‘Sweetening’ the Pentagon’s Deal in the Marianas: From Guam to Pagan


One of the most tested and effective means of maintaining order in society is controlling the meanings of keywords and concepts. In his book, Living in the Number One Country: Reflections of a Critic on American Empire, Herbert Schiller observes that ‘definitional control’ serves “to bulwark, or at least minimize, threats to the prevailing order.”1 In the context of contemporary Guam, control over concepts of patriotism toward the United States have hardly needed any coercion from the top of the political order as gratitude toward the U.S. military for ending the brutal wartime Japanese occupation of Guam, decades ago, has largely remained fixed in the memory of the indigenous Chamorro people.2

Nevertheless, these long-lived and largely uncontested concepts of gratitude are presently undergoing a reassessment in Guam generally and expressly among indigenous people. The present public battle over control of indigenous land rights has created another battle over the very words that might best represent the intentions of those in the U.S. military who seek to assert claims over sacred indigenous land.

The memory of (Ret.) General David Bice characterizing political leaders of Guam as targets for enticement in 2010 also remains fresh in the minds of people struggling to protect land, particularly sacred land, from what is widely felt to be unwarranted military expansion. The military’s push to maintain control took the form of an email [full text] from Bice to concerned military organizations stating that the local community and its leaders must be divided in order for the Navy to get its way in securing sacred spaces for a new military firing range complex. In striking a tone of concern tempered by calm reassurance, Bice observed that

The present plans to annex Pagan would result in the permanent displacement of hundreds of indigenous families who were evacuated after a volcano on the island erupted in 1983. These families have been waiting for three decades for the local government to allow them to return to their homeland. Of course, none of these people could have imagined that their inability to return home would create such a golden opportunity for DoD officials to portray Pagan as having “no permanent inhabitants.”

As David Vine observes in his study of Diego Garcia, DoD efforts to control the definition of a people’s status is part and parcel of a much larger U.S. effort to exercise “control over other nations and peoples not primarily through colonies but through its base network and a range of other military, economic, and political tools.”5 Correspondingly, Pagan’s present lack of “permanent inhabitants,” in such a remote and, thus, invisible region 6, has been a critical component of DoD’s conclusion that Pagan was the only suitable site for combined-level training, replete with enough practice space for coordinated amphibious and aerial assaults. In an attempt to pitch the plans to the local community, DoD has attempted to recast the indigenous people of Pagan as permanent transients—inhabitants with no habitat.

Some have compared these designs for Pagan with those drawn up in Vieques, Puerto Rico in the 1940’s. The comparison underscores the wider practice and history of making military designs and imposing them upon civil societies that had no hand in their creation. Observers of this trend note that it’s no coincidence that Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands are all U.S. “possessions,” with no voting representation in the U.S. Congress and no means of participating in other cherished hallmarks of representative democracy. When people feel entirely possessed by distant centers of power, as in Guam, they may feel all the more motivated to challenge the legal and moral bases that purport to justify possessions of this magnitude.

Kyle Kajihiro pointedly observes that, at times, “the large countries have cooperated to impose imperial (dis)order, drowning local and indigenous cultures and economies under a rising tide of ‘progress.’”7 When land, water, and air all become objects of the military’s sense of progress, what will be left to protect? Furthermore, who in society should be most engaged in working out the meanings of the most significant terms and concepts? The military or the populace? The authors of Under Occupation: Resistance and Struggle in a Militarised Asia-Pacificere seek and entertain various answers to questions like these.

Recommended Citation: Leevin Camacho and Daniel Broudy, "‘Sweetening’ the Pentagon’s Deal in the Marianas: From Guam to Pagan," Vol. 11, Issue 27, No. 1, July 8, 2013.

Notes

10.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> Herbert Schiller, Living in the Number One Country: Reflections of a Critic on American Empire (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2000), 152.

10.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> Miyume Tanji, “Japanese Wartime Occupation, War Reparation and Guam’s Chamorro Self-Determination,” in Under Occupation: Resistance and Struggle in a Militarised Asia-Pacific, eds. Daniel Broudy, Peter Simpson, and Makoto Arakaki. (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013), 161.

10.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> Read the full email from David Bice here

10.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> Catherine Lutz, “US Military Bases on Guam in Global Perspective,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 30-3-10, July 26, 2010.

10.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> David Vine, Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia, (Princeton University Press, 2011), 190.

10.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> Engseng Ho, “Empire through Diasporic Eyes: A View from the Other Boat,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 2004, 46(2) 210-246,  232

10.0pt;line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> Kyle Kajihiro, “Moananui?kea or ‘American Lake’? Contested Histories of the US ‘Pacific Pivot’,” in Under Occupation: Resistance and Struggle in a Militarised Asia-Pacific, eds. Daniel Broudy, Peter Simpson, and Makoto Arakaki. (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013), 127.

Leevin CamachoUnder Occupation: Resistance and Struggle in a Militarised Asia-Pacific.

Leevin Camacho line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”> is Professor of Rhetoric and Applied Linguistics at Okinawa Christian University. He has taught in the United States, Korea, and Japan. His research includes the critical analysis of media discourse, signs, and symbols. He is co-author of Synaesthesia communications journal, and writes about current discourse practices that shape the public mind.
 

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