Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Investing in Peace

I am helping organize a special solemn mass to be held on Wednesday morning, December 8th to commemorate the anniversary of the attack on Guam by the Japanese in 1941 which brought World War II to Guam. In preparation for the event I conducted research, helped write articles and I'll also be helping facilitating a storytelling session with four survivors of World War II on Guam, one of whom is my grandfather Tun Joaquin Flores Lujan, the Chamorro Master Blacksmith.

The hope for this event is to not focus on the atrocities, the violence or the liberation, but instead issues of peace and what we can learn from the war. There is also meant to be a dimension of forgiveness in this event, helping the island to move on from that horrible period. This event includes an exhibit of images from prewar Guam and information from the Guam Humanities Council and the War in the Pacific Museum about the war experiences of Chamorros. The whole thing is organized by the office of Senator Frank Blas Jr. as part of his drive to get war reparations for Chamorros.

Now the idea of a community "moving on" from a trauma such as the war sounds easy enough, but it can be very tricky. What happens in most societies is forgetfulness not forgiveness. After some horrible atrocity has been committed against you or you have committed something against someone else, things are not forgiven, but rather the next generation simply forgets what happened. Maybe you didn't talk about it, didn't want to talk about it and so maybe it isn't even an issue of them not wanting to deal with that history, but they simply weren't allowed to even try. If you ever wondered how Chamorros could come to love both of their most recent colonizers in such short time periods, it all has to do with forgetfulness, not understanding, not even awareness of cognizance, but outbreaks of practical amnesia. It was far easier to forget all of the bad things which the US had done to Chamorros prior to World War II, and just imagine that the old Guam had been burned to ash in the re-invasion of the island in 1944. The same came decades later, when it was very practical to forget about Japan as a colonizer and instead see it as a client state of the US and a great potential economy to bring to Guam.

In both of these cases I cannot help but think about the elders of their times, those who would have the most trouble adapting to the rapid changes taking place. The ones who would perhaps felt the most threatened by the changes of the prewar period and also later the ones who would have been able to comprehend the least why the island was somehow being re-invaded by the Japanese and this time people were welcoming them with dancing and aloha print shirts. We can argue that it was better for Chamorros to forgive or forget both what the US and the Japanese had done to them, since it brought so much progress and improvement to Guam, but that in no way helps us understand what it must have been like for those who did nothing but feel in those moments. Those whose discourse was suddenly no longer welcome. Those who carried scars from the racist treatment of the US or the violence of the Japanese but could no longer appear in public with them, but had to shroud them in some patriotic veil. I can only imagine what it must have been like for so many who saw the island change in ways they couldn't fathom, but also feel the pressures to not speak out or speak up, but to just remain quiet and let it be.

I don't think that forgiving through forgetting is a very good strategy even if it is one which we all rely on someway in our lives. I think it is far better to forgive something through its full awareness and through the confronting and accepting of as many uncomfortable or difficult dimensions as you can handle. This event on Wednesday is important because of that very reason. It is looking at parts of the war story which we don't usually blazon about each July during Liberation Day celebrations. Those celebrations are meant to convey the power of the US, its gloriousness and the dutiful dependency and subordination that Chamorros still get to inhabit up until today because of it. If you have ever wondered how the lives of Chamorros have become so militarized, so naturally accustomed to the military and to it and its principles being at the top of society, so much of it has to do with the way we have embedded the lessons of Liberation Day as the lessons of our lives. From the perspective of the happy ending of the World War II story, there appears to be no real downside to militarization. The more military, the safer you are. Military is a great awesome presence for good and seems to have very little detrimental effect on society except for when its the military of your enemies involved. It is no wonder that when the buildup was first announced in 2005, almost no one could imagine negatives. It is one thing to say that you couldn't prove or theorize negatives since nothing had really been decided at that point, but for people to have so much trouble imagining even that a massive increase in population would in some way be bad is truly incredible.

What I like about this event is that it focuses on the part of the war which we too often glaze over and fast forward through to get to the happy and patriotic ending. The start of the war doesn't inspire much confidence in the US or stir up much patriotism. It is a time which shows the limits of militarism, where the US had long assumed for decades that Guam could not be defended and so even when it knew war was coming chose to do close to nothing to prepare the island. Guam was left to be sacrificed, and if a New World Order war was to take place today would things be any different? Congresswoman Bordallo likes to say that the more military the island has the safer it is, but any sane person knows that such is not the case. The more military on Guam, the more militarized the Asia-Pacific region in general becomes, the more dangerous things are for Guam. 100,000 Marines in Guam might deter outright war with someone like China, but if it ever came down to actual war, China would not be invading Guam and hitting the beaches and those 100,000 Marines would valiantly defend the beaches and hold them at bay. No, it would simply bomb Guam and soften it up, which every nation including the US does now before it strikes. How much good would those 100,000 Marines do then? Very little.

Remembering how the war began is essential because it is a solemn reminder of the need for peace. The lessons are much more difficult then just pretending that Uncle Sam and his sack of Spam will always be waiting for you just over the ridge in Manengon Valley, but for a place which is the tip of America's military spear, peace is a far better investment than war.

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