Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Soldier

 In his book Saina Chamorro poet and scholar Craig Santos Perez does something that really intrigued me. I recently wrote a review essay of his three poetry books hacha, Saina and Guma', and this was one thing that caught my eye. Throughout parts of the book he includes the names of soldiers from Micronesia, who will serving in the US military were killed in the Middle East, in the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq. He lists them in the way that is customary for KIA lists, with their age and a hometown. He crosses out however everything except their names. 

The tactic of crossing things out can be a beautiful strategy. I used to use it alot before, most notably in my article "The (Un)exceptional Life of a Chamorro Soldier: Tracing the Militarization of Desire in Guam, USA. The act of crossing it out can mean that this doesn't really exist. It can be a way of de-emphasizing something. It can be a way of drawing attention to it, albeit in a circular way. Forcing people to deal with something to be removed in order to recall the structure in which it exists prior to the removal. It can be a minute act of defiance, against the regimes of text and discourse that surround. 

In my draft I wrote the following, that the crossing out of things was a reminder to focus on the individuals, to focus on them as people:

It is a reminder to not be caught up in the metrics by which islanders sometimes judge themselves, as being small and not really mattering. Guåhan and the other islands in Micronesia boast both the highest rates of enlistment and also the highest killed-in-action statistics per capita. We are encouraged not to remember these names and these people in the context of their military service but as our neighbors and friends. Perez’s critique exposes the cost of their participation and prompts us to understand that our island forced participation may be too high.

The recent documentary "Island of Warriors" and the general high levels of participation by Chamorro in the US military, always mean that patriotism and militarization are on my mind, sometimes in critical, sometimes in frustrating ways.When I think of the way that Chamorros articulate their own attachment to the United States through service, through patriotism, I cannot help but be confused. It is as if people imagine that putting on a uniform erases colonialism. It is as if people imagine that waving flags erases colonialism. It is as if people wish that what they feel and what they choose to believe and remember somehow affects colonialism. I am thinking about this today in particular because while doing research and prepping for one of my classes, I came across this poem by the English poet Rupert Brooke titled "The Soldier." It is filled with nationalistic fervor, justifying wars in foreign soil because the sacrifices make it so that the nation extends to whatever patch of earth its peoples' blood is spilled. This smacks of imperialism and the use of sacrifice and patriotism to justify it. This poem was written early on in Brooke's life as a soldier in World War I. He became very disillusioned later, eventually writing one of the most depressing anti-war poems ever, "Dulce Et Decorum Est." This poem mocks the previous incarnation of the patriotic solder of Brooke, spitting truth to the notion that it is sweet and beautiful to die for one's country, by recounting the scene of someone being consumed by mustard gas. 


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The Soldier 
by Rupert Brooke

IF I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

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