Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Militarism and Colonialism

I traveled to South Korea last year on a research and solidarity trip and I hope to travel back there in the next year or so. Here are four of the silly and serious reasons why I would like to visit there again:
1. When I was in South Korea, I saw many similarities in history and struggle with Guam. South Korea, like Guam is a flashpoint for US military aspirations in the Asia-Pacific region. It plays a key role in how the US is intending to contain Asia, most importantly China, and so as someone who is interested in peace and not war in this part of the world, I feel it is important to learn more about the other sites of US militarization.

2. I had known about South Korea being a central front in the war for spreading the glories of esports prior to traveling there, but while I was there I took on a new appreciation for it. While sitting in my hostel room in Seoul, and surfing through the few channels that I could watch and understand what was happening, one of them regularly featured professional Starcraft matches. Although I could not understand the commentary, this later pushed me to become more interested and involved in Starcraft, eventually leading me to purchase copy of its sequel and even starting up a blog with my brother titled Inetnon Starcraft Guahan. The geek in me wants to return to South Korea in order to watch some professional matches between my favorite players.

3. The academic in me wants to go to South Korea in order to analyze and research this rise of esports, the cultural ramifications of it and also the ways in which nationalism gets wrapped up in it. I would love in the next year or two to get a grant in order to write about how nationalism or regionalism is playing roles in either stimulating or constricting games such as Starcraft 2 from becoming a global game.

4. While I was in South Korea last year everyone expected me to suffer and die since I don't really like Korean food. The only thing I really eat at Korean restaurants is kalbi and rice, and so people expected me to come back with dozens of stories of all the different types of kalbi and hineksa' apa'ka that I ate. Unfortunately I did not eat any kalbi while I was in Korea and so one silly reason why I would like to go back there is just to sample some Korean kalbi.

My main link to what is happening in South Korea is the work of Sung Hee-Choi, who was my guide and interpreter while I visited South Korea. She has a regular blog titled No Base Stories of Korea, and she covers so many different angles of the struggles against militarism in South Korea, from union and labor movements, to the aftermath of older struggles against bases, and attempts to defeat the construction of new ones.

She recently wrote a post on the issue of "Language and Colonialism in Jeju" which she introduced with this sentence:

Thanks to the activists who are making efforts to decolonize the cultures of their Islands, for example, Michael Lujan Bevacqua who runs the blog called ‘No Rest for the Awake: Minagahet Chamorro,’ it has become clearer to more people that no base movement cannot be separate with the decolonization movement.

During my short stay in Korean I can say that Sung Hee and the other activists and community members that I met with help broaden my own understanding of militarization and see the struggle against US bases in the Asia and Pacific region in a different light. What I wanted to write about today was the issue of the connection of anti-base movements and decolonization, something which as at the center of an academic anthology I had an article in published last year titled Militarized Currents: Towards a Decolonial Future in Asia and the Pacific.
One of the reasons why decolonization can be an interesting lens through which you can understand militarism is how decolonization can lead the analysis easier to a more in depth understanding of a situation. Even if the situation isn't explicitly colonial simply the idea of looking beneath the surface can be important. When I was in graduate school in California for my Ph.D. I always found it amazing at how little most people understood about militarism and how it can affect populations, both those who are militarizing and those who are being militarized. Their understanding was surprisingly superficial, as if militarism was a minor thing, something which only affected certain populations and not the US a whole. They could speak about American imperialism, in other words that the US was doing not so great things to the rest of the world in order to assert their particular interests as the way the world must be. But they would interestingly enough see this through the the idea of the US invading and bombing other places, or even seeing the US as economically holding places hostage. What would always be missed in this rhetoric was that militarism has very little to do with open war or warfare. AMilitarism is not when a war breaks out and troops are landed. Militarism, especially in an imperial power and for the United States is a central part of life, even amongst those who don't appear to have any relationship to the military.
In order to understand militarism you need to search for the ways in which it is invisible, imperceptible, the ways in which it becomes embedded in the world and affects the ways in which something feels or becomes natural. The ways in which something becomes just a part of the world and not something which sticks out. On Guam for example, the most famous way in which this is articulated is how the fences which cordon off close to 30% of the island as being DOD property have a tendency to lose their meaning as a barrier or something which signifies a tragic history of dispossession, and instead become in the words of Robert Underwood, part of the landscape, like a line of coconut trees.
I wrote an column for the Marianas Variety last year which discussed this in terms of the United States, and how militarism becomes embedded in them in the way that they assume, sometimes unconsciously the rightness of American having hundreds of bases around the world. And even when the existence of those bases are revealed, there is still an interesting assumption that they must still be necessary or right to have. I love the way in which so many people in the United States when are informed about the network of hundreds of bases that the US commands in almost every corner of the globe, can still cling the notion that they must be there in order to keep the peace or that every corner of the globe must want them or else they wouldn't be there. The sinless national core of the United States, thus becomes a veil through which the Leviathan of bases cannot even be perceived in it's scope and insanity, but is instead understood through the kindness and goodness of the US and it's mission to save the world, even from itself. So even those who are not in the military and don't work for the Pentagon and may not even support the wars that America fights, can still actively participate in militarism by the way they turn a blind eye to those bases and to the possibility that those bases may be not be wanted. There are numerous other ways in which you can see the US in the throes of militarism and most crucially in the Federal budget and how much publicly and privately goes to the Pentagon.
This issue is most important in terms of mobilizing those who lean towards peace in the world and who don't want "war" even in its most generic sense. They can criticize and condemn war and hate it as much as they want, but attacking war is never actually the way to move towards peace. The way you have less war is by attacking militarism and the way it has become ingrained and naturalized in a society. That means, that you if your main challenge is against the bombs which fall or the troops which land, then you have already kind of lost the battle. If you want to lessen war, you need to challenge the budget which spends the majority of money in the US on war and weapons. You need to work to close the bases around the world which allow the US to maintain some invisible and some less invisible imperial authority over places they see important to their interests. You need to challenge those who make alot of money off of war, take away their power to influence policy and continue to line their pockets. You need to make sure that military service is something which large segments of your population see as their only option in having a chance at a good life. You need to make sure that those who serve in the military are seen as doing an important public service, but not doing the most important public service. One of the problems which keeps militarism invigorated is the notion that while you may disagree with policies or politics, once the soldiers get in harm's way, you need to stand behind them no matter what, which usually means grudging support a war even if everything about it is wrong and stupid as hell. A war can be prosecuted or war crimes can be committed and the aura of "the troops" can always be used in order to stall or deflect any criticism. It is one of militarism most ingenious defenses, a way in which it takes as it's central metaphor a sacred cow which no one dare graze or bruise.
In a place such as Guam thinking of militarism in relationship to colonialism is not only necessary but obvious. You can see the way in which they are connected all the time, both in history and by a simple tour around the island today. In order to understand one you must understand the other. But in other places it is not so clear and so the analysis can be difficult. But by thinking of it in colonial terms it can help you get closer to any answer. Colonialism brings out certain metaphors which people may not initially accept, but which do have some power and should not be dismissed. Although in today's climate most people think of colonialism through mistreat and racism, but it was also about control and extraction of resources. It was about displacement. Colonialism's effect go beyond the surface but extend deep into the bedrock of a colonized society. It is for that reason that many scholars debate over how a colony, even after getting its independence can ever reach a postcolonial moment, or a point where it is past its colonization. Militarism needs to be perceived in a similar way, as something which becomes part of the foundation of a place, it does not only destroy, but stimulates as well, becomes entwined in so many things people see as being essential and thus taken for granted and fail to understand or analyze. Just as decolonization requires bold gestures in terms of disentangling things and also in terms of asserting a different course, so too to antibase movements.
I'm pasting below the article from Sung Hee's blog. If you are interested in learning more about South Korea and militarism from this perspective be sure to follow and check out her blog No Base Stories of Korea.
* Image source: Headline Jeju, Feb. 25, 2011헤드라인 제주, 2011년 2월 25일(클릭)

The sign reads: 'Allow and actively promote the use of the Jeju dialect in schools!

'Critically endangered Jeju dialect' of the UNESCO-registered-and-promoted

It is the responsibility of the Jeju Provincial Office of Education that has not allowed the use of the Jeju dialect for 40 years, who has alledged that it is a ‘rustic and impertinent’ dialect. '


Thanks to the activists who are making efforts to decolonize the cultures of their Islands, for example, Michael Lujan Bevacqua who runs the blog called ‘No Rest for the Awake: Minagahet Chamorro,’ it has become clearer to more people that no base movement cannot be separate with the decolonization movement.
Here in the Jeju Island, the faced situation could be similar to a lesser degree if not the same with the examples in the other regions, especially in those Islands who have been suffering under the imperial eyes and tongues.
The Headline Jeju on Feb. 25 reported an interesting article ( by Yoon Chul-Soo) which was about one man protest by Kim Young-Bo, a high school teacher teaching commerce, who demanded the free use of the Jeju dialect in schools in front of the Jeju Special Self-Governing Provincial Office of Education (The Jeju Provincial Office of Education, afterwards) in the afternoon of Feb. 25, 2011.

According to the very article, the teacher protested against the Jeju Provincial Office of Education which he criticized because it had not allowed the free use of the Jeju dialect in schools by alleging that the Jeju language was a ‘rustic and impertinent dialect,’ and to which he demanded that it should allow students to freely speak the Jeju dialect in schools.
Below is the translation of his words cited in the article:

“The Jeju Provincial Office of Education who has not allowed the free use of the Jeju dialect is very responsible for the Jeju language being critically endangered. Even though the situation is very serious as to the degree that it is registered as a critically endangered language by the UNESCO, the Provincial Office of the Education is not trying to fix such wrong education policy.”
It was poignant to hear that the Jeju dialect is critically endangered itself while the UNESCO designated soft corals in the Gangjeong Sea is being threatened with the naval base construction in the Gangjeong village, as well. (* About the UNESCO registered Jeju language, see HERE and HERE)
Here are further translations of his cited words, as well:

"I am more infuriated by the fact that no one really seriously concerns about that, except for short time whenever there were media reports on the Jeju dialect being registered as a critically endangered language. Who would succeed the Jeju language if the current halmang(s)(old women) and harbang(s)(old men) die. The language might disappear.”

"Our generation was not allowed to use the Jeju dialect for talks between teachers and students not to mention for class hours. We had to hear reproach that we were rustic and impertinent if we use the Jeju dialect and we even got a whip. Didn't the students who had been getting punished get one more whip if they unconsciously used the Jeju dialect, did they? It is for the alleged reason that they look as rustic and impertinent from the point of view of teachers.”
According to the article, he pointed out that the Jeju Provincial Office of Education was showing the duality by never allowing the Jeju dialect even among the students within schools while it is also making an effort to revitalize the Jeju language such as through hosting or sponsoring competition events such as those on speaking with the Jeju dialect; those on children song with the Jeju dialect, exhibitions on illustrated poems with the Jeju Dialect; and festivals with the Jeju Dialect. It is told that the authority of the Jeju Provincial Office of Education has issued that it has guided that there should be an education course on the Jeju dialect beside sponsoring such events. However, it is contradictorily prohibiting the very use of the Jeju dialect [within schools].
According to the article, the duality is the very point that motivated him toward his own one man protest.

What is interesting about the event and article is that those things very remind the current situation of the Jeju Island whose native cultures are being disappeared with corporate and militarism culture in South Korea, especially with the law on the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province, which was brought in 2006 with the concept of Jeju free international city and emphasis on the so-called’ ‘globalization.’
Mr. Go Gwon-Il, a Gangjeong villager thinks the Central and Island governments’ current mobilizations for the Jeju to be one of the new seven wonders even being mobilized with many celebrities along with excessive international propaganda is part of such extended move.

According to him, the Jeju Island should NOT be one of the new seven wonders because it would make worse the situation of the Jeju Island, the UNESCO triple-crowned site(Mount Halla’s Biosphere Reserve recognition in 2002; Natural Heritage Sites designation of Mount Halla, Seongsan Sunrise Peak and Manjanggul cave in 2007; and the geopark designation in 2010) with increasing capitalism and reckless tourism.
Otherwise, according to the Wiki on the Jeju dialect:
One large difference between the Jeju dialect and those of mainland Korea is the lack of formality and deference to elders. For example, while a speaker of the Seoul dialect might say 안녕하세요 annyeonghaseyo ("Hello") to an older person, a speaker of the Jeju dialect would say 반갑수다 ban-gapsuda (lit., "Nice chatting" or "Nice talking"; roughly equivalent to "Howdy"). To many mainlanders, a child saying this to an adult would be appalling, but on the islands, a more "egalitarian" form of speech is used, perhaps a cultural idiosyncrasy that has hung on after the incorporation of Jeju itself (under the Tamna kingdom, which, though having subjugated itself to Korean states since the 7th century, was not brought under the full centralized control of a Korean state until 1404) into Korea.

* Image source: Jeju Weekly, Feb. 6, 2011 (Original source: 'Art by Choi Myung Sun. Photo courtesy Jejudo Hangeul Calligraphy Society') The calligraphy written with the Jeju dialect reads:

‘ Moosangomassim(Why is it?)

Umung-ee haejoon bab muk-eo-bob-seo (Why don’t you have some rice mother has cooked?) Chommallo Masi Jotsooda(It is really delicious.) Moosangomassim (Why is it?) Geu-gun Umunim-eui Saranghaneun mosim-ee bab sogobe godeukgodeuk deul-eo-i-si-nan anikkwa (Isn’t it because mother’s loving heart wholly fills the rice bowl, is it?) –Jeju sokkdam gotnae (cited from one of the Jeju proverbs Gotnae)
There was also an interesting article in the Jeju Weekly. See HERE. According to it:
Looking at the wider linguistic picture, the Korean language is also losing ground on account of the dominance of English.
But looking at the problem more closely, one sees that much of the Jeju dialect is disappearing fast, partly because the capitalistic logic of “efficiency” has been an excuse for our indifferent attitude. During the rapid economic development in Korea which started in the 1960’s, preservation of cultural diversity was considered “inefficient” since it could deter fast decision making. This has since put the Jeju dialect on the list of critically endangered languages.
For reference, the 60’s developmentalism was promoted by the Park Jung-Hee military dictatorship who has eyed on the Jeju Island, a historically strategic point by the imperial countries and dominating class, with the turned-out-to-be a failed military base plan then.
The concern about the possibility of disappearing vernacular terms in the Gangjeong village is being faced with the rapidly accelerated naval base construction: Who would remember the names of Goorumbee(cloud-shaped rocks stuck under the earth), Gaegurumbee (cloud-shaped rocks on the earth), Jinsokkak, (hem-look in the place of deep and and inwardly long water), Neobeunnyo (spacious rock protruded over water), Metboori( * Of which the meaning is not exactly known but according to Mr. Go Gwon-Il in the Gangjeong village, it could be ‘a ritual place offered with rice’) in the Joongduk coast and Natgakk(hem-look in the place of stream) in the downstream of the Gangjeong stream, once all the rocky Joongduk coast in the Gangjeong badang(sea) is reclaimed with concrete by the construction?
The naval base construction would not only bury the heaven-blessed nature of the Gangjeong village but would also erase all the archaic history of it, violently making scars into the memories of the Gangjeong villagers who might not be able to say any more that their hometown Gangjeong used to be the most water-abundant and the most water-fresh village in the Jeju Island.

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