Sunday, February 01, 2015

Anai Kahulo' yu' gi Batko

I worked last year on a project for the Guam Humanities Council titled Sindalu: Chamorro Journey Stories in the US Military, and that topped off more than a decade of doing research and speaking and writing about the effects of militarization on Chamorros and their lands, and also about the central place that militarism as an ideology has in contemporary Chamorro life. This is why Guam is referred to as "the tip of the spear," and why it has been given a number of other nicknames over the years, such as USS Guam, Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier. It is why Liberation Day is the largest holiday on the island each year. It is why Chamorros are thought of as superpatriots sometimes, internally and externally, and why a documentary came out recently titled "Island of Warriors." This is also why Guam has been in the past 2/3 military bases and is today almost 1/3 military bases.

This militarized core is understandable given Guam's history. When we look at the past. When we look at how i chalan mo'na for Chamorros within the United States empire was always inundated with military interests and options, it all makes sense. The first 42 years as a Navy base, where the "principles" of the US didn't apply because of the American strategic military interests. A battleground during World War II, liberated by the US and then quickly recolonized and further militarized. In the 20th century, one of the first groups to get access to the American center, to travel there and to even become US citizens were Chamorros who joined the service. Even after the war, military service and outward patriotism to the US military seemed to get Chamorros things. Serving in the military or working for the military seemed an easy way to gain access to the island's middle class. Patriotism, even if it seemed ridiculous given Guam's colonial status, was a way of trying to lobby for rights or privileges within a US framework, by continuously requested that Chamorros be recognized as a loyal part of the US community.

The centrality of militarism to Chamorro life is present, but the question for me as someone who is both an activist an a historian, is must it be this way? Should it be this way? What other possibilities exist as a community given our history? Given what we want from life?

The problem is that so much of the glorification of Chamorro military service makes it difficult to understand much of anything. The glare of all the glory, all the honor, makes it seem impossible to question anything, but makes it seem like we should all just grab an American and Guam flag and raise them high and just shut up except for an occasional shout of "BIBA!" Chamorro stories of achievement and advancement mix with seductive tales of American greatness and uniqueness and it creates an aura where the militarism almost disappears, it just becomes embedded, woven into life. The way coconut trees or beaches are such a part of island life, so too is the military and military service.

The prewar song "Those Who Join the Navy" is instructive here. It tells the tale of a Chamorro who joins the service and how difficult his life is because of the contract he made as well as the benefits it has given him. There is one passage that is particularly important in making that point but is often forgotten in contemporary life.

Anai humalom yu’ mumarinu
Hinasso-ku na mangge
Anai kahulo’ yu’ gi batko
Hinasso-ku gua’ot i langhet

When I joined the Navy
I thought that it was good
When I was going up to the ship
I thought it was the gangway to heaven

Anai kahulo’ yu’ gi batko
Hinasso-ku gua’ot i langhet
Hinasso-ku na u libianu
Lao ai para hu masa’pet

When I was going up to the ship
I thought it was the gangway to heaven
I thought it would be easy
But no, I am going to suffer

When this song is recounted often only the first section is remembered, even by those who went into the service. That it was a means to make their dreams come true, that it was the key to a better life. But the second part is just as vital in understanding the Chamorro experience and Guam's history of militarization. The military reality of Guam takes just as much as it gives and has taken just as much as it has given. But the glorification of Chamorro service often times prevents us from seeing that, and inhibits our ability to even understand what militarization and militarism does in our lives.

In the Sindalu exhibit people were surprised that there were entire sections on Veterans' Voices, which features vets speaking out on issues such as decolonization and lack of parity over their benefits. I had several sections that discussed the role of the landtakings after World War II in terms of stimulating Chamorros to protest the military, especially after serving in it. For me, you shouldn't divorce these negative aspects from your understanding of history or of something so important to life. It makes you intellectually weak, it means that when a military buildup is proposed, you will struggle to understand it because you will imagine it through fantasies of patriotism, a deluge of new commissary privileges, and more fantastic heroes of battle coming to the island. All the basic realities of increases in military presence will be lost on you. You will see only the gangway to a false heaven and not realize the great potential for suffering that is on its way.

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