decolonization / militat

Colonialism Doesn’t Remind Me of Anything

During the first few years of the US War on Terror (or as Borat famously referred to it, “The War of Terror”) it seemed like every couple of months another Chamorro would die in either Iraq or Afghanistan. They had names like Aguon, Naputi, Wesley, Pangelinan. It was an interesting time for me as I was developing my own sense of critical Chamorro nationalism, and so these deaths seemed to strike at me in a way they might not have before. As my own consciousness was awakening and new forms of solidarity and subjectivity were being born within and around me, I began to feel more deeply connected to the lives of Chamorros I had never met, but felt tied to in a communal, cultural, or national sense. Every death from a random person from the United States, white or any other color affected me in a different way, appealing to anti-war or peace-promoting parts of me, but each Chamorro death rang bells of anti-colonial and decolonial desire in me. It was as if these lives had been wasted not simply because of the greedy Bush Cabal and their neocon or oil-based ambitions. It was a travesty because of the more than century of colonial attachment to the United States, which had turned Guam into the tip of America’s spear and Chamorros into stones used to sharpen it. This is why the response from the media and the Chamorro community to these deaths was always difficult, so few seemed to share openly my critique or my counter-desires.

Each time another Chamorro would be announced as lost in a firefight, an IED attack, a suicide bomber, I would find myself torn. The public response would invariably be the same. Congresswoman Bordallo would be the first to frame what this death meant. Empty words would be disseminated filled with feelings of patriotism, service, sacrifice, that the life lost mattered because of what it was lost doing and who it was lost in service of. Each death was a tragedy, but the people of Guam appreciate the opportunity to get themselves killed for the greatest country in the universe.

Each death seemed to echo the same basic problem. Despite the ways that Chamorros have been discriminated against by the US military, despite the per capita significant number of Chamorros that have died for the US without being able to vote for their Commander and Chief, despite the fact that the US military uses Guam for its own purposes, sometimes to the detriment of the interests of its civilian population, why is it so difficult for Chamorros to develop a critical relationship to the US military and its policies?

Part of this is because the military is no longer those white on white uniformed Naval officers from pre-war Guam, nor is it those tall “god-like” Marines from 1944 who seemed to have an infinite amount of canned goods in their pants pockets. The military has been browned, especially so by the huge numbers of Chamorros in the military. To make this point clear, let me quote from a paper titled “The Scene of Liberation” that I presented at a conference in Oberlin in 2006.

“The United States military has become transformed, no longer was it some Other whose arrival I need to survive, but now I can only find myself through them. I am them, but they are not me. The military is no longer something which can be critiqued from any distance, because I will always see myself, as exemplified by those in uniform, in them. To critique them, to resist, to oppose them, means to oppose not just those close and dear to me, but potentially to resist and divide myself.
The concept of “the military” thus becomes naturalized as a local and yet not local. It can easily be viewed locally, as many would describe a member of Guam’s family, partially for the simple reason that so many family members serve in it. However its interests resist localization and are inevitably linked to larger and absolutely non-local concerns. This split invariably works against Guam and the possibility of a critical relationship with the United States military both in Guam and in its interventions elsewhere.

Take for example the most recent planned military increase in Guam, which eventually amount to 7,000 new Marines in Guam. The interest that brings about this influx will most likely remain unscathed in Guam, unquestioned (national/local American interests with global action and effect), and it will be so precisely because the face through which those on Guam receive and perceive this will almost always be one of familiarity, a local one, a Chamorro one. The liberating Marines need not be identified anymore as tall, white, American soldiers. Wearing the uniform of Americaness, American power and military might, these liberators are now my children, my cousins, my relatives, my neighbors. The military’s interests anywhere, not just in Guam, must now be my interest, because as so many who leave home to go to war, or to serve in the military say, they are only fighting to defend their homes, their families. As they leave to defend me, while I remain on Guam, they, entangled with the interests of the military, will be defended as well.

What is obviously lost in the transition is GUAM! The defense of Guam is always assumed to be linked to the defense of the US, and more importantly the defense of the US military. The possibility that what is good for the US military might not be good for Guam doesn’t emerge, it is supposed to be unthinkable here, because a split of recognition takes place here, which leaves the interests always not local, but the face always local.

This is the fight for those interested in Guam’s future today, is to make it so that Guam’s needs can viewed outside of the United States’. That they can be attended to, discussed, understood, etc. What we see all over the island today, is an inability to do so, and a covering of this inability by performatively making Guam unable to do anything. Water privatization, more military, more Federal oversight, all of these things are covered or justified by the creating of Guam as being pathologically inferior and incapable and then following that creation up with the solution, which is the United States, whether in its image as a military powerhouse, a economic super power, a place where schools are fully funded and everyone has textbooks printed right before their eyes, every three days.

The moves are shrewd and their effectiveness depends upon not just belief but more importantly lack of action and response. Zizek is fond of saying over and over what Pascual said about ideology, people don’t treat the King like the King because he is the King, it is only because they treat him like the King that he is the King. These moves are shrewd and effective because those who publicly act do tend to follow their logic, while those who may not either have no space from which to speak or critique, or their just don’t feel the need to speak or critique. What people such as Lee Weber, the late Joe Murphy, or Ron McNinch say does not necessarily reflect reality, but given their whiteness, their institutionalized voices, their fidelity to a large violent and ugly super power their statements become reality far easier then something oppositional or critical. But it is the always the lack of action, the lack of response which makes it reality, which makes it hegemonic, which makes it common sense.

With each Chamorro death in the War on Terror, I felt the recolonization, the continued colonization of Guam seep deeper. With each death, as I heard and read more and more discussions trying to make sense of the loss and saw people sift through a range of possible identities, statements about how to assign this tragedy meaning, too many of them moved in the direction of scraping the bottom of the patriotism barrel and use this death to increase the Americanness of Chamorros or of Guam. A sacrifice on the altar of American inclusion.

I should note though, that there are two dominant articulations of this point. The first is gross and drives me nuts, that’s the proud to serve articulation. Chamorros are American and we do our part. The second, isn’t as bad, but nonetheless it relies upon a certain patriotism, a certain loyalty, a certain acceptance of America as the master of Guam which I don’t like. The second articulation can be summed up as the unappreciated patriots. We go to war, we die, but we can’t even vote, and no one even knows we are Americans. Occasionally I even get stuck in this articulation, its very attractive, because it has the aura of a critique, yet is still protected by the sovereignty of the United States.

A song that I have found fits best in making my own sense of this string of tragedies is Audioslave’s Doesn’t Remind Me.

The lyrics can be interpreted in many ways, but the constant refrain of “it doesn’t remind me of anything” following the encounter with a particular object is the life of your prototypical colonial subject. You could very easily make this song about Guam by substituting local objects, events, places and then follow them with “it doesn’t remind me of anything.” For example, “I try to vote for president, but I can’t” followed by “it doesn’t remind me of anything.”

What is the thing which doesn’t remind you of anything? It is obviously that colonial kernel which we are constantly instructed to overcome to get rid of, by seeking to be one with the colonizer. Diaspora, language, education, economic development, all of these things can be viewed as exercises in forgetting or mis-recognizing things. For example, when I see the suburban house in California that I left island to get, the first thing that comes to mind, is precisely the desire that makes this acquisition feel wrong. The structures that made this feeling, this desire, this need to move, this need to dream this American dream necessary. The first instinct is always that “this doesn’t remind me of that anything.” This need to quickly forget that thing which makes this an effect of something which would stigmatize me, or it, or reveal specific powers and effects in my everyday life.

“this doesn’t remind me of anything” is the mantra of life in Guam. It is the mantra meant to make what I do to be one with the colonizer something apparently autonomous, free, beautiful and not merely because I wasn’t allowed to speak Chamorro when I was young or because my land was taken after World War II.

The intent of the line is of course “its nothing” but the clarity of its formulation as “anything” reveals how even nothingness must always appear in the form of somethingness (imagine nothingness, its probably a deep dark black eternity? Or maybe its a white room with no perspective that goes on forever? Or maybe its you bored at the computer?) That colonial kernal therefore always appears and always emerges and life in Guam is built around either getting rid of it, or dealing with it and critiquing based on it. This is why of course my mind always returns to this song as I read about the most recent Chamorro death in Iraq. As Chamorros on island read this, they are repeating in their own heads, “this doesn’t remind me of anything,” in an effort to get rid of this irritating bone in the throat that makes their Americaness always ill-fitting.

It would of course be far more productive in my opinion to not use these moments to blind ourselves and swallow yet another box of American flags, but instead use them to see where we truly are. Outside of this desperate need to remember to forget so many things, what future lies head for us? Can we ever even see it or will all of our moments instead by shadowed by this persistent verse?

Doesn’t Remind Me
AudioSlave

I walk the streets of Japan till I get lost
Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything
With a graveyard tan carrying a cross
Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything

I like studying faces in a parking lot
Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything
I like driving backwards in the fog
Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything

[Chorus]
The things that I’ve loved the things that I’ve lost
The things I’ve held sacred that I’ve dropped
I won’t lie no more you can bet
I don’t want to learn what I’ll need to forget

I like gypsy moths and radio talk
Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything
I like gospel music and canned applause
Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything

I like colorful clothing in the sun
Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything
I like hammering nails and speaking in tongues
Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything

[Chorus]
The things that I’ve loved the things that I’ve lost
The things I’ve held sacred that I’ve dropped
I won’t lie no more you can bet
I don’t want to learn what I’ll need to forget

Bend and shape me
I love the way you are
Slow and sweetly
Like never before
Calm and sleeping
We won’t stir up the past
So descretely
We won’t look back

[Chorus]
The things that I’ve loved the things that I’ve lost
The things I’ve held sacred that I’ve dropped
I won’t lie no more you can bet
I don’t want to learn what I’ll need to forget

I like throwing my voice and breaking guitars
Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything
I like playing in the sand what’s mine is ours
If it doesn’t remind me of anything

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