Thursday, February 04, 2016

Disrupting Buildup Fantasies

I've been working for a few months on an article for a book on discourses on sustainability. I reached a number of deadends in my writing, but eventually, finally found a breakthrough last month in terms of how I wanted to craft my argument about how we an see discourses on sustainability in terms of discussions and critiques on the US military buildup plans for Guam.

I'll be presenting some components of my draft at the upcoming Academic Research Conference sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) at UOG. I just submitted my abstract for it, which I've pasted below:

"Situating Sustainability: Disrupting Military Buildup Fantasies"

In 2009 the USDOD announced their intention to dramatically increase their military presence on the island of Guam. Although this “military buildup” was predicted to cause severe damage to the island in environmental, social and economic terms, discourse from island leaders and media reports focused primarily on this increase as being the key to future “sustainability” for the island. In this paper I will argue that the notion of the military buildup as being “sustainable” was tied to Guam’s history of militarization and the way that the United States has been elevated to the stature of being a liberator and social/economic savior. I will also discuss the ways in which demilitarization activists from groups such as “We Are Guahan” used the public comment period for the US military’s plans in order disrupt the fantasy of the buildup’s sustainability, and help the community develop a more critical position in relation to its potential impacts.

In addition to sharing this abstract, I also wanted to paste a short piece from my longer article. I'm hoping to find some time in the next few weeks to actually sit down and finish it. It will be tough as so many things are happening in February, many of them simply due to the planning for the ridiculous amount of activities that will be taking place in March for Mes Chamoru. Someone who has given me invaluable support in the writing of this article is i nobia-hu Dr. Isa Kelley Bowman. In addition to helping me gather articles and other forms of data relevant to the military buildup comment period from 2009 - 2010 on Guam, she also helped me brainstorm and even worked to create first drafts for some sections. Here is a section that she has been geftao enough to help me work on. It is meant to introduce not just the public comment period, but also aspects of Chamorro identity that will help those unfamiliar with why Chamorros are such a heavily militarized community, where they may see militarism in their lives as being far more normal than most. Reading it right now takes me back to that time, hanging out in public meeting after public meeting talking to people, and feeling amazed at how despite the media representations of public opinion on the military buildup, so many people there seemed to have strong critiques and stronger concerns. Here is the draft. Si Yu'us Ma'ase ta'lo Isa para todu i ayudu-mu gi este na cho'cho'!


On Saturday, the ninth of January, 2010, at the University of Guam Fieldhouse, a cavernous sports arena, military personnel began early, setting up large, colorful, professionally made posters in a series with maps, showing certain locations on the island of Guam (Guåhan) that the U.S. military planned to use to accommodate an influx of new Marines to the existing bases.  The maps, with accompanying informational videos and text, sought to assure community members who would be attending this hearing that the proposed firing ranges and other impacts on the environment would be negligible or offset by benefits.  This evening was just one in a series of public comment periods sponsored by the military and the local government.    

As the appointed time for the hearing drew nearer, the Fieldhouse filled with more than five hundred community members and residents of the island of Guam, the southernmost of the Marianas Islands, the millennia-old home of the indigenous Chamorro people.  Since World War Two, following the intensive bombing campaign (more destructive than that of any previous conflict) with which the U.S. military took back the island from the occupying Japanese, the unincorporated U.S. territory had sent its sons and daughters in droves, in percentages far higher than those of any state, to serve and die in the military of – as the United Nations described the U.S. – its Occupying Power.  Liberation Day every July commemorated the re-occupation of the island by the U.S., and the Chamorro people, as well as the large Filipino community, turned out by the thousand to celebrate their military rulers.  There were pockets of deep resistance over the years, particularly in the issue of the arbitrary theft of land by the U.S. following the war, which found wide popular expression through the decades with groups such as Nasion Chamoru, promoting independence and sovereignty for the Chamorro people.

Yet the notion of Guam as “superpatriotic” would be challenged at this public hearing because the military’s plans were viewed as repeating many of those same painful issues of military land-taking.  Before the hearing began, members of community organizations including the Taotaomo’na Native Rights Group and We Are Guåhan processed into the arena in force behind Nasion Chamoru leaders Danny “Pågat” Jackson and Josephine “Ofin” Jackson as their grandson Cason Jackson sang the famous hymn “Fanoghe Chamoru” (“Rise, Chamorros”).  One of the most impacted areas of the island under the proposal from the military would be the region Mr. Jackson was named for, Pågat by the cliffs, a site registered with the Department of Historic Preservation as an archaeological site with the ruins of an ancient Chamorro village and associated artifacts, along with a freshwater spring of historical importance inside a cave.  This would have required taking the idyllic jungle area and breathtaking adjacent cliffsides away from the Chamorro Land Trust in order to use it for a firing range.  Combining both young and older-generation activists, these groups represented a vast public groundswell of unexpected opposition to the U.S. military’s environmentally catastrophic plans for its “buildup,” moving up to seventy-five thousand more residents from the military and support industries to the small island.

The military originally had issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) of over eleven thousand pages, giving the people of the land at first only ninety days to read it, discuss, and offer comments.  Because of Guam’s history of apparent patriotism and widespread complacency in the face of U.S. military discourse – despite U.S. veterans’ testimony that Agent Orange and other toxic defoliants were dumped on Guam during the Vietnam War period, despite the existence of almost twenty Superfund toxic sites on the small island, and despite a significant history of public outrage at often uncompensated and coercive military land-taking, which now amounted to nearly one-third of the entire land mass of the island – the military perhaps was not expecting the resultant ten thousand comments, representing the voices of almost 20% of the population.  Most of these comments were strongly critical of the military’s plans.

Speaker after speaker at the hearing, representing different walks of life – male, female, veterans, civilian, artist, business person, educator, nurse – all came forward to register their complaints about the plans that the US military had for their island.  Melvin Won Pat Borja, twenty-eight-year-old scion of a powerful Guam political family, reflected the concerns of many when he spoke that evening at the UOG Fieldhouse:  “You are not alone.  We must be united.  We must never be silent!  I think in the past the larger community has been misrepresented as being in full support of this buildup.  I think a lot of our people have been misled into believing the general population is in full support of this move.”

Similarly, at a later hearing, elder statesman Senator Vicente “Ben” Pangelinan said, “Ladies and gentlemen, they tell us that this process tonight is to listen to the people.  Well, let me just say, that before the people have even stopped talking, they have stopped listening.  . . . They’re going to move forward, in which, no matter what decision we have here . . . nothing we say matters.  They can move the Navy and will be given the authorization to not listen, to not honor the thoughts, the sentiments, and the feelings of the people which this process is designed to influence.”

Even the United States’s own Enviromental Protection Agency strongly criticized the proposal by the U.S. military: “environmentally unsatisfactory”; it “should not proceed as proposed.”  Nancy Woo of the EPA said, “The government of Guam and the Guam Waterworks cannot by themselves accommodate the military expansion . . . It is not possible and it is not fair that the island bear the cost.”  At the time, Guam government officials put the total costs of the proposed buildup at about three billion dollars, including $1.7 billion for infrastructure and $100 million for the already severely overburdened public hospital.  On Guam – where a third of the population at the time received food stamps, massive influx of impoverished immigrants from the surrounding islands was promoted by the U.S., and about 25 percent of the population lived below the U.S. poverty level – that price tag could never have been paid with local tax revenue. 

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