The Illusions of Partnership and The Fear of Sovereignty
In this whole discussion of fantasies in the 1990's of the American military limping, its feelings so mortally wounded by the protests signs of Chamorros, as well as the general powerlessness of all people on Guam in the most recent slate of intended military increases to Guam, there are two difficult, but crucial lessons to be learned here.1. The military is becoming very adapt at invoking publicly to the community of Guam the language of “partnership” in hopes of stirring up governmental and public support for their increases. Images of the military and Guam, working together as they always have, to bomb Japan and Vietnam, to defend freedom, to barbeque and help civilize the world. Its almost as if the military is coming back to us now, they’ve learned the lesson of treating us like partners, and we are learning the lesson that we cannot live without them, and that it was very hurtful, painful and traumatic to have them go and take so many good-paying jobs with them. When Bordallo or Camacho or anyone else use this piece of Guam’s history to claim that we need more military or that we need to treat the military better since fihu manlayo’, it makes sense to most people because of the way the landscape of thought and the cliffnotes for everyday history in Guam are being written. The loss of part of the military in the 1990’s becomes this incredibly traumatic event, which we must not let happen again, and so the lesson we should learn here is that we must welcome with open arms, and accept the military as part of our community and accept their gestures to be partners with us.
The reality of the trauma of the 1990’s is not this at all however, and in fact if we acknowledge the true reason that the base closings and the outsourcing/privitazing of civil service jobs were felt so strongly and intensely on Guam, then we would be better positioned today. The trauma that still lingers today was not caused by the simple economic hurt of the island, but rather emerged because of the shattering of a very powerful but tragic illusion. The base closings, as a unilateral decision made in Washington D.C., which fundamentally had very little to do with anything on Guam, whether it be protests or offerings of free massages for servicemen, forced a very intense disintegration of the myth which the military is working to create once again. Namely that Guam and its people exist in partnership with the United States military, that they are equal and live in a mutual sort of co-existence with the military. The trauma of this period of time was precisely that the lies we constantly tell ourselves were simply flat out proven to be true, the activists, the maladjusted Chamorro Nation types were all right, we are not partners, we truly are powerless.
2. But this leads me to an almost contradictory point, namely that we are not at all powerless in our situation, we just don’t have the power that we think we have, or are colonized to dream and hope that we have.
As a colony, in Guam we basically actively work to give up as much power and authority over our lives as we can, since we are always intimately attached to a political entity and creature who is much better and smarter at everything then we are. We don’t perceive ourselves as having any abilities, any power, and in fact we actively fight attaining such sovereignty, since Guam and Chamorros are thought to be the sources of incredible unending corruption and destruction. Here I am, again discussing the impossibility of the Chamorro, and the need for it and Guam to be constantly liberated by the United States, who appears from the vantage of Guam, to have all the power and control, to have everything needed for life.
In this drama over military increases and lessons learned from protests in the past, we see interestingly enough, how Guam is being discussed as having some sort of power in this context. A power though which either doesn’t exist and must be created, or must be given up, in order for the island to prosper.
There are many lessons that we can learn from the way this military increase is being planned and handled, many of them terrible, but some of them inspiring. The military is planning for more than they are admitting, we have already seen evidence of this in the ways plans are “accidentally” released and then taken back and said that they are proposed only, one of many options. For instance, the “proposed” live fire training that the military would like to have in the Northern part of the island will most likely prevent fishing, swimming and hiking north of Tanguissan and Shark’s Pit. After it became obvious that this would be the case, the military took the plans off of its website and claimed that these were just preliminary ideas and that “nothing has been decided.”
One lesson which we should not assume we have learned is that the military’s openness or making binila’ na information available to the community, is because they love us and care for us, or because they care about our opinions and genuinely want to include the Government of Guam or the people of Guam in the planning process. The colorful fliers and handouts, and Chamorro interpreters, are not being disseminated or hired because our input really matters. These things are being made available and this whole spectacle of scoping meetings, hearings is being carried out precisely to prevent the power that we might have from growing or from emerging.
The intended effect of these meetings is to neutralize the public, to neutralize its voice, and the power we might have or demand in this process. It can do this by lulling us into false senses of confidence, complacency and trust. If we feel that our interests are being respected or being protected, or worse yet, if we assume and believe that our interests are the same as the military or that it is already taken care of them, then we will demand nothing, ask for nothing, and receive nothing except that which the military intends or is willing to give.
Its important to remember, and I constantly reiterate it on this blog, that part of our value to the United States military, is that we are the most valuable piece of real estate in their empire, which can be taken for granted.
First, despite Guam’s colonial status, basically no one, in the world, including those on Guam contest the right and authority of the United States to control Guam and to do “whatever it wants with it.” Second, the people on Guam, primarily Chamorros, but others as well, despite the fact that all feel as if they are second-class citizens, and regularly mistreated by the United States, its military and its unwitting emissaries in Guam, can all be placated or subdued by making them feel as if they are American. This is of course the most intriguing thing that I found in the book The Secret Guam Study. Guam being screwed over on political status is nothing new, that’s been happening since 1898. But in the recommendations made by the study on how to keep and control Guam, they make explicit references to the identity of the island and of its people. They basically recommend that if you want to keep Guam, and don’t want to lose it, then make the people feel as if they are American, promote an American identity for them.
The spectacle of suggestion boxes, public meetings, and task forces is all about keep this “advantage” this “bonus” intact, about insuring that Guam does not become like places such as South Korea, the Philippines or Okinawa, where popular protest or national sovereignty makes the presence of the military there difficult or cumbersome.
During the first months after the transfer of the Marines was initially announced, I had a conversation with a former Maga’låhin Nasion Chamoru. Naturally, the tone of the talk was grim, because the movement of this much military into the island would make so many bad situations worse, socially, politically, environmentally, etc. But at the same time, there was hope, from the moment the move appeared in print, official and unofficial envoys from the military were reaching out to Nasion Chamoru, asking for private meetings to hear their feedback and their concerns.
While for most of you this might not seem like much, but if you think of it in contrast to the way Nasion Chamoru was imagined in the 1990’s, by both the Federal Government and most people on Guam, we are talking about a carthographical shift the size of that which created the Marianas Trench, Sen dongukålo yan sen fotte. During the height of Nasion Chamoru protest activism, you had CIA on island infiltrating them, you had police and military speaking as if they were preparing for war, against activists and dissidents. You even had a Mayor of a Guam village sending a letter to the Secretary of Defense pleading with him to treat the people of Guam better, because their indifference to the demands of Guam threatened to turn the island Communist. The idea of the military interacting with Nasion Chamoru, outside of a courtroom or a jail cell, was ridiculous.
For this Maga’låhi, the fact that the military was reaching out to them, meant that Nasion Chamoru, and by extension the general activist community had become a branch of the government. They had built up enough support, had enough victories, and made enough of an impact on the order of things in Guam, that even if they were divided, or heterogeneous, at the level of “how things were done on Guam,” they were a force that had to be reckoned with, and could not be ignored.
It is interesting here, to see the power and play of recognition as work. In one instance we see recognition as something which can take our power away, but, in another we see it as something which can give it to us, or more accurately, push us to create it.
Our power here is not the power of “suggestion,” or of “democratic American participation. Nor is it that power of a formal vote from a Senator of a Congresswoman. Our power in this powerless situation is not already there, it must be created, and anything, whether it be flyers or powerpoint presentations that tells us otherwise, is probably lying to us. We do not, because of our small size, our colonial status, and our willingness to be mistreated as long as we are mistreated as Americans and not anything else, does not give us any formal or actual voice in this process, this movement of incredible amounts of military to Guam. But rather, if we make demands, stand up and protest, we can create a voice which cannot be ignored, which cannot be dismissed or cast aside. That is the power that we have, and the one which people fear will ruin the military, and chase them away again.