Friday, May 17, 2013

Where Dissertations Come From


When I left Guam in 2003 to start graduate school in the states I knew I wanted to research and write about Guam and Chamorros, but wasn't sure what angle to take exactly. My tagline for my research while in grad school was "everything Chamorro, anything Guam" and sometimes "everything Guam and anything Chamorro." Decolonization was something I was becoming more and more interested in in scholarly terms, even if it was something I had already been advocating and working on in an activist context. Would I do something more cultural? Something in your typical social movement, social science way? Would I do a historical project and come up with my bounded bundle of time and go from there? I ended up taking a more philosophical route and I'm grateful that my committee was willing to let me engage in that way.

I ended up using my "data" and my evidence in a more philosophical way, or the way that philosophical essays and articles are written. You are not contained a single form or a particular set of evidence, but can instead move more freely through the stuff that is life and make your arguments using whatever you can get your hands on. Although the analogy isn't perfect, I imagined that your typical social scientist would be akin to a warrior who becomes truly proficient with a single deadly weapon, mastering it and becoming one with it. A more philosophical approach is akin to not focusing on the weapon, but on the warrior and training yourself to turn the things around you into weapons, using whatever is at your disposal. One is not necessarily better than the other, but each have different possibilities.

The form that my dissertation took came from a series of speeches, articles and blogposts that I collected while I was working on my Masters Thesis in Ethnic Studies. These were small, potentially insignificant sorts of things. A line underlined in a speech by an Admiral. A string of statements from in the comments attached to a Youtube video. A laugh in the background of a speech when the House is debating an amendment proposed by Guam's Congresswoman. So many errant details were swirling around in my head, connecting in different ways, I couldn't see myself doing a typical social scientific research project. My evidence was diffuse and scattered, in my opinion it required a more diffuse method to give it meaning. 

One of the pieces of evidence that pushed me in the writing of my dissertation more than anything else, was the list below from the website for Foreign Affairs published in 2006. It was a simple list of the 6 most important US military bases in the world. This list animated so much in terms of looking at Guam in a very different way, past the nationalizing and colonizing ideaologies that people use to fantasizing about what Guam is and where we are it. By placing it alongside other places of not only strategic importance, but also indistinct and ghostly political existence, it helped make in my mind a connection between Guam's lack of status and a potency or power in the United States. As if the lack of sovereignty in Guam, led to an enhanced sovereignty for the United States. That is how I came to design my dissertation, taking up the question of how Guam helps to produce American sovereignty.

That list that helped my conceptualize all this is pasted below:

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The List: The Six Most Important U.S. Military Bases
By Daniel Widome
Posted May 2006

The U.S. military is cleaning house. Existing bases are being retooled or eliminated, and new ones are popping up in some unexpected places. FP looks at the overseas bases that are now vital to the U.S. military—and the new ones that will change its global footprint for years to come.

Andersen Air Force Base & Apra Harbor, Guam
The base: Andersen can handle aircraft ranging from unmanned aerial vehicles to long-range strategic bombers, and Apra Harbor can service everything from nuclear submarines to aircraft carriers. The naval base is also home to one of the three Maritime Prepositioning Squadrons worldwide, which provides mobile, long-term storage of land-combat equipment and supplies near potential trouble spots.
Its importance: Located in the Pacific Ocean about 2,000 miles from Asia, Guam is close enough to the mainland to be vital in any conceivable conflict yet distant enough to preclude a surprise blow from an adversary. Andersen is one of the few locations with the necessary hanger facilities to protect the B-2’s sensitive, radar-evading skin, and strategic bombers regularly cycle through the base to project power toward mainland Asia. The best part: unlike other large bases in the region, Guam is U.S. territory.

Balad Air Base/Camp Anaconda, Iraq
The base: Most prominent of the “enduring bases” being constructed in Iraq, Balad is located just north of Baghdad. It is one of the busiest airfields in the country, accommodating both Air Force fighters as well as transport aircraft. Camp Anaconda, adjacent to the air base, serves as a main base and logistics center for U.S. troops serving throughout central Iraq.
Its importance: Balad’s facilities and location make it more than just an ideal base from which to fight insurgents in Iraq. It is also perfectly positioned to project U.S. power throughout the Middle East, and it will likely do so for many years to come. Although this convenience might serve wider U.S. interests, it doesn’t sit too well with Balad’s Iraqi neighbors—U.S. soldiers have nicknamed Camp Anaconda “Mortaritaville” after a common greeting they receive.

Bezmer Air Base, Bulgaria
The base: Bezmer reflects a broader trend toward lighter, more austere bases in Eastern Europe and away from the larger military complexes in Western and Central Europe. To keep a low profile in the host countries, the Pentagon is reluctant to even refer to Bezmer and its Eastern European equivalents as “bases,” and it stresses that the host countries retain full control of their facilities.
Its importance: Compared to U.S. bases in “old” Europe, Bezmer and its Eastern European equivalents are cheaper to operate and closer to potential hot spots in the Middle East and Central Asia. In times of conflict, the military will use these facilities to “surge” men and materiel toward the front lines. The hope is that former-Soviet bloc host countries will be more amenable to U.S. bases than other hosts in “old” Europe and be less likely to block their use in a time of conflict.

Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory
The base: Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Diego Garcia served as a base for B-52s during the 1991 and 2003 wars with Iraq and during post-9/11 operations in Afghanistan. Its isolated anchorage is also home to both Army and Marine seaborne prepositioning squadrons for land-combat equipment and supplies.
Its importance: Isolation—and British sovereignty—make Diego Garcia a far more secure base for U.S. forces than any mainland base in Africa, the Middle East, or South Asia. Specialized shelters to protect the sensitive stealth equipment of visiting B-2s have recently been installed, and strategic bombers regularly rotate through the base. The atoll is also an important part of the U.S. Space Surveillance Network of telescopes, radars, and listening stations.

Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba
The base: Originally intended as coaling station for the U.S. Navy, Guantánamo Bay (or “Gitmo”) remains an important logistical base for Navy units operating in the Caribbean. It also serves as a hub for counter-drug and migrant interdiction operations.
Its importance: Gitmo’s greatest strategic asset is its hazy legal status—it is U.S.-controlled, but it is not U.S. territory. Although it’s not the only place through which “enemy combatants” (neither POWs nor convicted criminals) could be processed, it is readily accessible from the U.S. mainland, and its staff and facilities have experience in detention operations from their time as host to Haitian and Cuban refugees. As a result, Gitmo is one of the most well-known and reviled U.S. bases worldwide. The Bush administration has repeatedly rejected high-profile calls to shut down the base.

Manas Air Base, Kirgizstan
The base: Manas was established at Bishkek’s international airport in the months following 9/11 as a hub for multinational operations in Afghanistan. It has since grown into a substantial base in the heart of Central Asia, playing host to combat aircraft, their supporting personnel, and associated facilities.
Its importance: In addition to its proximity to Afghanistan, Manas is located near the immense energy reserves of the Caspian Basin, as well as the Russian and Chinese frontiers. Kirgizstan has not threatened to follow Uzbekistan’s example and expel U.S. forces, which suggests that Manas could become a linchpin of the enduring U.S. presence in Central Asia. Recognizing its value, Kirgizstan is talking about raising the rent from $2 million to $207 million per year.

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