Another Liberation Day has come and gone, and with each passing year, more and more questions emerge about the meaning of this important event and our relationship to it. More people seem willing to question whether or not the US return to Guam in 1944 was a liberation, but for each person who earnestly asks that question, there is usually another who raises their voice in indignant defense of the liberation, demanding that it not be questioned. For them it is a sacred event for our elders and should require our patriotism and gratitude and nothing more.
One of the misconceptions that people have in life, is the notion that something sacred should not be questioned or analyzed. I would propose instead that something sacred holds such depth and power, that its meaning can sustain questioning or scrutiny. If people shout down those who have earnest questions about Liberation Day in the name of it being sacred, more likely they are scared of how the concept will fall apart once interrogated.
I have documented several hundred Liberation Day stories from Chamorro elders, and I can say for certain that it was a type of liberation, but it was not a liberation in the way it as come to be conceived in the decades since.
The emotional liberation was real. It should be commemorated, the bonds between our elders and American soldiers were powerful. But to extend beyond that means to turn a beautiful and enriching experience into the raw materials to justify Guam’s colonial status quo. But what most people seem to celebrate each July on island, with talk of freedom and liberty isn’t what took place in 1944. That would be a political liberation.
To be considered a political liberation, we have to delve into the intent of what took place and also what happened afterwards. For the US return to be this type of liberation, the safety of the Chamorro people had to be the priority and that any interests of the US had to be minor or non-existence. The benefits that Chamorros received cannot simply be collateral, they had to be the goal.
This also means understanding what happened afterwards, since this tends to indicate a great deal about what the intent was, even if rhetoric may mystify it. Did the US return led to an end to Guam’s colonial status and the development of a relationship with it and the rest of the world predicated on principles of democracy, liberty and freedom? This only happened to a marginal extent and in truth, the US took advantage of the feelings of gratitude by Chamorros to illegally seize their lands. You might argue that their land was worth the price for their lives, but that isn’t liberation, not even close. To make that argument cheapens what a real and true liberation is supposed to be.
With so many members of the greatest generation passing away, we should take seriously their sacrifices and their struggles. We should take seriously the legacy of that liberation, by acknowledging what did happen, what did not happen and what should still happen.
This means we should not refer to the American retaking of the island in 1944 as a liberation, but instead see it as a potential start of that journey, a process that remains decades later unfinished. This is something several American soldiers who liberated the island have themselves commented on.
In the name of all those who suffered and sacrificed, the United States government should allow the work started by those soldiers to be finished, and allow a true liberation, the decolonization of the island of Guam to take place.