decolonization / estoria / militat / politiku

The Island Is Not Standing Still

guam history pisara

The recent increase in conversation about decolonization in Guam due to Governor Calvo’s push for an aggressive educational campaign about political status has been exciting. It has been difficult to keep up at times, as I have articles that need finishing, classes to be taught, family to spend time with and also FESTPAC to prepare for, but in general it has been refreshing to see more interest in the topic than ever coming from the Executive Branch of Guam’s Government. The increased discussion has definitely led to increased interest, and throughout each week I find more and more people approaching me via social media or in person hungry to learn more about what exactly is decolonization. For so many of them, they also express fears about the future and unease at the idea of changing Guam’s political status, most importantly its relationship to the United States.

In our current political status, the United States, in a multitude of ways determines our lives. On a large scale, their interests in us, which is largely military based, determines how we are treated and what we do or do not gain access to in both national and international terms. Is it right that we accept this weaponization? Kao maolek ha’ na ma fa’lalansa hit taiguini? Or should we be pushing for an existence which is more focused on ourselves and doesn’t rely on us being used in crass ways by another power?

Achokka’ ilelek-mu na este “tåno’ Amerika” ti magåhet enao. Este na tåno’ iyo-ña, este na tåno’ i lanså-ña. Para Guahu hu fa’na’an este na klasen tratamento “fina’lansa” lao para i meggaiña na Chamorro ma sångan “ma fa’ga’ga’ hit.” Ma fa’o’otdot hit gi puntan i lansan Amerikånu.

To accept and celebrate that life as the tip of America’s spear, means to dehumanize ourselves, it means to live in the militaristic fantasies of the DOD, it means to basically transform ourselves in the ants on the tip of their spear. Small, minute, not deserving of much, happy as long as we aren’t crushed by anyone. From my perspective this seems simple enough, but for those mired in colonial ideology in Guam, this discussion can be very difficult and it can feel far safer to be stuck and not change anything. Meggai na finasien manhuyong anggen ta konsedera este:

In terms of changing our political status why does it seem so difficult to accomplish anything? Although most can agree that the position we are in right now is not ideal, why can’t we act? Why do we seem stuck?

Several years ago, Peter Santos, the former owner of the website Chamoruboy.com provided some of his thoughts, much of which was drawn from a college class on Human Rights he had taken. His thoughts weren’t very precise and tended to be very general and abstract. Ti manlachi, lao ti gof gaibali para ta lakomprende i estao-ta giya Guahan. When you come at any issue from the perspective of “Human History,” you lose the context into which you are considering, analyzing or hoping to effect. The Macro look is always the one which resists well, everything. Before continuing let me paste his comment below:

In order to try and predict what Guam and the NMI’s political future will be, it might be useful to look at the progression of and nature of the discourse, products of the dominant western ideologies, that has lead to modernity.

First in ancient times mankind respected nature as the force and cause for all our existence. As individuals, we lacked importance and we had no concept of individuality. Everything was done for the good of society.

Then mankind developed religion and God as the source and authority of our being. We still lacked individual importance and everything was now done in the service of and in the name of God.

Afterwards mankind began to elevate himself as the center and we began to recognize indivual rights. We embraced the idea of freedom, but freedom was not available to all. We separated the church and state and gave more importance to the state. If you were fortunate to have a particular status in society (a free person) you were free to believe what you liked but were still obligated to the state and bound by the state.

We saw that ideology move towards applying equally to all human beings and we abandoned the system of having different classes of citizens to a large degree, at least in principle.

The progression seems to be moving towards more and more individual autonomy as well as group autonomy.

From this perspective, it seems possible and even probable that Guam, the NMI and other “colonies” will some day truly be free.

This progression I described took place over thousands of years. It may take at least some more hundreds of years to get to the point of true autonomy, but I’m sure it will happen. There is also a strong possibility of backward momentum. What if the U.S. never recovers from the current economic disaster and China emerges as the new lone world super power. China might take Guam as well as other valuable U.S. possessions in exchange for the trillions of dollars the U.S. government owes them. I don’t think I have to explain how that would be a backslide in the progression towards complete and true autonomy.

Now, as for the apathy of our people when it comes to political determination, I’d like to offer a simple explanation (not an excuse) for it. It is human nature that when you are content you will not scream and holler. There are no “atrocities” occurring on Guam at the hands of the occupier that the people can see and feel so they don’t feel the need to go an protest. Of course there is the political atrocity of imperialism but that’s not readily apparent to the people. Humans only react to what the can sense and what they sense is that all is fine. Unfortunately, in order for a society as a whole to get passionate and committed to do something, they have to sense pain and be extremely dissatisfied with thier disposition. That does not exist for the majority of people on Guam.

To use this perspective of history, is to invoke the infamous wise old man of history, the wise all-knowing old man of the universe and attempt to speak through that all-seeing, all knowing voice such as to not just understand history, but attempt to predict it as well. Although this position is often invoked as being neutral or something which merely describes the way the world is, it in reality absolutely shapes the world as well. It is something which limits and inhibits us and the world. It is something which takes the momentum out of movements, the dreams and the hopes out of people.

The voice through which Chamoruboy and any other who use this sort of framework to understand Guam, is that of that wise all-knowing bihu. He can claim to have seen all that has happened before, and furthermore claim that nothing else is possible, nothing else can, will or should happen. His argument is a persuasive one, for it states that as I sit in the neutral, universal place, the objective place in relation to history I can tell you that “No matter where you go you will always be brought back to the place you started. Or maybe it won’t be you who returns, but your children or your grandchildren.”

One very serious problem with this perspective is that it is an argument built around universality, populated and slanted with the experiences and interests of the victors of history, in particular the white, European or American victors of history. I am not saying that this is bad because its built on “white ideas” or “European” ideas, but I am saying such because it still places Europe, America and other white ideas as the engine of history, as the thing which moves and makes history. The result is that the Chamorro can be stripped of any and all ability to do anything. The political freedom that will eventually come to Chamorros has nothing to do with them or their desires, their struggles, it is something which will eventually happen by this universal modern train that is always moving towards a better place and just happened to forget the Chamorros, Guam and other colonies and indigenous people. This position ignores the relationship between people and the context into which they are thrown into. They ways in which they are imprisoned by those circumstances and the ways in which they change them.

As for Chamoruboy’s argument about pain or suffering as being the catalyst for political action and movement, he’s only about 1/3 right. He’s not wrong, and in fact such a conservative argument is very very common. You’ll hear it everywhere you go, no matter who you talk to, and the most common form that it will take in political discourse/speech is the infamous “pocketbook.” That people start to move, people start to respond when they start to feel things in their pocketbook. I call it conservative because it reduces human beings to their most animal or primal instincts and abilities. It takes away human consciousness from the equation and reduces human subjects to their most base form.

Furthermore, this argument doesn’t make any sense, except through a very narrow and strangely unrealistic lens of democracy and unified revolutionary consciousness. Mainly that societies change based on when everybody feels the same thing and everybody has been unified in their consciousness by a shared pain or a shared common ideal. Such is frankly never the case. Even if a nuclear bomb is headed for a city, there are those who will run and there are those who will stay. There are always divisions and differences and its silly to wait around until everyone believes the same thing. It just never happens. If it did, then nothing would ever happen. This is why I would call the entire character of Chamoruboy’s comment conservative, because its all written upon assumptions which take away any sort of positive ability in humans. Things happen through some abstract historical process of unfolding progressive evolution, or they happen in response to horrible social pain that has the ability to unify or activate people.

As I’ve already qualified, this isn’t wrong, but its incomplete. Chamoruboy is only providing part of the history, the least interesting, the most base. I’d like to build then on his ideas to give them a more balanced and clearer picture of the social change and history of which he is referring. I hear these arguments often and so I actually appreciate this comment in particular because it helps give me a foundation to provide a counter-argument.

The idea that since people aren’t suffering on Guam, then no real change can take place is so frustratingly common. It comes from living in not just any colony, but a “first world” colony, or a “comfortable colony” as Robert Underwood often calls Guam. I agree that this seems very true in the abstract, that even if there are larger forms of domination at work if you don’t really feel it in an everyday way as something that is oppressing you or causing you pain, you won’t do anything about it. Given our own everyday experiences, this might seem to be true and especially if we look at Guam today.

But this is really only part of the story of human communities and misses a huge dimension. What’s missing from the interpretation of human history as one being build on pain and then progress, is that it omits the role of government and leadership in communities, as being a vanguard for foreseeing the need for change ahead of the general population. Government and leadership finish off that equation, since if human communities only responded to pain and suffering, it would have become extinct a long time ago, since that leaves humans with all their usual destructive imbalanced practices, but with no ability to perceive that something might wrong with what their doing, and also without any ability to rationally see what is going on around them. Its akin to seeing someone come at you with a knife, can you dodge the knife ahead of time or can you only dodge it after it stabbed you? The pain then progress argument basically assumes that the part of the human brain which would tell you to dodge before you get stabbed doesn’t really work.

One thing that has impressed me about Obama and his administration is that on certain issues he is showing real leadership. There was a push by plenty of Americans, even those of us in the colonies, last year to increase fuel efficiency standards, to do something about “foreign” oil, and just revolutionize the whole energy policy in America. Political leaders responded with both plans that pandered and plans that were good. As prices have dropped and stayed low, obviously the general pressure, the general feeling amongst people has returned to apathy, its not really something they care about anymore.

But Obama continued to stay his ideological course, even when the other sectors of government refused to budge or allow anything to happen. He has basically done what a leader does, he has made tough choices in the best interests of all, but not necessarily meant to match the mood of people. Revolutions take place all the time and not just in the overthrowing of governments, but simply actualizing of what government is supposed to do, and helping change the course of a community. For better or for worse.

Decolonization is the same thing, there have been points in the past where the Government of Guam has led on this issue and eventually was able to mobilize broad support from the Guam community (although of course the US response was always a polite “f$*k you.”). But at present we are stuck in a position where neither the majority of the people and the majority of the government refuses to move on this issue, but this doesn’t have to be forever, and it certainly would not only take a tragedy or a catastrophe for it to change.

I’d like to end this post with one more example, from the 2008 remake of the film The Day the World Stood Still.

That film is very much about what is at the core of Chamoruboy’s argument. Are humans driven by their lower or their higher functions? Do they have ability to change when abstract challenges confront them or can they respond to only concrete, visceral challenges? Keanu Reeves stars as an operative from some intergalactic universal collective which has come to determine whether or not the human race should be allowed to continue exist considering their continual destruction of each other and most importantly the world they inhabit. After being captured and imprisoned by the US Government he decides to destroy the human race. There are regular arguments over whether or not human beings can change at any point other than when they are about to fall off into the abyss of oblivion.

According to the most generic interpretation of this film everything changes, and Keanu Reeves can perceive the depth of humanity when he sees Jennifer Connelly and Will Smith’s son, who had been estranged the whole film (as step-mother and step-son) at least re-unite and bond over the grave of their dead husband and father. He decides to reverse his decision and spare humanity. Humanity is saved, but at an unknown cost. When the film ends, there is no electricity or computers, and technology around the world seems to have stalled or stopped, hence the title the day the earth stood still.

But we cheapen the meaning of this film if we reduce it to this interpretation. Yes, this is part of it. But when Keanu Reeves does decide to change his mind and save the world we can see that the revolution in question potentially as nothing to do with the way everyone feels or what everyone wants. In reality, it is Keanu Reeves, a intergalactic bureaucrat who revolutionizes the world. He makes a choice for everyone else and changes everything. At the film’s end, as the people of the world open the windows to their offices, or step out of their dead cars, they are left to live this fact. There is no revolutionary consciousness that grips the world at the end as they face certain death or doom, the revolution in question is far from democratic, far from something all agree upon. This is both the profit and the price of government. Is that it posses this ability to change society, perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worst.

 

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