Life at the Tip of the Spear
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Guam Daily Post
December 2, 2015
This week I am giving my students at UOG a questionnaire about risk, threats, fear and safety. The survey is simple, and asks students to consider how often they worry about certain potential man-made or natural disasters. The purpose of this study is to understand the way people on Guam (starting with a sample of UOG students) perceive Guam’s relation to the world and how they see our position in relation to various potential threats and dangers.
Earthquakes and typhoons are common, looming problems, always lurking to the East or in the waters beneath us. Given Guam’s history we also experience recurring worries about war. Although the Spanish-Chamorro Wars have largely faded from conscious memory, I Tiempon Chapones or World War II hasn’t. Rumors of war, saber-rattling between nations still evoke, sometimes very strongly and traumatically memories and images of brutality and occupation. This is so, even if we have come to accept a very different image of the average Japanese person today. They are not taiase’ and malamaña conquerors and would be world rulers, now they are banana boat riding, ABC store shopping economic drivers.
One major concern, which is always there, but often disappears in regularly occurring patriotic hazes, is the inherent dangers in being “the tip of America’s spear.” Or what our status as an unincorporated, but strategically important territory on the edge of Asia means in terms of potential dangers in our lives. The tip of the spear is kept close to the warrior in battle. It can be wielded for defense and offense. It can be a prized and cherished item, which leads to victories, which leads to security, but for whom? In battle, the spear is usually the first thing to get bloodied. It can be broken. It can be used to mow down enemies, slaughter foes left and right. A good spear can keep a warrior safe in battle, but what about the spear itself? Does the warrior or the battle keep the spear safe? When the warrior fights, even if the spear may seem strategically important to him in that moment, it may be something his father passed down to him, possibly won from an earlier opponent in another battle, does he love the spear? Is he fighting to protect the spear itself or his family? His nation? His own interests?
When China dubs a missile the Guam Killer or North Korea boasts of its ability to hit Guam with their missiles, we should ask ourselves these questions. How aware are we of the risks involved with being America’s spear tip in the Western Pacific?
Historian Pedro Sanchez wrote that the World War II shouldn’t have really been a surprise for the Chamorros of Guam. By 1941, Europe was at war. Japan had conquering new colonies in Asia for years by that point. Anyone who know anything about what was happening in the rest of Micronesia would have seen Japan increasing its military presence and preparing for war. Sanchez argued that Chamorros had “blind faith” in the power of the United States, and that as long as Uncle Sam was defending Guam nothing could or would happen to it. Sanchez was in some ways overstating things in order to enhance the idea of Chamorros as helpless victims in order to set up their suffering during the war. But there is an element of truth in his statements, which still rings true today. What does blind faith or blind patriotism achieve for us in today’s world? How does an unrealistic idea of war or of American power keep us safe? How does seeing the United States in an uncritical light, as a crusading liberator for justice and democracy potentially put us in the same position of our ancestors on the even of the Japanese invasion?
One issue that I am interested in studying is the fear or lack of fear around potential dangers in Guam due to our significant military presence. Much attention is given to countries such as China or North Korea or Russia as threats, but how much to we understand or ignore the threats that simply having so much military power and machinery concentrated on this small island might represent? How much attention do we give to the dangers to the environment? The dangers that come with frequent training? The dangers that are involved with the storing of weapons of war, in particular, weapons of mass destruction?
It is this last question that I plan to address this Thursday, December 3rd at 2 pm in the Dean’s Professional Development in the HSS Building at UOG. I’ll be giving a colloquium presentation as part of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Dean’s Colloquium Series. My presentation is titled “Confronting Nuclear Legacies and Realities in Guam.” If you are able, come and join the conversation. I’ve included below the abstract for more talk if you’d like to know more:
“The 3/11/2001 tragedy in Japan and the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Genpatsu was the latest reminder of the potential dangers of nuclear energy. Radioactive fallout was carried by wind and water throughout the Tohoku region of Japan, south to Tokyo and even reached the shores of Guam in the Marianas. Although Guam has no nuclear power plants, the use of the island by the United States military has ensured that the risks involved with the weaponization of nuclear energy are always present. This presentation will provide an overview of Guam’s historical relationship to nuclear weapons and also recommendations for how these issues can be more prominently incorporated into public school social studies curriculum. “