As a note, the us military (U.S. Military), america/americans (America/Americans), have been purposely left lowercase, not to offend those who identify under these labels, but to express the contempt I feel for these entities in this specific context.
At first it all seemed like just another charitable event, like many others, a good cause. However, learning more over the years, gaining a better understanding of indigenous communities on one end and the pursuits of the us military on the other, have led me to a point where I am now — feeling disgusted, sometimes depressed yet desperate to take action while at the same time remaining cautious that I, like my forbearers, don’t do more harm than good.
For those who don’t know, Operation Christmas Drop occurs each December where the us military drops, or parachutes, boxes filled with “donations” over the inhabited atolls south of the Marianas. These donations are collected by both civilian and military families alike and typically consist of what I would consider trash.
Games like Monopoly that teach players to ruin their opponents by taking their dwellings, bulimic Barbie dolls that lead islanders to twisted concepts of beauty and cans of Spam that spread the gift of non-communicable diseases.
These items, and the underlying ideals and hazards behind them, oppose traditional beliefs and practices of the region in which they are dumped.
According to the us military, it is the “longest running humanitarian mission in the world” and has been occurring since 1952.
Under the guise of charity, the military has and continues to use this “operation” as a means to sway public opinion in their favor. Although the opposite is true, the us military has done well to have the people of the region, especially Guam, believe that they are good neighbors.
Perhaps the most immediate concern would be the threat of spreading invasive species currently on Guam to neighboring islands. For example, one of the requested items on Christmas Drop advertisement lists bags of potting soil. Recent memory tells us that rhino beetle larvae have been found in exactly this product.
In reading some of the responses of the us military personnel involved in the operation, they continually say that these islands are “small,” “isolated” and “poor." These remarks reveal the ethnocentric ideals driving this operation. The american materialistic culture, the belief that “stuff” and “things” will bring happiness, is pushing this “tradition” to collect and dump more year to year.
Additionally, the real threat to these communities is sea-level rise caused by ultra-polluting nations like the us and by self-absorbed individuals like americans. To be fair, I am personally struggling to lessen my carbon footprint.
With this said, the program continues as a result of the many good intentions made by good people who genuinely believe they are helping. However, much harm, here locally and globally, has occurred because of a genuine desire to help.
A more urgent operation would be the cleanup of the several dozen toxic waste sites attributed to the us military that have remained a health concern for decades. The most recent example would be the contamination in Merizo, whose lagoon is polluted by PCBs left behind by the us coast guard.
I am urging the military and civilians responsible to consider the damage caused by this seemingly charitable practice. It is time to drop Operation Christmas Drop.
Although I have spoken to some islanders from the affected region who feel that this operation should be halted as well, I speak only for myself.
Luke Davis is a resident of Mangilao.