Chamorros have been waiting for war reparations for decades. So many who were hoping to receive reparations for their treatment during World War II have passed away, not living long enough to see the reparations become a reality. War reparations has become a general part of political discourse on Guam. It is something that politicians bring up as a foil to target the Federal government or Guam’s non-voting delegates. Since the issue of war reparations is so emotional and given the fact that the longer it takes the more people will continue to die, you can define war reparations as one of those things that people feel very real, almost hyper real things in relation to, but in truth don’t really understand or don’t really conceive properly.
For example, as I have written before on this blog, advocates for Guam’s independence and decolonization often use war reparations in order to talk about how the United States continues to disrespect us and treat us as less than them, ma fa’ga’ga hit. This feels like it is a good tactic since it puts the United States in a bad light and basically makes it feel like they are spitting on our elders and hording money while our grandparents and great-grandparents pass away in shame.
In truth, it isn’t a good tactic. The anger and resentment over war reparations is very much tied to the issue of recognition or that Chamorros need to be recognized by the United States, as having suffered, in order for them to be complete. Sure it is a sin of the United States, but if you are arguing for decolonization, you have to be careful not to advertise sins that are easily absolved.
If you build your case too much on war reparations, what happens to your argument if you actually receive them? If somehow the United States decides to give them to Chamorros, then all of the critical groundwork you laid can instantly disappear, as what was once a passionate, anti-colonial issue has now become a testament to the greatness of the United States.
When I have had debates in my classes about war reparations, most students choose the side that support reparations for Chamorros. They do so because they have elders who would receive them, and because there is a feeling that they are supposed to support them. Sometimes a handful of students will loudly proclaim that they don’t support reparations and take the opposing side. They generally take this position to be different, but also because they feel offended by traversing of historical eras that reparations can lead to. They are against reparations because of some guilt they might feel or might be associated with, and take a political position against reparations in order to insulate themselves from what they might feel.
For example, a white person is more inclined to reject the idea of reparations than a non-white person in the United States. A Japanese person in Guam is more likely to reject the idea of reparations than a Chamorro. Although anyone can take a position against reparations, some people who are more sensitive to the histories that created them, decide to deploy these arguments to keep anyone from looking at them with the same lens that a black person might look at the descendants of slave owners, or Chamorros to the descendants of the Japanese that conquered Guam. Reparations is something that can potentially connect those that have profited from past acts of terror and exploitation with their descendants today. If you are not in touch with your history or don’t have apologetic defenses in place, that can be a terrifying things to consider.
People often claim to be against reparations because of the fact that those who actually committed the hideous acts in question are usually long gone and that money cannot actually make up for what happened, so what is the point?
Both of these arguments miss so much they should be ludicrous. Yes, it can feel like reparations for past sins would be opening up the floodgates to go back and prosecute every minute offense in history. Yes, it is impossible to quantify the suffering that took place and then adjust to for the present moment. But both these things are beside the point. Talk about reparations is not truly about assigning a dollar value to a group’s suffering so that an unfortunate chapter in history can be burned from the spine of the book of a nation. Reparations is a conversation about a nation or a government’s relation to its own population, especially those who are marginalized or were marginalized in the past. Every nation or government may come to a different point in terms of what to do with that past. Most try to deny it. Others try to excuse it. Money is the last refuge for those who want to admit to it, but also want a way of saying that this is a way of putting everything to rest, once and for all. There are so many other ways that you can help those who have been historically disenfranchised, discriminated against or just put into inhuman systems of life and death. But money is the most simplistic and also the one that makes your claims feel cheap, even if they are recognized.
On the Overseas Territories Review, I came across this article about the teaching of a class on reparations for slavery. Sounds interesting, we should have a class on war and war reparations at UOG.
Caribbean Media Corporation
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Wednesday August 7, 2013 – The Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) is to offer a course on reparation, looking at the issue of compensation for slavery in the Caribbean.
The course is being designed by lecturer in the Department of Government in Political Philosophy and Culture, Dr. Clinton Hutton, who said the curriculum will examine the argument for reparation within a historical context.
Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders at their summit in Trinidad and Tobago in July, agreed to establish a committee under the chairmanship of the Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to drive the issue.
Suriname has already said it would instruct the councils of the Union of South American States to collect “all relevant information for Suriname and CARICOM” on the reparation matter.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said the Caribbean is demanding reparation from Europe for native genocide and African slavery.
Hutton said that it is important to educate the Caribbean population about the issues of slavery and reparation, as many young people still do not see a connection between themselves and their enslaved ancestors.
“In other words, they are unable to feel empathy for their own ancestors,” he said, noting that the same lack of feeling displayed for our ancestors is the same that the Europeans had towards black people.
Hutton said that during his lectures, some students have argued that the reason their foreparents were enslaved was because they were uneducated.
He argued, however, that some of the people, who came across the Middle Passage, were state makers, scientists and highly skilled persons.
“In fact, the reason for Europeans going to Africa was that Africa was rich in tropical agriculture and not because of the physical makeup of our ancestors,” he stated.
“We need to walk through the passages that our ancestors walked, and we can only do that if we educate ourselves,” he added.
He said education will also generate a bigger and growing political voice to support the work of the National Commission for Reparations (NCR).
“I have no doubt that if the people are educated they will begin to think differently,” he said.