Saturday, July 24, 2010

High velocity small arms and Pagat

The map offers another view of Pågat. The pink areas show the SDZ (Surface Danger Zone) at risk from small arms fire. The U.S. plans to turn Pågat into a live firing range and the People of Guam are protesting it. (Map source is U.S. EIS document)

Pågat isn’t just a place that’s important to Guam. It is important to America. The National Trust for Historic Preservation included Pågat this year on a list of America's Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places. It wrote this about Pagat:

On the northern coast of Guam, ringed by sheer limestone cliffs, lie the remains of an ancient village of the Chamorro, the indigenous people of this island, which is now a U.S. territory. The archaeological riches at Pågat are significant: more than 50 mounds (or middens) containing evidence of day-to-day life and some 20 sets of lattes—limestone pillars, crowned by capstones, that once supported dwellings made of wood and thatch. To see all of this requires heroic stamina. A hike along the trail to Pågat cuts through dense jungle and makes a steep descent past a sinkhole cave filled with freshwater pools. Access to the site and the integrity of its archaeological resources may be threatened by the U.S. military's plans to relocate about 8,600 Marines and 9,000 dependants from Okinawa to Guam.
The people from Washington who delivered the news this week about Pågat would never accept a firing range near their own homes and their families. They most certainly would not let it destroy a historical site. They would protest and fight it with every ounce of strength. And they know it. But this is how the U.S. acts when there are no political consequences, a fact that is as true for Guam today as it was 64 years ago this month for the displaced people of the Bikini Atoll.

After the U.S. had relocated the residents of Bikini to another atoll, U.S. Senator Carl Hatch (D-NM) visited them and said this: "The President knows the sacrifice you have made and he is deeply grateful to you for that."

Hatch then gave the islanders some gifts; a collection of things, some of which may be have been purchased in an airport gift shop. "A pipe, a cigarette holder, matches, a carton of cigarettes and a complete set of photographs of the atomic cloud over Bikini,” reported the New York Times on July 16, 1946.

History doesn’t record what the Bikini islanders thought of these gifts, the matches, the cigarettes and the photos of atomic bombs exploding. But people on Guam may begin to imagine.

The U.S. is treating the People of Guam as it treated the People of Bikini. Guam is not being given a choice as it faces a great loss, and what it will get in return is equally empty thanks.

Bikini residents had no voice and no one in Washington to speak for them. Guam has U.S. Rep. Madeleine Bordallo.

But Bordallo isn't seriously fighting the military's plan for Pågat; there is no resolve in her words.

In Bordallo’s “statement on the Final EIS,” she thanks Nancy Sutley, the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Dorothy Robyn, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Jackalyne Pfannenstiel for visiting Guam. “The fact that these high-ranking officials are visiting Guam is much appreciated and shows the commitment of the White House in hearing our island’s concerns.” Why Bordallo would show appreciation to these messengers or inflate their status in Washington is misleading.

The only person in this group with White House influence is Nancy Sutley, the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She appears to focus on clean energy and conservation. It is nonetheless gratuitous, as well as meaningless, for Bordallo to suggest that the White House is showing "commitment" to hearing Guam's concerns as they prepare to use Pågat as a firing range.

In Washington, Robyn and Pfannenstiel are mid-level appointees who probably aren't on the White House’s email list for senior advisors. They work for Defense in any case. They were sent to the island not to negotiate but to deliver bad news. They are part of the Obama administration’s Blue Collar appointee workforce.

Bordallo has no power in Washington, but she does have a platform, a voice and means to get a message out. But because Bordallo supports the buildup and appears too close to these officials, her language is not of protest.

On the matter of the Pågat firing range, this is what Bordallo wrote:
“I remain concerned that the Navy still has significant work in addressing the selection of the Pagat cliff line as the preferred alternative for a firing range. I still believe that Tinian is a preferred location for this training.”
Is that the best she could write? That she remains “concerned.”

Bordallo is muting her language because she is not seriously concerned about Pagat.

If Bordallo cared about Pågat she would have written:

“I oppose the use of Pågat for a firing range. It is unacceptable to the people of Guam.”

That would have been start.

Bordallo’s next step should have been to call someone from The National Trust for Historic Preservation Trust to join her for a press conference about Pågat.

To the reporters assembled Bordallo could say:

I want to tell you about a place that is beautiful and sacred to the People of Guam, it is called Pågat, and it is about to be turned into live firing range by the U.S. military. It is something that will scar Guam in many ways, and it is the type of action that no one – no one on the mainland, not in any community, would accept. Why should it be different for Guam?

And then she would show the reporters the video above and the photos below so that they may begin to understand what America does not yet realize.

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