Saturday, April 12, 2014

You Joined the Military to See the World...

One thing that I often try to impress upon people, especially those who want to become activists and get involved in struggles in Guam against things such as militarization or in favor of things such as decolonization, is the importance of understanding the nature of your fight and what you are up against. One of the key advantages to considering social movements in war terms is that it helps you understand better that feeling right or being right has close to no effect on whether or not you win your battles. The only way in which that feeling of righteousness would carry any significance is if you believe that God is the ultimate judge in terms of who wins and loses on the battlefield and so strategy and planning matters little when all rests in his His hands. Sureness in your cause and the need for your fight can help bring you to the fray and keep you there, but if anything it can actually hurt your ability to strategize perceive the discursive field that awaits your interventions. You may end up believing that the best approach is to winning is to remain as steadfast and faithful to your ideology as possible and ignore clear signs around you that you are losing ground or that you are affecting little. Faith and ideological loyalty can end up feeling like it is its own set of tactics, when in truth all it represents is a means of motivating certain people, but little more.

The success or failure of your cause has everything to do with your knowledge of the ideological terrain around you, and your ability to understand those who might be allies and those who might be enemies. Faith and the security of your truth can limit your ability to step outside of yourself and understand the positionality of others. It is not an issue that your truth or cause is actually true, but even challenging the position of another successfully depends primarily on your ability to understand what might give power and dynamism to things that you want to dismantle or discredit.

For example, on Guam one thing that I am very much critical of is militarism, which can be defined in many different ways. Militarism can be the ways in which Guam as a community accepts an incredible military presence as being a "natural" part of island life. Militarism can also refer to the way in which military service is given a very high social status on the island. Militarism can also refer to the way in which there is often very little protest on Guam against American wars and imperialism despite the fact that Guam is the tip of the spear and plays a huge role in the ability of the US to politely or impolitely dominate others. Militarism is a concept that describes the relationship a community has to militarization and how natural or unnatural it perceives those manifestations to be. Militarization is a part of life, it deals with land for bases, resources going to pay soldiers, potential damage done to the environment, how a community relates to other communities, perceptions of peace and conflict. All of these things and more are tied to militarization, and militarism is the ideological framework for how communities accept, reject and adapt those things.

For example, place like Guam and Okinawa are both militarized heavily. Both of them have a significant amount of their lands that are set aside for military bases, both place a role in "defense" in the region for the US and their allies. Both places have histories of their islands being used by the US military and being sacrificed as battlefields while empires wrestle. As I have written about numerous times before there are many many similarities between the two. I even went so far last year to undertake an art project that tried to comment on their shared traumatic militarized similarities.

Two years ago when I stood before a military fence in Ginowan City on the edge of Futenma Air Base in Okinawa, I felt so at home in that moment it scared me. The grass beneath my feet felt like the grass when I stood once before military fences in Tiyan, what was once NAS Agana. The fence that I touched felt so similar to the ones that I have touched in Guam around bases in the north and the south. It even felt similar to fences I felt in South Korea. The sky in its flat blueness felt so comforting to me, I wondered if the military just went around the world taking land where the sky looked like this. It frustrated me to feel so at home in that moment, but know that what made me feel at home is shared militarization. In the same way in which when you travel if those things that are familiar give you a sense of belonging (such as franchise restaurants or domestic media), it means that you may be cheating yourself out of experiences with alterity, the supposed reason most people travel.

This familiarity derived from the fences that have been placed around our islands and our lands is something that has continued to motivate me in my own solidarity work, to try and enhance our imaginations so that we can see ourselves as not only connected through militarization, but something deeper and greater, something that does not only rely on ways we have been displaced or oppressed.

These are connections through "militarization" through the infrastructure of military power. In terms of militarism Guam and Okinawa are very different. Okinawa is a place that appears to resist militarization, where a sizeable part of the population does not want more training, more bases, more troops, whether they be from Japan or the US. There is a strong discourse that due to their war memories and war scars, Okinawa should be an island of peace, a model to the world that war is cruel, war is suffering and the only thing that people should fight for, is to end all wars. The Japanese and American governments try to counter this and argue that the US needs to have bases in Okinawa to protect the world, but people there reject these claims and wonder why their island has to endure so much shame and exploitation to "host" this level of militarization?

Guam is in most ways opposite to this. While there are people who resist militarization we are a minority and clearly so. Guam as a community accepts the bases as far more than just necessary, and naturally sees them as things that provide security, prosperity and a chance to prove loyalty and connection to the United States. Guam is a heavily militarized place, it is a place which does not question much its role in terms of securing US interests and possibly forcing its interests on others. It is a place that doesn't question much about whether it is a good idea to have close to 30% of its total land mass be occupied by bases. Militarism is a very strong ideology in Guam and intimately tied into how people see close to everything. It is important to remember that the presence of a discourse means little in terms of understanding its relevance. For everything that I've asserted in this paragraph there are counter narratives that exist, but in general they matter little and unfortunately carry little discursive weight.

In Guam, a place where militarism is so intertwined with life, you must understand how militarism works in order to neutralize or counter it. You have to understand what about it as a way of seeing the world makes it so seductive on Guam? What about it makes it seem like the ideal lens for understanding mobility in life? Guam's relationship to those around it in Asia? Guam's relationship to the United States? An individual within their community on Guam? The community's relationship to the environment and their natural resources?

I have more thoughts on this, especially through the 2012 Battleship directed by Peter Berg and filmed in Hawai'i, another heavily militarized island. But I have some exhibit text to write for the Guam Humanities Council tonight and need to get working on that. Hopefully I'll find some time tomorrow to continue my thoughts.

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