Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Ideological Troops

Ideology is one of those things about life that can feel so secure and clear. It can provide you a clear position from which you can see the world and assign value to certain idea, places and even bodies. But at the same time ideology is something that is so pervasive and massive, it cannot help but also be unforgivingly contradictory and sometimes appear to make absolutely no sense. There is a feeling that things should be black and white, but there is also a feeling that things are really actually gray.

We move between these two positions in a strategic way. When things being black and white works in our favor, we take that position in order to argue that our position is in line with the clear nature of reality. There is no wiggle room, what we stand for and believe in is so completely clear. But when the ideological black and white world is not in our favor, we tend to take the position that the exceptions matter and that in between those two binary opposites, is the world we all actually live in.

The military buildup was something where the ideological lines on island have been drawn and redrawn over the past few years. For some the buildup was a clear ideological issue. If you supported it, you were a patriotic American, who believed in a prosperous island and a strong military. If you didn’t, you were a crazy activist, a “communist” who hated America and wanted to give comfort to its enemies. For those who saw or continue to see the world this way, they perceived the buildup as a gift to Guam from the United States. It was not something to question but just to accept. It was the island’s duty to accept to and not make a fuss and most importantly not act ungrateful and dare to refuse it.

One of the things that held people ideologically in place and didn’t allow them to “question” and “critique” the buildup was the way it became associated with “the troops.” “The troops” is one of the most intriguing ideological constructions. It isn’t really the actual troops that serve in the military, but instead an image of it that everyone purports to speak for and be defending with their ideology. Those who often talk the most about supporting “the troops” are actually those who do them the most objective damage. Those who speak about them the most are often the ones who put them in harm’s way more often and usually for things that aren’t actually that important. Those are the ones who would rather throw huge sums of money at defense contractors than the troops themselves.

Curiously, “the troops” are simultaneously supposed to be strong and powerful defenders of the nation, but also seem to be weak and meek in terms of how easily they are wounded by words or a lack of flag waving. In the minds of those who see the buildup in black and white, the reason it isn’t happening or has been stalled is because of the island’s lack of support and faith. Bases closed in the 1990s because people dared to protest the military. If we criticize Uncle Sam and the military too much one day they may decide to just pack up and leave us. The Achilles’ Heel of “the troops” is that while they are capable against all foreign enemies, they are apparently weak and easily crushed by domestic ones.

That is the key to why this construction exists. It is an ideological tool meant to curb speech and control speech. We should all support the troops and so if someone claims you exist on the other side of that ideological rift, then you have basically been positioned as something that shouldn’t exist. In terms of the buildup many people felt they couldn’t express themselves or be wary of it because of that aura of not wanting to be the thing that weakens the resolve of “the troops.”

Over the past few years I have had very interesting conversations with people serving in the military, and had some express their own concerns about the buildup and its effect on the island. “The troops” after all are made up of millions of different people with different opinions and beliefs. To speak of them in such a simple way doesn’t do them and their diversity justice. The most touching of these moments was when I took a group of National Guardsmen on a tour of the Pagat area. The intent in going there was to give the troops a greater understanding of the place and history. Their commanding officer told his troops that while in the military they are curbed in terms of their ability to speak freely, this doesn’t mean that soldiers are mindless grunts. They should know and understand what they are fighting for.

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