On Feb. 16, the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at UOG will be holding a forum, “Tip of the Spear? Or Tip of a Nuclear Bomb?” The forum will feature a panel discussion on nuclear issues related to Guam and will take place from 6 to 7:30 pm in the CLASS Lecture Hall. The event is free and the public is invited to come and learn more about a topic that is largely under-analyzed in our daily lives on Guam, but is in desperate need of more awareness.
Last year, I conducted a study with my colleague at UOG, Isa Kelley Bowman, on local perceptions of risk, safety and security. We passed out surveys to 100 UOG undergraduate students to get a sense of what they felt the major and likely threats were to life on Guam. The surveys featured a list of 10 natural or man-made disasters that might affect the island. They were asked to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, how likely or unlikely they felt each was occur in our corner of the Western Pacific, sometimes referred to as the Tip of America’s Spear.
The purpose of the survey was to analyze how closely aligned these students’ fears or worries might be with the realities of living in such a strategically important location that hosts a strong U.S. military presence. Students overwhelmingly rated supertyphoons, earthquakes and an attack by North Korea as the most likely to befall the island. Given our geographic location and our history, worries over påkyo’ and linao is to be expected.
The fear of a North Korean attack was also expected, but is nonetheless revealing about the skewed ways in which we perceive our status as the tip of America’s spear. Fear of others attacking us plays into the idea that we need the U.S. military presence to be safe and secure.
While this is in some ways true, it also belies the fact that increased military presence also makes us a more significant and more seductive target for those who might do the U.S. harm. The recent development of “Guam Killers” by China is grim evidence to this effect.
The two scenarios that students felt were least likely to happen dealt with accidents around nuclear weapons or submarines. That fact that students overwhelmingly rated these two possibilities as remote or nothing to worry about is instructive about the way we may not perceive basic facts about our strategic situation. Nuclear weapons and nuclear powered vessels have been a significant part of Guam reality since Truman first authorized them on Guam in 1951. A horrific accident involving them is just as likely as any assault on the island involving them.
Guam is a highly militarized space, and as I have argued in my academic work, one of the most militarized communities in the world. Part of our militarized experience is the way we see ourselves primarily as a weapon in America’s arsenal, but do not consider the inherent dangers with such an existence, and the way hosting such a significant military presence can lead to terrible accidents and contamination.
We see threats that make us feel like the military presence is essential to life. But we don’t see the poisons that the bases have brought to the island, even though there are constant reminders. Recent interviews with Leroy Foster, who was stationed on Guam from 1968-1978, allege that Agent Orange was stored and used on Guam during the Vietnam War. This is reminiscent of the testimony of Charles Schreiber, who claimed that in 1952 there was clear evidence Guam was being negatively impacted by the nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands. According to him, his superiors covered it up.
How conscious on Guam are we of the dangers posed by the storage of nuclear weapons or the stationing of nuclear-powered vessels in our waters? At least three nuclear-powered submarines or ships have leaked significant radiation into our waters since 1975. During the Cold War, hundreds of nuclear weapons were stored in Guam. At present, officially no nuclear weapons are being stored on Guam — but then again, during the Cold War, officially there weren’t supposed to be any nukes here either.
Given the both haphazard and bellicose rhetoric of Donald Trump, it is more critical than ever that we educate ourselves about the dangers of nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered vehicles. Trump showed as a candidate to have little understanding of nuclear weapons and has shown little regard in office for the relationship between his poorly thought out tweets and policies and those they might affect. To learn more, please attend the forum at UOG on Feb. 16.
Michael Lujan Bevacqua is an author, artist, activist and assistant professor of Chamorro studies at the University of Guam.