Thursday, July 03, 2014

Buildup Cookbook

Last week I helped organize an informational meeting at the University of Guam for those wanting to learn more about the potential negative impacts of planned military buildups to Guam. We had a pretty good turnout with around 150 people showing up to hear presentations from the groups We Are Guahan and Our Islands Are Sacred. Help and information was given to those who wanted to submit comments. Although some might criticize the event as being “biased,” in truth all details that were discussed and made available were all produced by the United States Department of Defense through their environmental impact assessments.

For those who take issues with what these groups are saying, their critiques all come from things the military itself is stating and claiming. The DEIS, EIS, ROD SEIS are all dense books published by the Department of Defense outlining what their plans are for Guam and what negative or positive impacts are foreseen. If you don’t like the contents of the book, don’t hate on the reviewers, save your chinatli’e for the authors and the publishers.

I have been a critic of any military buildups for years now. I have organized numerous events, written an innumerable number of blog posts and newspaper columns, and tried to find every possible way of making people think more critically about how increased military presence to Guam might have negative impacts. For so many people, believing in the buildup boils down to so many things that have nothing to do with the buildup. People support it out of feelings of patriotism, loyalty, fear and wanting to believe in the awesomeness of the United States, but rarely stop to question whether the buildup would actually be good for Guam. I sometimes try to give a metaphorical edge to this debate in hopes of helping people see the variables in a new light and make it easier to understand the need for criticism. Often times this means turning to popular culture and using the structure of something familiar in order to allow people to see the local dimensions in a different light with less ideological baggage.

One of the more curious pop cultural buildup analogies I use comes from a 1962 episode of “The Twilight Zone’ titled “To Serve Man.” In it we can see the need to look beyond the surface when considering the impacts of something like the military buildup.

In the episode Earth is visited by alien life from another galaxy. Spaceships arrive around the world, with one parking right in front of the United Nations in New York. The delegates within the UN are abuzz with questions: what are the motives of these creatures? What are their intentions? What do they bring with them? What will they do to earth? In a speech before the United Nations, an alien emissary informs the people of earth that they the Kanamit mean them no harm. They have come to earth to help them, end famine, offer a new power source, give them new technology to defend themselves. They invite humans to visit their world to begin a cultural exchange. He only asks that the humans trust their new visitors. When the emissary departs, he leaves behind a book. Some humans distrust this message and begin to translate the book that is written in alien characters. After a while they decipher the title, “To Serve Man.”

By the end of the episode humans have begun to regular leave for the Kanamit planet, accepting all the wonderful things their visitors have promised. In the climax as one of the members of the decoding team is boarding a ship to leave earth his assistant rushes to stop him. They have finished translating the book at last and she screams out to him, don’t go, To Serve Man, it’s a COOKBOOK!”

When I see the way in which the media and many community leaders try to argue the benefits of any military buildup to Guam, I cannot help for think of this “Twilight Zone” episode. They see the front cover of the DEIS or SEIS and read “To Serve Guam” and then go on to preach the glories of this magnificent buildup. They accept platitudes and try to weave them into beautiful ideological tapestries that are based on little more than the wishes of the rich and the losing hopes of the poor. Meanwhile there are others who are actually working to decode and translate this massive and imposing text. They look at what is being proposed and the superficial nature of the cover and know this cannot be the entire story, there must be much much more to consider. For them, this book is not something to be covered over with fake plastic golden tickets, but something to be studied because of how it might affect the island and its people.

There are those who hold aloft the pro-buildup banner and profess to know what it will portend for the island. They claim that this buildup is something that will serve Guam. That the cover implies that it will serve our needs and ultimately benefit us. Then there are those deciphering this text and with the decoding mantra of no impact funding of any kind actually set aside for Guam, they know that this buildup is not salvation. With the potential negative impacts it could cause, this buildup might as well be a cookbook, with a wide array of ways that our economy, political status, environment and society could be served up on a platter.

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