Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Okinawa Dreams #7: Fights Not Worth Fighting

Veteran’s Day passed recently, and that is always a frustrating time of the year for people interested in peace. Veteran’s Day as it is celebrated nowadays in the US and its empire is a blind sort of celebration of militarization. Through the auras of the troops, we are expected to support whatever the military means or is or represents. We are supposed to be teary-eyed and all choked full of emotion at the sacrifice of so many, that we should suddenly forget everything else and just pick up a flag, wave it, and give the screaming eagles of militarization soaring above, a hearty thumbs up!

It is easy to forget that Veteran’s Day began as Armistice Day. It was not a celebration of living troops or military might, but a holiday meant to provide the country a time to reflect on how terrible war was, through the lives lost and how it should not happen again. Over time, it has moved to becoming the exact opposite, becoming a place where you should support any and every way the US enters into, simply because proud, fine, young men and women are fighting in it!

Almost completely lost is the argument that the best way to support troops is to not send them into war blindly, not to crassly take for granted their willingness to sacrifice their lives, and to actively work to lessen the threat of war in the world, not increase it. The best way to support troops might be to argue against war, to argue against the system that treats them like cogs in a machine and actively seeks to expand its grasp around the world, and uses them as the pawns to secure it. How pathetic a country is the United States, that it would treat its veteran’s so terribly, that on a day when you should really reflect on what it would mean to take care of them, you insist that half of the conversation be ignored or remain unspoken?
For me, the lost spirit of Veteran’s Day is captured well in the song “The General” by the band Dispatch. For those unfamiliar with the song, it talks about a ancient hold military general, who is scarred and decorated from a life of war. One night before a big battle, he has as dream that shakes him to his core. The next morning before his troops, he shocks them by ordering them all to go home.

He says that in his dream he saw the spirits of those who have already died in battle, and even seen specters of their grieving mother, and that they reveal to him that the fight is not worth fighting. He says that he will continue the fight, but that everyone else should go home. At first the men stand fast, unsure of what they are supposed to do, but eventually, one by one, they melt away. The General, left alone prepares to fight the battle alone.

Some of the most hardened and firmest proponents of peace and opponents of war, are former veterans. They are people like the General of this song, who have fought enough war, and maybe they excelled at it, maybe they were terrible at it. But the life and death struggle, the pointless loss and suffering made clear to them, that the point of war should always be to end wars. That the points of war should never be to create more conflict or to cause more problems, but that war, because it is such a failure of human reason, a failure of everything that is good in humans, is not something that should be treated like it is normal. In the context of the song, the General tells the boys to go home and not die on this battlefield because they are young and they must be living.

War sucks away life. It sucks it away in the actual destruction of lands, lives, bodies etc. War kills life in a very literally and visceral sense. It also sucks it away in a more indirect sense. The US war budget sucks resources away from everything else that is meant to keep people alive, healthy, educated and safe. By pooling too much of your resources into machines and means of war, you not alone cannibalize yourself and your society, but you also run of risk of simply exporting violence and waging war simply because you have the means to do so. Part of the causes of World War I was that the dominant European nations had built up their armies and had modernized them until the point that they were glorious, shiny and deadly, and that they itched to use them. Un nota na tentashon, nahong na rason, as they say in Chamorro. In the time since, while it is rarely ever publicly spoken, most of the US large wars against puny opponents are far more public relations stunts as opposed to strategically important battles. The post-Cold War and post-Vietnam battles of the US are all to be just as much about showing off, testing out your expensive gadgets as they are about defeating avowed enemies.

World War II for Japan and Vietnam for the United States both produced a large number of peaceful veterans. These were people who had fought in wars, but come back convinced that it was not the right way to live, that it was in so many ways the opposite of how life should be. In the minds of many of these veterans, while their rhetoric is “no war” or that they are “against war,” this does not mean that war is never necessary. There are wars of liberation, there are actual wars of national defense, in which you could argue fighting is justified. The problem though is that every country who wants a war, always says it is justified. They always say it is in some national defense, that it is not some callous aggressive act, but rather something that is sadly necessary because of the circumstances. Afghanistan and Iraq were both nations that the US invaded with incredible force, on some flimsy logic of defending itself, when neither nation held any actual military threat to the US.

What is important about peace activists and especially former veterans is that they are determined to not allow their country to war and by doing so, make it more difficult for wars of convenience or wars based on lies to take place. Most people will say that war is terrible and that it should always be the last resort, but then simply follow whatever they hear from the government or the media. They may not instinctively like way since it is tragic and violent, but they have no critique, don’t really think about it, and simply accept very easily the idea of war through a narrow self-serving and absolving nationalistic framework. They accept the war since it is my country doing it, and my proud and women serving in it, so it must be ok, since it is ours and not someone else’s.

In Japan, I met several veterans from World War II who argued the same position as the General in the song mentioned above. One elderly man protesting in Henoko had fought in Japan’s imperial wars, and said that he was fighting against the expanding of the base in Henoko since it would help lead to more wars. He argued that since he was old and crippled and couldn’t fight, no one, especially a young person with their life ahead of them should have to fight for him. Instead, we should build the world through peace so that no one has to leave their families to fight against their neighbors. It is an idealistic position, but a beautiful and ethical one nonetheless. It is a one that I wish more veteran’s had, after seeing how terrible war can be, they not then celebrate the signing up of more bodies to fight and kill or oppress more people, but rather make it so that less and less people have to experience what they went through. The true message of Veteran’s Day should not be that we should unconditionally support the troops, because that makes them the perfect pawns, the perfect tools for perpetual war. You should instead support them in terms of peace, and in terms of opposing wars and keeping them from being forced to give up their lives, or take the lives of others in fights that are most likely not worth fighting.

Okinawa Dreams #6: Asia Pacific Without Bases and Nukes

Just for clarification, there are two components to the conference that I attended in Okinawa last week.

The first component is an international forum on the topic of how to create an Asia Pacific region that is free of military bases and nuclear weapons. For this forum, there are roughly a 100 or so people in attendance, all of whom are the leaders of various anti-base, peace or anti-nuclear civil society groups throughout Japan. The title of this forum is “For a Nuclear Weapon-Free Peaceful Asia-Pacific without Military Bases – Solidarity among Okinawa, Guam and Asia-Pacific.”

The second part is the yearly Japan Peace Conference, which is always held in a part of Japan where the local community hosts US bases. Last year’s gathering was in Sasebo, in Nagasaki. This part of the conference is massive compared to the forum. The International Forum takes place in small hotel in Naha. The full-fledged peace conference takes place in a large amphitheater, that seats 2,000 people. The organizers for this part of the Okinawa meeting are expecting at least 1400 people to attend. 900 will be from mainland Japan peace groups, the remainder from Okinawan anti-base and peace-focused organizations.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Okinawa Dreams #5: Number 9

A reception was held on the first day of the conference to welcome the activists from Okinawa and Japan and also celebrate the presence of the overseas delegates from the Pacific. As part of this reception, there was food, music, and gifts were exchanged. During one particularly touching exchange, we all received beautiful Article 9 folders. The gift came from the daughter of a very famous communist community leader in Okinawa. He had been the Naha city mayor in the 1950's and later a member of the Diet. He was imprisoned for two years prior to becoming a politician for hiding two suspected communists who were supposed to leave Okinawa. He came to prominence at a time when the island was part of Japan, but governed by the US military after World War II. He had been instrumental in getting the island returned to Japanese control in 1972.

I apologize for not posting an image of the folder now, I'll be sure to take one later.

After receiving these gifts we all joined hands and formed a large circle around the room and sang a song which was catchy and uplifting for sure, even if we weren’t sure what we were swaying back and forth to. During the singing, at certain points everyone would raise a fist high and yell out “Kaya say!” Different Japanese activists ended up explaining as best they could the meaning of the song to us clueless delegates who could only pick out the word “Okinawa” from the lyrics. We were joined in the singing of a famous Okinawan protest song, that demanded the US military give back Okinawa to the Japanese. The refrain that everyone yelled out excitedly meant “give it back!”

The significance of the artwork and the #9 might be unfamiliar to some of you. It does not refer to any of the movies that have 9 in the title, nor does it refer to the 9 levels of hell. Amongst peace activists in Japan the number 9 has an almost sacred quality. It refers to Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which was unique and revolutionary when it was drafted in the ashes of World War II. Here is the text:

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

In the struggle over whether the world is defined through war or peace, Article 9 is a key weapon or tool, depending on which metaphor you’d rather choose. Although any nation who had this article as part of their constitution, Japan included, might seek to find ways around it, especially as they grow in power, it is still an unbelievable critical point of departure for peaceful exchanges between powerful nations. Offensive wars or even offensive wars masked as defensive or humanitarian wars become much more difficult to proctor. If peace is embedded in your constitution, each nation must then develop convoluted and tenuous means of trying to get around it. If you accept peace as the norm, war becomes the aberration and much more difficult to justify.

The difficulty in wielding this weapon of peace is getting already existing nations, with constitutions written long ago, and already existing militaries, to accept changing the nature of their forces, in addition to their foreign policy. Even for Japan itself, the presence of this Peace article in their Constitution leads the government to consistently seek ways around it. For example, although Artilce 9 is a clear point for peace, it can also be used to justify the use of Japanese lands and lives for war. With Japan limited in the types of armies that it can create to protect itself in this dangerous world, this actually becomes a perfect justification for becoming subservient or dependent upon another for your defense. Article 9 is meant to prevent Japan from mounting imperial ventures as it did in the past, but it also allows for Japan to be used for the machinations of other nations, who have no Article 9 and no qualms about offensive forces or wars.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Okinawa Dreams #4: Three Arguments

I have written before, on this blog and elsewhere about any large scale gathering such as the conference I am attending in Okinawa this week, can result in a very skewed image of reality. Most gatherings of that sort bring together people who are of similar minds of certain things, and as such the discourse, the discussion and the assumptions that emerges will be hegemonic for those in attendance, but most likely not for anyone else. For example, if you were to go to Japan and attend one of its annual conferences against nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, you might get the impression that all Japanese are anti-nuke peace loving activists.

This is hardly the case of course. Although the peace movement is strong in Japan, it is far from the norm. Not everyone is incredibly critical and not everyone has the same ideas of what would be peaceful and not everyone wants a world without nuclear weapons. In fact, if you were to talk to a random Japanese person there is a good chance they might even argue that nuclear weapons are important and a critical protection for the Japanese people.

You can see this even in the way the peace movement itself could be said to be broken down ideologically, and how people support or don’t’ support the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

A large number of Okinawans support the closing of Futenma base in the middle of Ginowan city because of the potential problems it presents to the city surrounding it. This base, known amongst activists as the “most dangerous base in the world” is supposed to be closed and a new facility opened in the north at Nago city, Henoko Bay. For this large number of Okinawans the presence of the bases is a mixture of minaolek yan binaba, good and bad. It brings jobs, it brings “sympathy money”, and it provides protection from nearby communist countries. The issues the bases represent are small and can be resolved, since this ideological position does not actually challenge Japan US relations, but only has issue with where those relations place bases. If there could just be some changes to the SOFA, and if only some bases could be moved, then everything should be fine.

But an increasing number of Okinawans are expressing not just minor frustration with the bases, but major discontent. It is an anger that has been building for decades. It is derived primarily from the way Okinawans experience their colonial difference. Okinawa, because it is far away and because it is culturally different and was long considered to be inferior to the rest of Japan is an ideal place for the majority of US bases in the country. The Japanese government, similar to the US Federal government, compensates by providing a disproportionate amount of money to the island in order to appease and silence it. The money only goes so far, as Okinawa despite the presence of so many bases and the assistance of the mainland government is still one of the poorest prefectures in the Japan. More and more Okinawans are seeing that this is not an issue of moving the base in Futenma to somewhere else on the island, but that it has to be moved somewhere else entirely. The Roadmap for Realignment created years ago placed Guam as the location for where some Marines would be moved as part of the change of bases from Futenma to Henoko.

In the minds of these Okinawans the presence of the bases is an affront to national identity in general perhaps, but in particular Okinawan nationalism. These are US bases, that exist for US interests, they should be on US lands. In this context, Guam is considered to be US property and as such it is ideal for hording US troops, bases, infrastructure and interests. Guam is close by and that means that the US could still be counted on to be just around the corner in case of any natural or manmade emergencies. This would be perfect for everyone since, the troops could remain in the region, but no longer transgress the sovereignty of the Japanese.

This interpretation ignores Guam’s colonial status and ignores also the idea that even if Guam loved the idea of having a drastic increase in US presence, it has no role in the process. It is a distinct political entity, but is deprived any role in the process upon which it can article its own distinct interests in the realignment issue. But this is one of the values that Guam has to the US. When you move troops there, it makes no sound, causes no waves. The island has become so naturalized as a site of war and of US control that the US can do whatever it wants to Guam and few would question its actions.

There is in Okinawa a further, final layer to this issue. It is far from the most significant or influential, but it grows the more Japan learns about Guam. This position recognizes that Guam maybe a part of the US, but it is not a full and equal part of the US, and until Guam has achieved self-determination and is either fully incorporated into the US or sovereign and independent, to unilaterally move troops to Guam would be immoral.

On the first day of the conference, an elder Japanese peace activist stood before the International Forum of the conference, and after welcoming the delegates from Guam to Okinawa, reminded everyone else that it was not too long ago that Japan had waged war against these islands and had seized them as part of its imperial ventures. He state that Japan once humiliated Guam in war, and now by forcing it to take on the Marines of the US, it is helping the US humiliate it again. This position was not repeated very often, as many wanted to focus more on the ambiguous position of stating that the bases should just leave Japan, and go home, choosing in the company of people from Guam, to not define what “home” refers to. Despite this, at least hearing a handful of activists admit openly this critical position and attempt to remind their fellow peace fighters about Guam, was refreshing to hear.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Okinawa Dreams #3: Decolonize Okinawa?

Although you can call both Guam and Okinawa colonies, there have been historically different in terms of decolonization discussion. Both were incorporated into a colonial country which took steps to destroy the culture and dictate the levels of the colonized people. Both of them receive benefits from the colonial relationship, but have also been mistreated or afforded a lower status. Although both have a high level of inclusion with their colonizer, and have assimilated and accepted much of the way their colonizer wanted them to exist, they nonetheless still struggle with very practical feelings of difference. Both feel that they have not just a casual difference with their colonizer, but one that their history of colonization insists be taken seriously. But while Guam has spent the past 30 years developing a lexicon for discussing political status and decolonization there, has Okinawa undergone a similar way of creating a framework for speaking of their colonial status and how it might be resolved?

In 2006, I helped provide a tour to a group of activists from Japan who wanted to see Guam, since it had just the Fall before been put on the radar of Japanese peace activists by being named the site of Marines being transferred out of Okinawa. Over the years I've given tours and spoken to many such delegations, but this was the first that I can recall. The delegation was a nice mix of activists from different communities across Japan who are the unfortunate hosts to US military bases or training areas. The oldest of the visiting activists was a trade union leader from Okinawa.

I remember asking him as well as the other (mainland) Japanese activists about Okinawa. Most importantly for me was wanting to learn more about how Okinawans understood their former and current colonization and if they had any feelings similar to some on Guam where they wanted to resolve that unequal relationship even to the point of possibly seeking independence from the colonizer. In other words, I knew that Okinawa, like Guam, didn't quite fit in with the rest of the country that claimed it, and so were there people who didn't just feel that difference, but seek to act upon it, and seek to decolonize the relationship between Okinawa and the rest of Japan?

This older Okinawan activist responded in the way most did to my question over the years. They would argue for a clear difference, but a cultural one and not a political one. The Okinawan people see things different and may want different things not because they have different political dreams, but because they have been distinct from mainland Japanese culture for so long. He said that Japanese and Okinawans are different in terms of culture, and argued for the need to protect that distinct culture.. He did not however, claim any political difference beyond simple discrimination. No real desire for a different political relationship. He did not refer to any aspirations for a political existence that allowed one to politically protect that culture, but simply accepted the politics of their subordination and argued instead that the realm of culture is where the differences and distinctiveness issue should be directed. In other words, this activist admitted to the way colonization had damaged himself, his culture and his language, but did not see any political way of understanding that.

For years everyone I would meet from Okinawa would make similar statements. It was intriguing the way the older the person was, the more they would see it as a mere cultural difference and beg off any political aspects to their struggle. They would hear about Guam, its history and its colonial present, and see so many connections there, and feel good that the people of Guam were working towards decolonization, but never seem to reflect on what that might mean for themselves.

In 2010 I met the first Okinawan activist who said something a little bit different. Her name was Shinako and she travelled with myself and Bruce Gagnon from The Global Network on a solidarity trip to South Korea. Throughout the trip we would speak about what was going on in our communities and around the world. I learned alot about Okinawa by listening to her presentations and just asking her questions. While riding in a taxi cab in Seoul one afternoon, she remarked to me about how the way I talked about Guam, as needing to be decolonized, made a lot of sense for analyzing or understanding Okinawa's situation as well. Although very few people there think of it that way, through ideas of for example independence from Japan, it made a lot of sense to consider the work that she and others were doing to be decolonial in nature. She even went on to use the term "self-determination," and Okinawa needing more self-determination.

The first component to this conference is the International Forum, where delegates from across the Asia-Pacific region are sharing their ideas and providing updates as to what is happening in terms of peace movements, antibase movements and militarization. I have been surprised to hear more than one Japanese activist use the term "self-determination" when speaking about Okinawa, and what it needs or what it wants in terms of its struggle. I haven't heard anything formal, for example I have yet to see "Free Okinawa" or "Decolonize Okinawa" t-shirts or signs yet, but I will be on the lookout for them. This means that either the political dimension perhaps always was there and was just never articulated in a way that appeared to be political, or that Okinawans may possibly be shifting in terms of their critique of their situation. Who knows, in a few years, their own decolonization movement was emerge at either the grassroots or governmental level.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Okinawa Dreams #2: Guam Leads the Way

My trip to Okinawa is a solidarity trip, a networking trip, and in many ways a research trip. It is different than my trips in the past to South Korea and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, because this time I am travelling with a large delegation from Guam. We are all friends and have worked together before on various activist projects and so the time of travelling and waiting passes fairly easily since we always have things to talk or joke about.

One issue which Guam was discussing a great deal when we left, that we have carried with us as we've come to Okinawa, is the recent lawsuit by Dave "Arnold" Davis, suing the Guam Election Commission in Federal Court for not allowing him to register to vote in a self-determination plebiscite. Davis has been threatening this for years, and even tried to get the US Department of Justice to investigate a few years back. They declined. The timing of the lawsuit was no doubt spurred on by the recent revival of decolonization efforts at the Governmental level. For the first time in more than a decade, self-determination and decolonization are on the political table, and while at this point it is pinat rhetoric, the momentum could build, and we could be on the verge of a political status vote in the the next few years. American apologists in Guam, such as Davis, are no doubt concerned, not really because they believe Guam will vote to sever ties with the US, but more so because of the principle of the thing. They refuse to give even an inch of US power over anything, even if it is a simple vote, which on the legal, intellectual and moral merits you cannot argue against. Such is the definition of an apologist. Someone who as the First President Bush noted, will not apology for the US, no matter what the facts are.

For a few days, my blogs had thousands more hits than usual because apparently conservatives were using this blog as an example of the anti-American rhetoric and hatred that Davis is up against in Guam. From messages boards, to blogs, to The National Review, conservatives across the US were clicking on a link that led them here. If my blog allowed anonymous comments I probably would have gotten a thousand terrible conservative cuts to death, with people who had no idea what they were talking about, but simply read something that they didn't like (or were supposed to be enraged at because of how it was presented), and wanted to mouth off about it and connect it to feelings of how they feel like this represents how America is heading in the wrong direction and if THEY were still in charge, it wouldn't.

There has been so much talk about this for the past few days, and although those of us who believe in the self-determination plebiscite as mandated by Guam law na'triste este na asunto. Sa' achokka' mamfitme ham gi i hinenggen-mami, mampos dangkalo yan fotte i US, ya anggen ma kontra ham, ai adai. Sina puru ha' dinimalas para Hami. Siha Goliath, yan Hami dikike'na kinu Si Dabit.

After reading so many articles attacking the self-determination law, all of which contained little to no knowledge or understanding about Guam, I was surprised to find yesterday a random article from a non-local website that actually supported in principle the self-determination law. The article was sent by way of the Reality Zone blog. It comes from a website I have been a longtime supporter and follower of My blog has been linked there a few times and I was even quoted once in an article posted there in 2006. The author is Justin Raimondo, who is a libertarian and as such occupies a pretty consistent conservative philisophical and political position, which puts him at odds with almost everything that self-proclaimed political party and cultural conservatives profess to hold dear.

I'll paste the article below for those interested. He is not very knowledgeable about Guam, but at least he looks at the self-determination argument through the legal framework it should be viewed through. Most opponents of the self-determination law see it as deprived rights to people, the rights to an election. Yet the purpose of the election is clearly to exercise a right that is not meant to be held by just anyone who lives in a certain place. If you look at it only through the idea of discrimination and that everyone who lives in a place should have equal rights and the same stake, you are probably ignoring history for very convenient reasons. You are working to cover up the historical inequalities and injustices that the process is meant to finally resolve.

To read the article "Guam Shows the Way" click here.

Okinawa Dreams #1: The Fadang Between Us

I am in Okinawa for the next four days for two conferences dealing with peace and demilitarization in the Asia-Pacific region. I am in my hotel room right now, and have great internet access and so that means that I'll be blogging while I'm here. The name of my blog posts about my experiences in Okinawa will be "Okinawa Dreams." In the coming days keep returning to my blog to learn more.

I spent yesterday and the day before reading up on Okinawan history, trying to find any possible historical connections between our islands. By now, everyone knows that we have been connected in terms of force realignment and that Marines are supposed to be transferred from Okinawa to Guam at some point in future, but this connection is relatively recent and is a result of the regional interests of the US military. What other connections could there be?

In my cursory research, I found references to Okinawans coming to Guam in the 1800's as farmers, and other references to people of Okinawan ancestry coming to Guam after World War II. Okinawa and Guam have both had long experiences of colonialism, under Japan and the United States, and have felt the pressures of being strategically important to the US, and thus shouldering a heavy amount of military presence. This connection is further tied to their history as both being sites of battle between Japan and the US in World War II. The Battle of Okinawa was far more bloody and brutal, but they are nonetheless linked in history as being places where US soldiers fought and died in distant sands.

While reading the article "Rising Up from a Sea of Discontent: The 1970 Koza Uprising in U.S. Occupied Okinawa" by Wesley Iwao Ueuten from the anthology Militarized Currents, I came across another interesting and unexpected connection. I thought I'd share it below, since while it has become common to see ourselves and our neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region through the gaze of the US, and define ourselves and how we relate to each other through or against US interests, it is important to also think of ourselves as distinct. It is important to imagine that we could be connected in other ways, through which the US doesn't sit at the center of how we might exist in solidarity.

For those of you familiar with World War II history on Guam, you will remember the role that the fadang played in sustaining Chamorros in a time of terrible crisis. Food was scarce during the war, and so Chamorros increasingly turned to the fanda or Frederico Palm in order to create tatiyas to eat. The fruit of the fadang is poisonous and has to be boiled properly before it can be made into a starch. Chamorros have been using the fandang as a staple for thousands of years, but it became less frequently used when corn and other crops were introduced by the Spanish. With little food on the island, Chamorros turned to gathering food in the jungles, fandang at the top of the list of finds.

In the article "Rising Up from a Sea of Discontent" there is a section where the author is recounting a short history of Okinawan suffering under the Japanese. He makes a references to the fandang and how it also came into play in Okinawan history in a time when they were undergoing a crisis of their own. Their crisis isn't from World War II, but from the years earlier after Okinawa was annexed into Japan in the late 1800s. The Japanese were able to exploit Okinawa economically, part of their policies of exploitation leading to the Okinawan people turning to the fandang in order to survive.

Here is a passage from the article:
Okinawa's sudden inclusion into Japan's capitalistic system created conditions for widespread poverty and suffering. Since sugarcane became a cash crop, much land was appropriated for its cultivation, while less land was used to grow food. Consequently, the Okinawans were forced into an increasingly dependent situation where they grew sugarcane for cash to buy foodstuff from Japan. When world sugarcane prices dropped after World War I, Okinawans experienced what they call sotetsu jigoku, literally translated as "cycad hell," where many people were forced to eat the sotetsu, or cycad, to survive. Since sotetsu is poisonous if not prepared correctly, many people died from eating it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Okinawan Dream

Today I'm heading to a peace and demilitarization conference in Okinawa. I'm travelling as part of a delegation of people from Guam who are going to discuss Guam's role in the larger strategic vision that the US has for the Asia-Pacific region. Delegates will also be coming from Hawai'i, Palau, the Marshall Islands, the Philippines, South Korea and mainland Japan. For my part, I've written a speech on the dream of a world without nuclear weapons that I'll be sharing the day after tomorrow.

For me, this trip to Okinawa is a dream come true.

I have read and heard so much about Okinawa since it was first announced as the place that Guam was scheduled to receive 7,000 Marines and 8,000 dependents from in late 2005. Since then, the buildup has changed many times, I've changed many times, and the people around me who discuss this issue and work on this issue has changed as well. Okinawa has become an strangely intimate part of my life over the past few years because of the military buildup. When I was in Japan last year, I was asked just as many questions about Okinawa as I was about Guam. When I was in South Korea last year, my coming from Guam immediately sparked in peoples' imaginations the connection to Okinawa, and so I became a makeshift spontaneous representative from Okinawa, simply because a roadmap made between our colonizers had linked our destinies together.

But even prior to the buildup being announced, Okinawa was already a place that was in my mind. It was even a place I found myself dreaming of. It was a place that I would find in my early research as a site often placed alongside Guam in chains of equivalences meant to express military colonialism, or American strategic interests in Asia. Our destinities have been linked long before 2005, through the circumstances of the Cold War, the globalized world, and desires of the US for force projection ability in the region. The buildup helped us to see more clearly in the most minute ways the ways we have been or are connected, but even after 6 years of being forced together, we still know so little about each other and still have such faint and delicate ties. It is unfortunate that even up until today our ties are still quite small, but with this conference we are working on enhancing them, and strengthening them.

I found myself dreaming of Okinawa long ago, as a place that had some connection to Guam, so many possible connections to Guam, but still felt like it was a world away. I first wrote about Okinawa on this blog in 2004, over a year before the buildup was even first mentioned officially. My short post was in response to an article that I had read by a graduate student from Okinawa at the University of Hawai'i, who wanted to inform people about the everyday dangers of the heavy US military presence in her island. Looking back at my voice in 2004, I almost cringe. Some of it is so different. I see that at that time I still used the word "haole" in my blog (I stopped several years ago). Some of it is still the same, just written with a bit more confidence, and a few more years of experiencing the world, and thinking about these issues. For example, I worried a great deal about military violence, such as nuclear war wiping out Guam and Chamorros. I still worry about this, but at that time, this was something I had only written on my blog and shared with a few people. As of now I've written about this many times (on blogs, newspapers, etc.), spoken about it in public in Guam and before thousands of people in Japan.

The title of the post was "Sometimes I Dream of Okinawa..." and so when I say that the fact that I'm going to Okinawa is like a dream come true, I am actually very serious.


Someone needs to write an article like this for Guam, because Guam and Okinawa share similar dangers and pressures. The U.S. forces on Guam are endangering the Chamorro people and others, but the media refuses to even consider this aspect of their presence.

According to Lee Weber, Joe Murphy and other haole elites, the military is the only reason Guam is unihabitable. The military does alot more than liberate people and provide cheap gasoline, it is time we start talking about these things, or else find our water lens completely tainted or the island full of shades of people as a nuclear cloud hovers over our island, taking the last traces of Chamorro culture with it.
U.S. forces on Okinawa endangering the people
By Kozue Uehara

On Aug. 13, a transportation helicopter, a CH-53-D Sea Stallion belonging to U.S. Marines based on O'ahu, crashed on Okinawan International University in Ginowan city. The helicopter exploded and filled the scene with smoke. The staff of the university ran away from shattered-glass windows. Students taking summer session fled the danger.

Before it crashed, the defective helicopter wandered around, scattering many parts and oil over the densely populated area, including a 26-foot fin of the propeller, which penetrated a door and a cement wall and destroyed the TV in the room where a little child was taking a nap.

Students and people next to the scene were trembling and crying. U.S. Forces Japan commander Lt. Gen. Thomas Waskow, however, emphasized the distinguished service of the crews in avoiding death and injury of residents.

More than 50,000 servicemen and civilian employees of the Army and 75 percent of all U.S. bases in Japan have been in Okinawa since World War II. The U.S. troops have held up the ideal of their being here for "security" and "democratization" of the world.

In Okinawa, however, human rights of the residents have not been enhanced because of the existence of the U.S. forces. There are also many people who are suffering from hearing loss caused by the roaring sound of training flights.

In 1959, a U.S. Army jet plane crashed on Miyamori elementary school in Ishikawa city, Okinawa. The training accident killed 17 people (11 children) and injured 121.

Can the huge U.S. forces imagine the sadness and fear of the people?

The U.S. and the Japanese governments reached an agreement of restoration for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, in Ginowan city, after the people's protests against the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl in 1995 by U.S. servicemen.

Both governments, however, started to pressure Okinawa prefecture in favor of constructing a substantial military base in Henoko Bay, Okinawa, with its beautiful coral reefs.

I hope that U.S. military bases are not transferred but are restored to the people of Okinawa.

There are huge military bases also in Hawai'i. So, many residents in Hawai'i, I hope, would sympathize with us and our fear of the existence of military bases on our small island.

Such sympathy and alignment of the people all over the world will surely empower our movement to try to solve the problem. Through this case, I would like the people in Hawai'i to reconsider the existence of the U.S. forces in a foreign country and to know how much they endanger people living there.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Act of Decolonization #19: Show Me Your Wound

This was written Saturday, November 19, 2011, before the "We Are Here" protest of President Obama during his short visit to Guam.


Pau fatto magi Si Obama lamo'na hun.

Supposedly President Obama is stopping in Guam tonight. People estimate he will be here at around 10 or 11 pm tonight, and only stay for at most two hours. He was scheduled to stop in Guam last year, but his pit stop was cancelled at the last second because of the Health Care Reform debate. We Are Guahan led a petition drive requesting that when he come to Guam he hold a townhall meeting to hear concerns about the buildup. They collected over 10,000 signatures in less than a month.

Although the urgent momentum from the buildup process is for the most part evaporated, and now people see it more as stalled than going anywhere, the self-determination process appears to be picking up new speed. Gof likidu este na momento, ya magof hu na gaige yu' guini gi hilo' tano' pa'go. I have read about previous generations of Chamorro activism. The confused and war-weary efforts for political rights in the 1940's. The Legislative pushes from the 1960's. The indigenous, intellectual and environmental awakenings in the 1970's. And of course the last generation, the direct action, ancestral land based activism of the 1990's. Today we see the newest incarnation of Chamorro activism being defined by both a desire for decolonization and also feelings that the US, through previous policies and through continuing militaristic policies, has taken much from the Chamorro people. Estaba manmamaigo' i taotao Guahan. Lao este na mamta' i militat yumahu siha.

At any moment like this, where the people of Guam feel like they are being mistreated or disrespected on the one hand, but also owed something on the other, they turn to symbols of the United States in hopes of receiving recognition to salve and ease their anticolonial feelings. But the question is whether or not the people of Guam will come to define themselves n their own interests and in their own desires, or whether the will continue to live in the nefarious cycle of recognition. Angry and resentful at their subordination, until the moment when the gaze of the colonizer beams towards them, and erasing their discontent through the mere enjoyment of being recognized.

The colonial difference is an uncomfortable thing, and it is more irritating and more unnerving the less visible and less violent it is. In a place where the colonizer is blatant in their machinations, the difference is like a gory open wound. It is one of those wounds which keeps you awake and makes you clear headed and able to defeat every enemy soldier and save your wife and kids in some stupid action flick. The wound is terrible, and hurts like sasalaguan, but it gives you focus, it is a na'klaru na ga'chong, it clarifies things, makes the lines of battle, whether they be literal or ideological visible. Prior to World War II on Guam, the colonial difference was clear. You may learn about the US as this fantastic ideal in school, something you would love to be a part of and have in your life, but while the US made some effort to indoctrinate you with the rhetoric, they worked hard to keep the reality from Guam. That is why, as a people Chamorros did not want to be Americans and did not feel as if they were Americans-in-waiting before the war. They liked some of the things America was giving them, but recognized that equality and belonging wasn't a part of it.

When the colonial difference is less visible or apparent, it can be all the more unnerving and uncomfortable. It is there, but it makes no sense. You can feel it, but you can't find a way to explain or justify it. What is the matter with Guam that it has to be different from everyone else and not be given the chance to either be a state or an independent country? What is wrong with it that it cannot make the next choice in its evolution? Why, with the US supporting so many other places and allegedly supporting their rights to self-determination, can't Guam be given the same chance? There are many answers to these questions, but even if you don't know anything about them or don't really understand the issues involved, they hurt you, and make your life so awkward at points. They constantly force you to live with his overwhelming sense of inferiority, that no matter what you feel, you are different.

You may not always be different, but there are very fundamental ways that you are not part of the one you are breed from birth to crave a union with. No matter what you feel, those differences are not overcome. The only way to fix them it feels like, is to accept your inferiority and accept that no matter what the rhetoric of your colonial relationship is, no matter how many American flags you place on your body, your car or your front yard, you are not supposed to be equal, but exist to be subordinate. And that is the joyous colonial existence that you are supposed to embody.

I have often said that if the White House really wanted the military buildup to happen in Guam, all they would have had to do is have Obama come to Guam, hold a town hall meeting, let everyone state their case, and then they could do whatever they wanted. Obama could nod his head, say "hafa adai," make a joke about who loves Spam more, people in Guam or people in Hawai'i. A more serious Obama would also say something about how he is concerned as well about the potential negative impacts, but that this buildup is going to be good for Guam. Then he would not commit to anything and leave, and most people would feel like their voices mattered, even if they don't actually affect reality or policy. If Obama did that, buildup support would most likely increased dramatically.

For so many people, there were concerns about how the buildup would shatter life on Guam, but what turned people against the buildup, was the ways in which the recognition , the respect was not there. In the sort of banal colonial relationship that Guam has with the US, so long as the US appears to recognize and respect Guam, even if it doesn't actually do so, it can get away with whatever it wants. So long as people on Guam feel like they are seen by the US, like they matter to the US and it appears to care for them, people here will shoulder, swallow and accept close to anything.

The colonial difference is that wound. It can be gaping and nasty or it can be ga'tot, almost invisible, perhaps just the ring left from a chain around one's wrists. It demands that something be done about it. It demands to be healed, to be touched, to be looked at. For most people on Guam, the amot of choice is to be recognized. You cannot be made whole or equal through law or through reality, so you accept the gaze or the look of the colonizer instead. That is the key pillar in the colonial imaginary, is that the colonizer, through his goods, his ideas, his presence and even his look, holds the keys to completing the colonized, and giving them a secure sense of being, a final wholeness. The lie of the colonial world is that the colonizer offers not just the secrets to improving your life, but also to healing that wound. It can come in the forms of citizenship, welfare, Marines from Okinawa, cable television, a new stamp or quarter, but all are potential forms of amot meant to heal large parts or small parts of that colonial wound.

The colonial bind, the ways in which we on Guam are bound into that trap of recognition is that we constantly show the US the wounds of colonial difference in hopes of getting them to see them, in hopes of getting them to heal them. This means that we will always see ourselves as being fundamentally inferior and always requiring that we look up, that we beg, that we meekly accept our status and that tokens that we are given. In the case of the buildup or anything like it, we have trouble even dealing with the subject of the struggle, because we can be so easily deflected or placated, since embody too well, a community trapped in a desire for recognition, rather than a desire to actually improve our lives or fix things.

But self-determination and decolonization start with a refusal to accept the amot. A pulling back of our wounds and the admission that even if the US has a lot, alot of which is stuff that we want for ourselves, it cannot solve all problems, and cannot heal all wounds. These are perhaps wounds that only we can heal for ourselves.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

We Are Here

I just came home from the "We Are Here" Protest, or as some might know it as, the "Guam: Where America's President Refuels" Protest. Esta i protest yan i ti nahong i maigo'-hu gi painge muna'yafai yu', and so I'll write about it and post photos of it tomorrow.

To say the least it was inspiring and fun.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Red Velvet Cake of Political Status

“The Fourth Kind of Cake”
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Marianas Variety

My column two weeks ago “The Fourth Kind” received some interesting feedback. Some were supportive, some weren’t. For example, some criticized the outdated nature of the UN framework and how the sheer amount of local, national and international inertia on the issue means that new blood, particularly a Fourth Kind of blood should be injected into the discussion through the introduction of a new hybrid status.

While this is true, Fourth Kind gospels attract attention in the same way fads do. They feel new and cool, but generally lack any enduring qualities. They are proposed to capture attention, to create conversation, but don’t do much else. History shows, both locally and elsewhere that the Fourth Kind of status has a way of making things appear to be fresh, new, and possible, they also derail the process away from decolonization and towards a solution that doesn’t solve what was initially intended to be resolved.

The Fourth Kind exists so that all sides involved can avoid the traumatic confrontation that no one seems to want to deal with. It exists so that the US doesn’t have to decolonize anything or admit to its colonial past or present. It exists so that the people of Guam and in particular the Chamorros don’t have to make a choice about what they want next for their island. They don’t have to acknowledge that their place in America has always been and continues to be a difficult one, and that subordinate place is far easier to accept the less you know about it or think about it.

The Fourth Kind allows everyone to ignore the issue of Guam’s stolen sovereignty through the creation of a comfortable political cul-de-sac. Although the Fourth Kind can lead you blindly into a darkened alley, the fanfare of your trip is meant to be joyous and gleeful. Your new political home will most likely have some exciting new name, such as “State-Like Status” or “Integrated Territorial Unincorporation” or “Organized Unincorporated Territory.” You may be led there as if finally your long colonial journey is over, and the house of your dreams awaits, but once you get there, you find it is just another waiting station, and that this is not a new beginning, but just another sad chapter. This Fourth Kind cul-de-sac is your new home.

While I criticize Fourth Kind prophets or people who propose these get out of colonialism quick fixes, in truth the people of Guam are just as much to blame. Most status discussions on this topic take the form of people wanting to have the proverbial red velvet cake of political status change, but also eat it as well. People want to be both part of the US, but also distinct from it. People enjoy the unique nature of Guam (for the most part) and talk of integration breeds uncomfortable feelings of losing whatever it is that makes Guam, Guam. Talk of breaking away from the US leads to uncomfortable feelings of not being able to survive with the US, and feeling lost without the colonizer who has controlled things for so long. The Commonwealth Movement was a perfect example of this, as it attempted to formally have it both ways, seeking both more inclusion and more autonomy.

Many like to pretend however that the fault here lies with Guam alone, as if the US has no role except to patiently wait for us to make a choice. Once we do, the US will immediately airlift the new status to Guam complete with fireworks, free apple pie for everyone and maybe even the Cheerleaders for the Dallas Cowboys. This is far from true. The United States, at the governmental level and at the popular level is fairly resistant to any real status change for Guam. This is particularly so for Statehood or for Independence. It is against them for different reasons, but at the core of their resistance is whether or not a small piece of the US, that it has dominated for more than a century, should even for a moment, have more power than the US itself. The idea that Guam and not the US should have that choice over what comes next for Guam is considered too much for a country that already has so much.

The task of decolonizing Guam is already very difficult given this resistance. But we make this heavy burden close to impossible by pursuing these Fourth Kind solutions and these fantasies that we have can have all the cake we want and eat it too. This is a serious step in Guam’s political evolution and we weaken both ourselves and the way others receive us by not being clear in our desire and by being so inconsistent.

(original image of Red Velvet Cake came from this Flickr.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


From We Are Guahan:

In order to engage and educate the public on the "Compatibility Sustainability Study" or "CSS", We Are Guåhan is inviting you to join us:

at a village meeting

on November 16, 2011

at the Yigo Senior Center (next to the Yigo Softball Field)

from 6:00pm – 8:00pm

The purpose of the CSS is to protect the quality of life for all residents of Guam. The village meeting is an opportunity to learn more about issues discussed in the CSS such as land use, noise, health and affordable housing.

For example, according to the CSS, the number of helicopter operations at Andersen Air Force Base will more than double by 2014 to over 100 flights a day. The CSS also states that there will be about 400 airplane operations a day at Andersen. The noise from airplanes and helicopters flying overhead will affect over 2,500 residents in Yigo and Dededo. The CSS gives our leaders an opportunity to proactively address issues such as night-time flights over our homes and flights over schools near Andersen such as Upi Elementary and Machanaonao Elementary.”

Governor Calvo, Speaker Won Pat, Mayor Savares and Rear Admiral Bushong make up the “Policy Committee” that is responsible for preparing and approving policy recommendations and approval of a final CSS.

The recommendations in the final CSS will give guidance to GovGuam and DOD moving forward, so it’s extremely important for our community to learn about the steps GovGuam is taking and will take to protect our communities and to give feedback.

The CSS and Health and Social Service Strategic Plan are available at: Comments on the Draft CSS are due by Feb. 10, 2012.

Monday, November 14, 2011

I Pilan Yanggen Sumahi...

“I Pilan Yanggen Sumåhi…”

by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Marianas Variety
Many people have asked me why I would name my column “When the Moon Waxes.”
The simple answer is, I pilan yanggen sumåhi…which in English translates to “when the moon waxes.” These are my favorite words from a famous old Chamorro love song called “Dalai Nene.” The word “sumåhi” always stuck with me. It shares the same root word “såhi” with another well known word on Guam now, “sinahi.” This word is most famous as the Chamorro men’s necklace made of hima shell, but is also the word for “new moon.” The tragic lyrics combined with the imagery of the moon stuck with me so, influencing me to name my first child Sumahi.

Like many cultures, the moon has been very important to Chamorros, especially in helping mark the passage of time throughout the year. The Ancient Chamorro calendar had 13 months, one for each moon. In the naming of their months, they noted that different moons symbolized different ideal moments for different activities. A certain type of crab is best hunted after a particular moon, and the arrival of a certain moon means that people should prepare for a period of heat or regular rain. The moon was so important that "moon talk" or "fino' gualåfon" or "talk of the full moon" was what was known as love language amongst Ancient Chamorros. This was a mysterious language even to the Spanish who were there to hear it in the late 17th century. It was said to be a secret language that young bachelors would speak to each other, especially when they were staying together in the guma'uritao. But it was also a language best expressed through love songs, meant to help develop the communication and presentation skill of the young men. They would write songs and perform for each other, before taking their act public to the rest of the village (and potential love interests).

In pre-World War II Guam, the importance of the moon was still apparent. For example, in my research I came across a short essay entitled “Moon Superstitions” written by Juan Rosario and Felix Camacho, who were students attending the Guam Normal School, which was a training school for teachers back then. The article discusses the beliefs that Chamorros had about how the changes of the moon affected when you should harvest crops, cut wood, or even castrate animals.

For most Chamorros who were educated in the prewar American school system, they were taught very little about local history or culture, because the system was blatantly colonial and designed to strip the children of their language and identities as Chamorros. But interestingly enough, those who went on to become teachers were often given more latitude in their personal intellectual endeavors. In other essays collected from Guam Normal School Students, you find discussions on local history, legends and culture. There were even essays where Chamorros were asked who they preferred as their colonizer, the Spanish or the Americans? A number of these essays were collected in the Hale’-ta series, as part of the volume titled “Hemplon Nåna Siha: A Collection of Legends and Stories.”

The essay by these students is short and so I’ve included it below, because it gives a nice insight to some enduring aspects of Chamorro culture and the moon.

Moon Superstitions
By Juan Rosario and Felix Camacho
Fishermen, hunters and farmers are guided by the moon. The fishermen know the conditions of the tide by the moon and they can tell the best time to start fishing.
At the first appearance of the moon, Sinåhi, it is a good time to fish lobsters and crabs as they come out of their holes to wash their bodies. Sinåhi is also a good time for animals to be castrated because, it is said, the wound will only swell slightly and less blood will run from the cut.
The best time to hunt crabs is during gualåfon umang (the night before the full moon), gualåfon (full moon), and atahgue (the fifteenth night of the moon), because the crabs leave their holes to venture to the seashore.
The farmer always waits until the gualåfon and mina’te (low tide) to plant their seeds, as they believe that the full moon and low tide make the fruit full and perfect. When the moon becomes smaller and smaller until it takes the shape of its first appearance, Ginekok, the farmers cut wood, bamboo and coconut leaves for use because during this time, they are more resistant to bugs and they are slow to decay.
When the moon is full, “Gualåfon,” it is a good time to plant all kinds of plants because their fruit will be very large. It is also a good time to hunt deer who roam the jungle at night.

Pagat Point Photos


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Veterans Day

More troops lost to suicide

By John Donnelly

For the second year in a row, the U.S. military has lost more troops to suicide than it has to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The reasons are complicated and the accounting uncertain — for instance, should returning soldiers who take their own lives after being mustered out be included?

But the suicide rate is a further indication of the stress that military personnel live under after nearly a decade of war.

Figures released by the armed services last week showed an alarming increase in suicides in 2010, but those figures leave out some categories.

Overall, the services reported 434 suicides by personnel on active duty, significantly more than the 381 suicides by active-duty personnel reported in 2009. The 2010 total is below the 462 deaths in combat, excluding accidents and illness. In 2009, active-duty suicides exceeded deaths in battle.

Last week’s figures, though, understate the problem of military suicides because the services do not report the statistics uniformly. Several do so only reluctantly.

Figures reported by each of the services last week, for instance, include suicides by members of the Guard and Reserve who were on active duty at the time. The Army and the Navy also add up statistics for certain reservists who kill themselves when they are not on active duty.

But the Air Force and Marine Corps do not include any non-mobilized reservists in their posted numbers. What’s more, none of the services count suicides that occur among a class of reservists known as the Individual Ready Reserve, the more than 123,000 people who are not assigned to particular units.

Suicides by veterans who have left the service entirely after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan also are not counted by the Defense Department. The Department of Veterans Affairs keeps track of such suicides only if the person was enrolled in the VA health care system — which three-quarters of veterans are not.

But even if such veterans and members of the Individual Ready Reserve are excluded from the suicide statistics, just taking into account the deaths of reservists who were not included in last week’s figures pushes the number of suicides last year to at least 468.

That total includes some Air Force and Marine Corps reservists who took their own lives while not on active duty, and it exceeds the 462 military personnel killed in battle.

The problem of reservists’ suicides, in particular, has been a major concern to some lawmakers. A Pentagon study this year confirmed that reservists lack the support structure that active-duty troops have.

Some types of reservists are more cut off than others. Rep. Rush D. Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, says that members of the Individual Ready Reserve and other categories of citizen-soldiers do not receive a thorough screening for mental health issues when they return from deployments.

One of those soldiers, a constituent of Holt’s named Coleman S. Bean, was an Army sergeant and Iraq War veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder but could not find treatment. He took his own life in 2008.
Moved by Bean’s story, Holt wrote a bill requiring phone contacts with these reservists every 90 days after they come home from war. The House adopted Holt’s provision as part of its defense authorization bills for both fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2011. But conferees writing the final version of the bills took it out both years.
Holt said in December that Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain was responsible for that decision in the most recent bill. A spokeswoman for McCain, Brooke Buchanan, would not state his position on the provision. Instead, she said House members had removed it.
A House Armed Services Committee spokeswoman, Jennifer Kohl, said the House reluctantly pulled the provision from the bill because of the opposition of senators, whom she did not name.
Holt said a fuller reckoning of the number of suicides among military personnel and veterans is needed not so much to tell lawmakers and the public that there is a problem — that, he says, they know. Rather, it is needed to more accurately gauge the extent to which programs to help troubled troops are having an effect.
"In order to know whether the steps we’ve taken work," Holt said, "we’re going to have to have more detailed knowledge of who’s out there."

Friday, November 11, 2011

99% Stickers

From Common Dreams:

We are the 99%

Order your bumper stickers today.

All orders received by 2pm ET M-F will ship the same day.

Stickers are Black & White on 4" x 4" vinyl w/union label.

Price includes all shipping costs.

1 Sticker = $2.00

10 Stickers = $10.00

100 Stickers = $30.00

1,000 Stickers = $200.00


This effort is not a fundraiser for Common Dreams - these prices just

cover the cost of printing and processing.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Pursuit of Justice for Guam

The Forum held at the Legislature a few weeks back was both inspiring and disappointing.

It was disappointing because it was so poorly attended. You had two titans of community engagement and local leadership (hun) working together on holding a public forum and the room wasn't even filled half way. I got there in the afternoon ya nina'triste yu' nu i ti meggai na manmatto. As I wrote about last week, events that we have held at UOG on the same issue, with a much less star-studded line up of speakers are usually packed. Given that some of that is due to the fact that students are given credit to attend doesn't excuse the Legislature-UOG forum, since students still could have been given credit to attend this forum. In this regard it was almost pathetic to attend the forum, since despite all the senators being there, the people who the forum is partially supposed to exist for, were nowhere to be seen.

It was on the other hand inspiring because of the talent that was there and the strength through which the ideas were being shared. If you were to hang out in some spaces on Guam you might feel like self-determination for Chamorros is a myth, a dream, a racist nightmare, an indigenous fad or a silly native fantasy. It is something not to be taken seriously, and something that will never happen. But, if you attended that forum, you could not walk away with anything close to that level of apathy. Self-determination was defended, sometimes in very rationale and intellectual ways, other times in very passionate and aggressive ways. Some speakers refused to even consider the idea that Chamorros don't have the right to self-determination. Others chose to engage with critics of the Guam law on how a self-determination vote would be carried out. Other made appeals to decolonization of the mind and the way we see the island. As Robert Underwood, one of the speakers for the UOG-Legislature forum never tires of reminding us, self-determination is not something we are waiting for, or something that has to be given to us, it is something we always already have.

Komo Chamorro hao, esta gaige ennao na direcho gi kannai-mu. Sa' hafa manggagagao hao gi me'nan otro? Sa' hafa un nanangga i otro? Yanggen manaliligao hao ya ti un ripapara na esta gaige gi kannai-mu i inespihaha-mu, siempre dimalas hao. Umabak hao ya ni' ngai'an para un sodda' iyo-mu "self-determination."

These forums where the issue is not debated or left open, but rather affirmed in a variety of ways are important before of this point. Self-determination is already ours to exercise. There are those who wish to take it from us, but we do not need to ask anyone's permission to hold or use it.

From the Forum itself, one of the more passionate and wide-ranging appeals came from attorney Therese Terlaje. She provided a very comprehensive overview of recent events dealing with the military buildup and Federal Territorial relations. She talks about the historical struggles before for rights and for equality and how that connects to the struggles of today. It is a very good read for both those who are esta payon nu este na asunto siha, yan ayu lokkue' ni' mangadda' put este na klasin kuentos.

I've pasted her speech from the Forum below:


Understanding Actions: Strengthening the Pursuit of Justice for Guam

Presented by Therese M. Terlaje
Forum on Guam’s Quest for Decolonization
I Liheslaturan Guahan

October 28, 2011
Buenas! I would like to greet and acknowledge that I am in the presence of distinguished members of our community, many who have been elected to office and who have served our quest for self determination with wisdom, dignity, courage, and excellence and have by their actions inspired the aspirations of my generation. I am humbled to be allowed by the Speaker and members of the 31st Guam Legislature to make a presentation to those who have actually been in negotiations on our behalf or have helped to get our leaders to the table by their diligent vocalization of the injustice. It is impossible to be more eloquent or entertaining than those before me and with me on this panel. I appreciate very much your indulgence in this humble effort to revitalize attention to these endeavors.

The impacts of historical injustices continue to plague the standard of living and quality of life for the people of Guam, manifested in medical, economic, environmental, and political aspects. The delay and denial of justice for the inhabitants of Guam have impeded past efforts to achieve a sustainable economy for Guam following World War II, and to this day contribute to an identity crisis in our children and overall crisis in families and in our government. Guam must urgently strive for Justice through Political Self Determination that incorporates a voice and authority to negate or halt the standard of living impacts from carte blanche military expansion and other federal plans for Guam, and from the negative consequences of blanket or unstudied imposition of U.S. laws on Guam. Without justice, sustainability will elude Guam. Without sustained efforts, justice will elude her people.

In addition to the pursuit through International channels and the U.S. court system, Guam’s elected leaders, as they have in the past, must directly negotiate with the U.S. to reach binding improvements to its political status and aggressively seek the U.S. and U.N. endorsements of self determination for the Native Inhabitants of Guam. Notwithstanding the other roles given to our elected leaders by the Organic Act, we trust our Congressmen, Governors, and Senators to tirelessly advocate for a change in status and to be our first line of defense against further injustice by the U.S. government on the people of Guam.

Before the Organic Act, the Guam Congress served in an advisory capacity to the Naval Governors. They attempted to represent the best interests of the civilian inhabitants of Guam directly to naval governors who obviously had no problem addressing the needs of the military inhabitants of Guam. The inspiring words of the Guam Congress, including the Walkout, have been preserved for us, and they have even been summarized for our convenience. Guam Congress battled to move away from an all powerful Naval rule, and the ability of a naval governor to single handedly act against the desires of the people of Guam, especially in a time of peace. No student of Guam should graduate without the opportunity to be inspired by the eloquence, sincerity, and urgency in the pleas for justice by the members of the Guam Congress. Nor should they graduate without opportunity to be angered by the continued applicability of those pleas to the events of today.

One of the results of their efforts is the current Guam Legislature. Yet, even after the Organic Act, the Guam Legislature as the sole “voice” for the people of Guam battled an all-powerful appointed Governor and U.S. system which allowed one person or one agency of the U.S. to dole out or deny justice to the island and its people and to speak to the U.S. on matters concerning Guam and her people without regard for the desires of the civilian inhabitants. The Guam Legislature continued its efforts for fairness and justice and eventually attained an elected Governor.

It is incumbent on every leader who now sits in an elected office due to the efforts of those who went before us, to learn the passion, the strategies, and the sacrifice endured in these battles for justice lest they mistakenly believe that they were meant to sit in office as facilitators of the U.S efforts to control Guam.

The Elected Governor and the non-voting delegate to U.S. Congress allowed us to elect residents of Guam to join the Guam Legislature as ‘voices’ in Guam’s quest for justice from the U.S. and for a change in political status by exercising our right to self determination.

Notwithstanding the passage of the Organic Act, Task Forces and Commissions utilized the resources of the government of Guam in this quest, including the Guam Task Force on Political Status, the Commission on Political Status, the Guam Self Determination Commission and the entire Guam Commonwealth Draft Act process, and the current Guam Decolonization Commission. Each of these mechanisms extended beyond the Governor alone, for Guam’s quest has always been a multi-pronged and multi-voiced approach to justice, thus unifying diverse efforts and ensuring roles for each and every citizen in this pursuit.

Multiple voices strengthen the pursuit of political status by strengthening our negotiating position. Just as Legislators have been sending official requests via resolution to Congress and other U.S. officials, or enacting into law measures of subtle but more often outright resistance to colonialism, there have been many contributions from all sectors of society in pursuit of a change in political status.

Many of you were a part of the NGO’s and occasionally the government officials who represented Guam’s quest to the UN and its Committees for many years. Elected leaders and those appointed to Commissions or Task Forces, government workers, and volunteers traveled around the island to village meetings, government meetings, pocket meetings, and family meetings to discuss political status. They travelled sometimes at great expense to other countries and around the U.S. in order to be heard by officials of the U.S. government, and we are proud today of the growing record of official testimonies of war survivors like Beatrice Elmsley and Tom Barcinas, of the unity in message and eloquence at the Guam Commonwealth Hearings, and many more occasions. In many instances, the community banded together to raise money to send a few people as their representatives. Teachers, government agencies, and officials were enlisted in the Education of students and all resident as to our rights and our quest. The Guam Legislature enacted laws mandating the teaching of Guam History, and for awhile, the Organic Act of Guam. But the bulk of this education and preservation of our rights was done by private citizens, many of them landowners or anti-nuclear advocates, some were war survivors, but many were first and foremost proud Chamorros who were deemed “activists” by the media. It was the impatience of these “activists” that kept and continues to keep justice at the forefront of Guam’s quest. We should dedicate entire days to celebrating the accomplishments, sacrifice, and perseverance of Guam’s citizens in the pursuit of justice.

Legislators have long understood and taken advantage of the great potential of the government of Guam, even under U.S. law, to resist the further imposition of injustices to which we are vulnerable while in a colonized status. There are many, many examples of this understanding. Some examples of what I call ‘resistance’ legislation include foremost the repeated empanelling of status commissions comprised of individuals in the community and representatives from all three branches of government and various sectors of our community. The Chamoro Land Trust Act reserved a home for Chamorros in perpetuity. The Legislature passed a law prohibiting the arrest of protestors by our local police. A law was passed mandating that excess federal property returned to the government of Guam be in turn transferred to the original landowners to right an injustice done by the U.S. and not the government of Guam. Prior legislators refused to be swayed in this attempt by the potential monetary boost to the government that a different use of the land would bring.

We too should stand firm against threats of economic doom and the lure of federal funds or contracts that have been used in all places where the colonial power wants easy access to resources. We must not forget that is was those with business interests who overthrew the independent Kingdom of Hawaii, while the U.S. government silently stood by and then pounced once the dirty work was done.

One final example from the numerous examples that time constrains us from celebrating today, is a recent one. Not wanting to be coerced into signing a Programmatic Agreement for the destruction of our historical and cultural sites, the Guam Legislature passed a bond to build a Guam museum with its own money that would be able to tell its own history, not beholden to the U.S. interpretation. Our museum, particularly, must be a source of resistance to colonialism. In contrast, the effectiveness of the government in the pursuit of a change in political status is vulnerable to the distraction and inconsistency of Special Interests, and derailed by the pursuit of narrow agendas for personal gain. We must all be extremely diligent to stay unified in the face of these competing and divisive agendas. We must be most diligent to ensure that no branch, no official, and no agency of our local government is distracted into facilitating U.S. control or further injustices.

The efforts of all agencies must be redirected at building our negotiating strength and all executive orders, memorandums, or unwritten agendas of facilitation of increased federal authority should be rescinded. Perhaps our Legislature and the especially the public could benefit from a policy similar to one of the first policies issued by President Obama’s Attorney General, announcing that he would not defend the denial of FOIA requests by government officials except in very limited circumstances.

Federal dollars by way of grants and loans have to be scrutinized and if appropriate, rejected, where they would usurp from Guam a commitment to a U.S. agenda which further impedes Guam’s self determination efforts and hinders our negotiating strength. There are many examples of the strings attached, and the late discoveries of their full implications, which make it reasonable and critical that we be extra cautious.

We all drive through Tiyan and are reminded of the airport’s refusal to return ancestral land based on bond covenants and the subsequent lease of that land to commercial interests. We recall the DoD and officials at various government agencies secretly entering into non-disclosure agreements that prevented the Guam agency personnel from informing the Legislature of preliminary EIS findings. Recently, the media has congratulated the Airport and the Port on their designations as special military institutions and we have learned of the Port’s battle to maintain control over its Master Plan as a result. We must check the final settlement between the Port and a private contractor who, pursuant to lease of the former Shipyard from GEDCA and contracts with the military, sued for exemption from Port Authority control and tariffs. We hear of the potential for U.S. DoD control of ships’ entry into Apra Harbor. We must be diligent that DoD funded research and other programs at any of our institutions are consistent with Guam’s priorities and with the basic socio-economic, political and cultural development goals sought by the people of Guam.

The U.S. made it very clear when they proposed the massive expansion of military activities and forces on Guam that they would do as they pleased, that they might take more land, and that there would be adverse effects to the people of Guam. They also announced the few needs that were within the control of the government of Guam: their need for fresh water, their need to give us their sewer and trash to manage and dispose of properly, and their need for massive amounts of H2 laborers to get their projects done according to their timetable.

The community did its part through effective use of the EIS and Section 106 processes, public hearings, town hall meetings, and rallies, and responded with overwhelming opposition, with active comments and educational campaigns. Teachers, social workers, and government agencies responded. Many legislators responded and the Legislature as a whole was in firm opposition. Yet the military did not need the consent of the community, had found a way around the Legislature, and was even able to pit the executive branch agencies against each other in battles for mitigation money.

A potentially great negotiating opportunity resulted, instead, in the announcement of the creation of an entity that would consist of military and Guam agency personnel to facilitate and expedite the processing of military permits. They announced the Programmatic Agreement which purportedly gave them Guam’s consent and the freedom to move forward despite the adverse impacts to our historical and cultural sites. They have moved forward with the fencing and clearing of miles of forests at Northwest Field, with the relocation and expansion of their dog kennels to avoid dog stress from construction noise on the upcoming projects. They have successfully directed DPW to use federal highway funds to prioritize construction of the bridges crucial to the military road haul network before any projects strictly for the benefit of our local community.

As a solution to a dump that was violating the federal Clean Water Act by leaching contaminates into U.S. waters such as the Lonfit River and Pago Bay, they have most recently announced that Guam has agreed to take DoD trash, to fill our brand new landfill built by bond payments exacted from future generations, and to dispose of the leachate in the shores of Inarajan. Their work needs are met by the Congressional lifting of the caps on H-2 visas that our Governor will have the sole authority to grant.
Guam has a plan identifying 11 additional water wells for Guam’s growth. The U.S. requires 22 additional wells to meet its expansion. Our own CCU has agreed to allow the U.S. to take its water from 22 additional wells, for free, before we address the wells needed for our own needs and stripping our community of the possibility of addressing our needs first and selling the excess to the military. Power and water formerly in control of the Legislature as part of the entire government of Guam, are run by ‘independent’ boards like our other autonomous agencies. A huge chunk of Guam’s overall interest is being negotiated piecemeal, and we are vulnerable to the potential influence on these boards by business interests who aim to do or are doing business with the military or its contractors.

Ironically, it is a local agency that also insists over federal EPA objection, that Guam can handle the wastewater from additional H-2 barracks. The U.S. kept the H-2 barracks off their bases, and now washes its hands of adverse impacts to wastewater, health care, and recreational facilities. There has been little opposition and the TLUC has continued to grant variances.

A hope for greater justice has been preserved for each of us by those visionaries, those with the gift of oratory, those writers, those lawmakers, those artists and activists with courage and voice, and those citizens who took the time and made the sacrifice to learn their own history, their own plight, and to work together in the solutions.

Anyone involved in negotiation will tell you that skills and motivation are important, but timing can dictate your success. We must continue to be prepared at all times, and ensure that the next generation, those in college and high school are prepared after us for any opportunity that we can create, perhaps the ideal opportunity. All of us must urgently fill many roles. We must all teach the pursuit of justice that has been engrained in us. We must each use our voices to comment, protest, write, create art, and even sue. We must support each other and celebrate our successes.

We must stay focused on strengthening the pursuit of justice and strengthening our negotiating position for a change in status, but through very carefully selected means. By carefully selected means, we can cure the identity crisis of our youth, re-empower our women and families, and restore the pursuit of justice as a goal of our community paramount to the pursuit of individual, family, business, or single industry wealth.

We can and must prepare ourselves and our youth to be able to lead the various groups necessary to continue or culminate this quest. I have no doubt leaders will emerge to continue this quest as time marches on. Even more critical than the emergence of these leaders is the support structure of critical “first followers” instilled with courage of the actions we take today who will lend critical mass and direction to all efforts.

Our success at this moment in time need not be measured by whether we reach our ultimate destination in the next year or even decade. It may be measured by ensuring we leave no impediments to the next generation’s opportunity for success.


Related Posts with Thumbnails