In 2004, for the 60th anniversary of Guam’s Liberation I worked with a friend of mine to produce the list below of “10 Things to Think About This July.” It was passed out at events for a few years as a flyer, it was forwarded around via emails for a few years. I even got some angry emails, in particular from people from the CNMI about it. The lists represents a number of points that should disrupt the usual patriotic luster or facade of Liberation Day each July. These are the truths which need to be remembered, because if you are going to refer to a country, a way of life, a military power as your liberator, you should make sure that it meets the highest standards. If you are going to pledge your loyalty, your devotion, your blood and the blood of your children, your lands to another, you better make sure that they deserve it and don’t make stupid excuses for them or simply ignore history in order to feel more patriotic.
This list is important to recall, precisely because it makes us uncomfortable. These are the points of justice, which when forgotten maintain various quiet injustices and memories that foster dependency without end for us on Guam. Forgetting injustice is actually not an easy thing to do, it takes alot of work, as ghosts must be stripped of their ability to haunt and shrines for them must be made far off beyond the eye of the nation.
You could find this work of exorcising ghosts taking place each Liberation Day, but I recall very prominently the parade in 2006. That year, when members of the Nasion Chamoru and Guma’ Palu Li’e (today known as I Fanlalai’an) marched in protest in the Liberation Day parade, there were angry whispers meant to dispel the ghosts they forced into the bright beaming lights of America’s freedom bearing properties. These whispers refused to acknowledge the claims of these ghosts, and instead reformatted them in such a way that deprived them of their claim to something else, something lost, something wounded and something that persists in forced silence. As these ghosts shouted demands that the wounded possibilities, pasts and futures they represent be recognized, in sui generous, in differend defined existence, the response was a sneering Americanization, “What those protesters think they represent, even in their crazy defiance and anger is nothing without the United States. The fact that they are protesting the lack of a liberation only proves that they were liberated.”
Then there is the shrine making, the banishing or entrapping of voices in such a way they the voices are understood as those which must be ignored. In the general media for example (as well as everyday discussions on the internet and on the island), why is it that those who advocate military increases always do so on behalf of the island, and are thus stamped with the authority of universality, the authority of their voice, their interest being that above of all else. But, for those of us who critique the military and who don’t advocate with trembling, nervous, love sick palms that more military be sent to Guam, why are we stamped with the greasy mark of particularity? Why is our voice limited most notably by the conjunctions that indicate diminuatively that whatever voice that comes in the following paragraph does not represent very many people. Or is reduced in scope by associate with mata’pang na na’an siha, such as “Angel Santos types” or “Nasion Chamoru types.”
In these ways, you and your voices are chained to these signifiers, in hopes of neutralizing whatever you have to say, such as when Ben Blaz in a debate attempted to shoot down Robert Underwood’s campaign in 1992 just by claiming that Angel Santos was in his “inner circle.” Unfortunately, following Renan, with all the work that goes into the nation’s forgetting, the work of remembering in terms of justice and injustice is even more difficult. As a nation or a society works to forget its violent origins and also protect itself from the disenchantment of encountering the violations its has committed against others, justice becomes quickly lost, since its cost appears to be far too much.
I watched the trailer for Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center tonight and had to chuckle cynically. In it the narrators says that there comes a time for each generation where they must take a stand, prove what they are made of (or something to this effect). The implication is that with the firefighters who went into the WTC on 9/11, we find the best symbolic point (along with those on United 93) where this generation proved what it was worth, made a stand. As I’ve noted many times over the years, such a position is truly laughable, American exceptionalism is more prevalent than ever, so obviously the current generation did not notice the rest of the world when they were supposed to be “making their stand,” and basically just followed the lame nationalist path of every generation before. As the United States was faced with a “third world” moment of violence, it strayed far far from the path of justice, and instead wrapped itself up in its cloak of exceptional victimhood.
The true test of “this generation”was not 9/11, itself, but what happened afterwards, what would that event mean? Would it be the moment whereby the United States understood following Derrida and Zizek, that the true ethical stance against this sort of violence is not “this shouldn’t happen here,” but rather, “this shouldn’t happen anywhere!” If anything Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and drone strikes aplenty show that this particular test was failed miserably.
The difficult path of justice, is something we find primarily in fiction, rarely in real life. Its position in an instance such as this would be something similar to the Yes Men Hoax on Dow Chemical years ago. The Yes Men started up a phantom Dow Chemical website, which got them invited to send a rep to the BBC when the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal massacre came around. After 20 years of providing no reparations to the thousands of deaths and tens of thousands who continue to need medical care after the chemical spill there, the Yes Men rep went on the BBC and said that the company responsible for the massacre, Union Carbide would be sold and the money from the sale, $12 billion would be used to provide medical care for all those injured and provide damages. After the interview Dow Chemical had to embarrass itself by forcefully denying that any reparations were going to be paid, which necessarily forced into the open the issue that no reparations had been paid ever.
Although sadly untrue it is in a story like this that we see what the realm of justice and restitution is most likely supposed to look like. The platitude that the past is gone and that the clock cannot be turned back, implying that nothing can be done, is incredibly false. It is precisely this inability for time to be turned back, for those previous moments to be revisited that justice is so incredible, and so necessary. The fact that the clock cannot be turned back indicates that life does not fit into simple, easy pieces, there is no simple calculus to determine what amount of restitution or reparation must be done to “fix things.” It cannot be simply based on “need” either, since rational need is more about comfort and ego than actual need. It must be beyond any calculation and strike at the core of he, she or it who gives. It must necessarily cost too much.
Take for instance the troubles over Chamorro war reparations from the United States. The debate over what is enough is ridiculous, and it is just rationalist calculations to prevent any fundamental change from taking place. And when I say this I mean it both on Guam and in the United States. When those in the United States haggle over this, it is definitely connected to national defense in so many ways (rewarding a “patriotic” people, remembering the histories of American wars, yet at the same time defending the US nation from remembering its colonies or even encountering them for the first time). On Guam the poisoned speech of reparations being disgusting because it puts a price on human life and suffering is just as disingenuous, and just as interested in defending the United States, protecting it and not Guam. It is the ethical limits of the United States (defined by strategy, national insecurity and desire for global hegemony) that pushes this issue into a narrow reparations based on money. Justice is today’s world is defined largely by money since it is the easiest for those in power or those with means to provide. Would not the ideal reparation for Chamorros be the return of their island and a transition process similar to those in the other Micronesian islands, to help them on the road to economic sustainability and greater independence?
TEN THINGS TO THINK ABOUT THIS JULY
1. War Reparations…
The US signed a treaty with Japan forbidding anyone whether in the US or in Guam from seeking reparations from Japan for their conduct during World War II. A recent report revealed that Chamorros have not been justly compensated for their suffering in World War II. Will our people ever receive real recognition or compensation for being caught in a war which was not of their own making?
2. The United States abandoned Guam in 1941 to the Japanese:
Chamorros were not notified that war was pending, in fact the Navy denied to many Chamorros that anything was wrong, or that anything would happen at all. Chamorros were not prepared, were not warned, and were not aided in any way, and thus sacrificed by the United States.
3. The United States refused to evacuate any Chamorros from Guam in 1941.
Several months before the Japanese invasion in December 1941, the US Military evacuated all their dependents from the island. Wives and children of Chamorro servicemen were not allowed to be evacuated. Former Senator Adrian Sanchez, who had enlisted in the Navy, tried to get them to take his wife, children and parents. He was told that only white dependents were being evacuated.
4. The United States liberated Saipan first.
The US liberated Saipan first, and in response to the terrible fighting there, the Japanese stationed on Guam went berserk at the next American invasion. The majority of brutal Chamorro deaths took place in the period between the invasion of Saipan and the invasion of Guam. Had the US been interested in protect its “loyal Chamorros,” then they would have invaded Guam first. Had they done so, men such as Pale’ Jesus Baza Duenas and women such Harriet Chance Torres, along with hundreds of others might still be with us today.
5. The US bombed Guam for 17 days straight before invading.
After days of harsh ground battles in Saipan, the US decided to “soften” Guam before invading. The softening of Guam amounted to seventeen days of bombing from both sea and air. Most of Hagatña and most concrete structures on the island were flattened. Unknown numbers of Chamorros were killed during this indiscriminate bombing campaign.
6. The Japanese saved hundreds, perhaps thousands of Chamorros at Manengon.
Who knows why the Japanese forced marched thousands of Chamorros into concentration camps at Manengon Valley, but by doing so they may have actually saved many lives. By clearing out the majority of Chamorros from Hagatña and other villages, they saved them from dying in the US bombing.
7. The United States Military took, bought and stole more than 2/3 of the island after the war.
Following the war, more than 2/3 of the island was taken for “defense purposes.” Defense purposes is in quotes because while some land was taken to create airstrips and bases, many Chamorro lives were destroyed to make tennis courts, swimming areas, and also to get the fruits on the property.
8. One Navy plan was to make “native reservations” for Chamorros.
According to maps in the Micronesian Area Research Center, one plan developed by the Navy was to secure the entire island, and then create “reservations” for the Chamorros to live on.
9. Many Chamorros did not want to be US citizens after 1950.
Despite all the patriotic propaganda that we are fed year after year, many Chamorros did not want to become citizens in 1950. Many didn’t trust the US after it had so carelessly abandoned them in 1941. Others felt betrayed by the destruction of Hagatña and the theft of so many Chamorro lands. Some were angry that the US would create a government for them, give them citizenship, without consulting the majority of Chamorros.
10. GUAM IS STILL A COLONY
Wave the flag as high as you want, it doesn’t change this simple fact.