Saturday, December 17, 2016

Guam's reparations payoff

The decision by Congress to provide war reparations to Guam’s World War II survivors was surprising, to say the least. The issue has long been a point of friction with conservatives who have argued that the U.S. beared no responsibility.

But, one suspects, bigger issues were on the table.

Guam’s self-determination is still unsettled, and Congress can’t assume that Guam won’t rebel. The backlash of blue collar voters, who turned on Democrats and voted for Donald Trump, is a clear message.

A lot of Americans have realized that the system is working against them, and many on Guam might be feeling the same way, but not necessarily for economic reasons. The military has brought a degree of prosperity and jobs, and the island’s economic interests are supportive of the buildup.

But the military buildup on Guam is bringing anxiety. There are many environmental, infrastructure and land use issues associated with a growing military presence. But there are emotional issues as well. It will draw in more people to the island and this will increase the marginalization of the island’s native population. Another may be an emerging feeling that the risks associated with the buildup aren't worth it.

Guam may be seeing a rise in worry over the military presence. With North Korea building nuclear missiles and China’s increasingly militarized South China Sea expansion,  Guam may be feeling that it’s now on the front lines of some future conflict. Independence may begin to seem appealing.

In this context, the reparations agreement looks more like a payoff than a realization that Congress  -- that after some 75 years of delay and indifference -- is finally reaching a moral reckoning on reparations.

To be clear, the reparations are long overdue and entirely justified. But the U.S. has seen fit to run over the rights of Pacific islanders for decades, from Bikini to Pagan, for military reasons. That part of history has not changed, and the reparations vote should be seen in that context.

The emotional anxiety over the military and its impact on Guam is well documented. Many people on Guam registered expressed heartfelt and emotional fears about the impact of this buildup. These letters were written in response to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in 2010 concerning the buildup.

The DOD set a 90-day comment period to wade through 10,000-plus pages of documents. (Does that short time frame seem familiar? Guam residents had six months in 1946 to apply for reparations and during a time when the island was utterly ruined by war.)

Many wrote with concerns about the buildup, raising issues about crime, landuse and its impact on roads, schools, water supply and the environment.

There were those who backed the buildup completely, and sometimes argued that a majority -- despite specific reservations about various aspects of the buildup -- supported it generally. There's no way to assess the depth of support today. I do not intend to dismiss their views by not quoting them below. Their comments can be easily accessed.

But it’s the latter voices that need to be heard in Washington and taken to heart, because these voices are rarely heard in Washington. It’s one of the reasons why some on Guam see a link between the protest over the North Dakota Access Line and militarization of Guam.

These comments are from Chapter 10, volume 1, individual comments.

“I feel like the ko ko bird. My nest was on the ground. I was a flash in the forest. You came in accidentally and saw my natural habitat as a feast, now the nest is decimated and you’re perched in the highest tree looking out over a land you know nothing about but claim with pride.”  Comment 1-029-001

"NO!!! Do not let this destroy the culture and environment in a sacred and beautiful place! Please no!" Comment 1-012-001.

An 11th grade student (in 2009) wrote: "Having more land taken away from our people is absolutely horrendous. I cannot sit back any longer ..." Comment 1-017-002.

“We do not need to be having thousands of strangers coming to our island acting like they grew up here, that they’ve been through the hard times we have and act like they are above us.” Comment 1-024-001.

“Why does it have to be us? They are just making us a much larger target for the US enemies to fire at.” Comment 1-320-001.

“I hope we as islanders should stand up for our family and children …. I truly hope that the government would stop thinking about themselves for once, and look around and think about us and how (we) feel about the situation.” Comment 1-365-001

“Can you put it somewhere else?” Comment 1-366-001.

In response to the comment about putting the buildup somewhere else, the government wrote:

“The U.S. locations in the Pacific region considered for the military relocation were Hawaii, Alaska, California, and Guam. Non-U.S. locations considered included Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Australia, because they are allies to the U.S. and are well situated for strategic force deployment. After analyzing the international and military capability requirements for each locale mentioned above, Guam was the only location for the relocation that met all the criteria.”

The important point in the above paragraph is this: Guam “was the only location.” That’s the starting point for viewing the U.S. government actions, including reparations.

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