if quietly and silently, than you accept that the strong, the modern, the better, can and should take things from the weaker, the worthless or the backwards. Those who are stubborn and cannot see the big picture or the good of all, or the need for man to progress, those who won’t give up their land, their sovereignty are just trees in our way to be felled, boulders in the road to be pushed aside. It emboldens us to treat in similar ways those within your own polity but more importantly those outside as well. For instance, although it is rarely ever openly spoken of, so much of the animus the US and Europe have with the Middle East stems from the notion that those countries, who are barely modern, so backward, so medieval in their thinking, sit atop so much oil, so much wealth, but cannot even manage it properly.

Finally, it is important that the stories of hibakusha become common knowledge since they represent the door at the end of humanity. They point to the end of the world as we know it, the moment at which man at last succeeds in annihilating himself and erasing his living presence from the earth. Man must always be reminded of that possibility or that dimension in the world today, that his weapons have gotten bigger than himself. The human race can be destroyed and this is not some abstract or fanciful idea, but something which there are those who have the scars to prove it.

On August 6, during the morning Peace ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, the mayor of Hiroshima Tadatoshi Akiba gave a speech, a passage of which ties all of this together. Although human beings may want to celebrate all the great things which have been accomplished in the history of this world, one of the most important reasons why we should always dwell on the negative and keep in mind the horrible, is because the reason man has not yet used his weapons to annihilate himself, has nothing to do with the greatness of the human spirit or character. As Mayor Akiba stated in his speech:

Clearly, the urgency of nuclear weapons abolition is permeating our global conscience; the voice of the vast majority is becoming the preeminent force for change in the international community. To seize this unprecedented opportunity and actually achieve a world without nuclear weapons, we need above all to communicate to every corner of our planet the intense yearning of the hibakusha, thereby narrowing the gap between their passion and the rest of the world. Unfortunately, many are unaware of the urgency; their eyes are still closed to the fact that only through luck, not wisdom, have we avoided human extinction.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Hiroshima Trip, Post 6: International Incident Win

At the 2010 World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, everything is conducted in English and Japanese. Since most of the people attending the conference are from Japan and do not speak English, all the overseas delegates have headsets and during the proceedings off to the side there is an interpreter who is telling us what people are saying. While I was in South Korea I had the experience of attending a conference where I did not understand a single word, and while I did get a lot of other work done during that time, it was disappointing to not be able to follow what was being said.

One thing that the organizers of the conference request in order to make their job easier is that we turn in our speeches ahead of time so that it can be translated into Japanese ahead of time, or so the interpreter can have it in front of them while you speak to help guide them. I submitted my speech a week ahead of time, but was told the day I arrived to make some changes and cut its length. Instead of doing so (since I liked the longer version and will probably present it elsewhere), I took the report on the military buildup on Guam that I had prepared when I traveled to South Korea and made some small changes to it and turned it in. One of the translators asked me in a very direct but polite way, if there were any jokes in my speech and if I was planning on making any jokes while I speak, that I please avoid doing so, or that I can, but have to try to explain to the interpreter ahead of time what the joke means.

I was wondering how she knew that I like to make jokes when I speak publicly, not in an effort to make interpreters groan, but simply as a way to make my speeches more interesting, endearing or colorful. I swore to her that I didn’t have any jokes planned. What usually happens though before I make a public speech is to try and come up with one or two, to make me feel more at ease, but also make the audience more inclined to listen to what I’m saying and not fall asleep.

In my interactions with other delegates at this conference, I always try to make them laugh in order to ease their nervousness, and have succeeded in making a few people crack up, which is always nice. But at least once however, my attempts at humor have created a very awkward international incident.

Once in South Korea, an elderly activist, after meeting me and sizing me up, told me in broken English that he had never met someone from Guam before, but that I was dressed well and very smart and so from now on he will assume that all people from Guam dress well and are as smart and nice as I am. Like most things which old people say, this remark is cute, sweet, endearing, and potentially racist and screwed up. For someone reason, despite knowing how weird it might be for me to say it to other delegates, I decided to go for it.

So when I met some delegates from countries that I literally don’t know many people from, I would make a similar remark to that elderly South Korean man’s. When they would look at me with a strange incredulous face, then I would chuckle and tell the story of that South Korean activist. Nearly all would then laugh.

While taking a field trip with different delegates, I met two delegates from a country where I had gi minagahet, never met a person from before. I greeted them, they said hello, and then I started to talk about I had never met someone from their country, and how well dressed they were (they actually were very well dressed) – but before I could go on and say anything further, we were called away by our guide and I couldn’t finish the story of why I had said that. At first I didn’t think too much of the exchange. But as we went on with our day, those delegates never came back to talk to me, never even so much as looked at me again. For a conference which is about pas and guinaya, it was strange for them to be like that, and so I began to realize that those two guys might of that of me as being real racist jerk. I meet some people from another country and the first thing I say is that they are dressed so well, it sounds so stupid and condescending, and so I was certain that I had really pissed them off, and so they would leave this conference thinking that people from Guam are big mean jerks.

When I realized this and even as I am writing this now several days later, it seems so silly and improbably to bring it up now. But as I see them across rooms or waiting to travel to different venues for the conference, I feel like I’m in some progressive, anti-nuclear weapons version of Seinfeld. I’m trapped in one of those ridiculous human social faux-paus which we all wish we could live without, but actually bring a silly richness and much needed drama to our lives. I wish though that I had a crew of mafñot na ga’chong here in Hiroshima and that we could go sit in an Okonomiyaki Bar wasting away the hours talking about tåya’, US imperialism and more tåya’.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Hiroshima Trip, Post 5: To My Little Darling

Kana' tumanges annai hu taitai este na betsu. Gi i tiempo-ku guini giya Hapon, meggai na estoria hu hungok put i pinadesin i maninafekta ni' i hinatmen atomic. Siempre bula na aniti gi este na lugat, sa:' siempre Siha chumochonnek i taotao guini mo'na gi i kinalamten kontra atmas nuclear.
Un hibakusha na palao'an tumuge' este gi 1973. Estaba gui giya Hiroshima annai hinatme ni' i atmas atomic, lao ti matai gui'. Lao annai mumapotge gui' duru chathinasso-na na sina nina'dano' i patgon-na ni' i radiation. Ha tuge'i i patgon-na este annai gaigaige ha' gi halom i tiyan-na. Para este na klasin taotao (i mannina'ye radiation), guaha racism kontra siha, sa' nu i otro na taotao Hapon, kalang kalaskas, but manamatatse este siha. Ti debi di un asagua este na klasin taotao siha sa' attelong i haga'-niha, madano' i tahtaotao-niha. Achokka' esta 65 na sakkan desde ayu na baba na ogga'an, sigi ha' ma susedi gui' ta'lo'lo kada na mafanagu un patgon.

Hu sodda' este na betsu gi un hinekka' tinige' i na'an-na "Burned Like Fallen Leaves."
Estague i betus. Yanggen ti pinacha' hao ni', buente ti taotao hao, buente mismo acho' i korason-mu yan lamas esta i ante-mu.
To My Little Darling
by Mitsue Furuta

Are your hands all right?
Do you have two eyes?
How about ears and a nose?

You will laugh to hear this,
But I am very uneasy.
Although your mother is healthy,
You might be -------- You might be ----------
Because of that hot flash that sparkled that day
Because of the black rain that fell that day

Indescribable sufferings of those people
Burned as if they were old rags
Are unbearable to me,
Unbearable to these eyes that have not even seen the disaster
Is it because I am a mother now
That I can see what happened that day?

Spring is knocking on the window-pane.
Soon will midsummer flowers
Bloom in the dazzling sun.
Then will you stretch your arms?
What will you see when you first open your eyes?
What will you feel for the first time in your life?
When that happy day comes
The day of your coming into the world,
Your mother will celebrate
With your father and friends.
The blue sky, the flowers, the little round sun,
All will celebrate.

Will you accept
These humble gifts,
My little one?


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