Thursday, July 05, 2007

Another view of colonialism...

While quite admittedly a Chicana (no fuckin' "@", please, dont' be so damn lazy) academic, activist, blah blah, I was also born on Guam and have always taken a great deal of interest in the island, the one place on the US occupied by foreign forces in WWII (forgot that? I thought so.. lucky if anyone knew it!). So, I've been keeping a watch on some blogs and news out of Guam, and in honor (belatedly) of the Fourth, here's a Chamorro look at what overweening colonial impulses have wrought in one "amurrcan" outpost: (yes, it's long, but worth it. Italics are mine, my comments follow the post)
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Act of Decolonization #8: I Long to Live Under the Ass of No One!

I received an email the other day from one of the world's finest historians. From the power of this email, I can only assume that this man is one of the greatest and most resepected and revered historians in the world. You might be surprised or shocked once you read his words, but let me give some background first, so you'll understand my point better.

Power is often associated with simplicity, with idea that something arrives with the force of law, or the force of the natural. For Hegel the only ethical and fully developed political community, is not a democracy, but rather is a hereditary monarchy. [...] In democracies, the figure of the sovereign is supposedly filled through a regularly occuring election...

...What the creation of this ruling class does, is it closes off society, leaves the ruling of it to a group which has become developed in such a way that they inherently embody the will of those who they rule but are no longer truly accountable to.


That which is powerful is therefore that which arrives with shock, force, incites awe and stuns those who view it or are ruled by it, into dumbfounded, quiet and complacent silence without comment. My reference to Rumsfeld's infamous statement about "shock and awe" is intentional. The military hardware and conventional war power gap (non-nuclear) between the United States and the rest of the world is huge! [...] When the United States military rolled like thunder and death into Iraq and Baghdad they expected to be felt with the incredible power of that military gap. They intended and expected that the roar of their tanks would be felt as truth and their bombs from heaven be read as the Word of God himself. That is of course why, the planning for the invasion and occupation was so poor. It was not that the Iraqis would actually feel in their hearts that they were being liberated or that the US was bringing freedom to them. It was rather that the force of the invasion would be so massive and imposing that whatever the Iraqis were would melt away beneath the power of this simple strike, leaving behind fawning beings....

I have gone through this long explaination because I received an email the other day, which was delivered with the same "shock and awe" simplistic force. Because of the almost pure and obvious way in which this man made his arguments, it could only be assumed that he was either 1. the world's most incredible historian, so well advanced in the ins and outs of history that what to him was the rich intricate complexity of Guam's history appeared to me just like a lightning quick punch to the face. 2. someone, who expected that because of his position everything he did would be interpreted as such. So that whatever he said, because he was possibly American or possibly in the military, due to the distance from which he hovers above me in history, in technology, in politics, in culture, in wealth and in development, all should feel like a strike from heaven upon poor old me, and therefore he expected his simplistic, stupid statement to be treated as if a high speed transmission from God.
Finally, let me introduce this person who with such force and deftness seemed to feel that history was his to wrap around his finger and shove into my face so that my identity and my resistance, my disgust may fade away and I be re-made in his understanding of the world.

This world-class historian was an anonymous, I'm assuming apa'ka person, named Jeff Kruger, who sent me a one line email, on the history of Guam. This line was:

Who saved your ass from the Japanese?

For the next large conference that Famoksaiyan has, which should be either sometime this November or next Spring, I would really like to either organize or develop a workshop to prepare people for this sort of historically, supposedly indefensible bumrush. Over the past few years I have met many Chamorros and people from Guam out here, who desperately want to speak out on issues such as justice, decolonization, Chamorro activism, or other necessary but risky critiques of the United States. I tend to get worried however, when seeing the energy and drive in the eyes of these young Chamorros, ... nonetheless seem to be little prepared for the hegemonic smackdown that awaits them. Where a digustingly stupid sentence such as "who saved your ass from the Japanese" is not just made with the twisted hope of shutting you up, but also might actually have that effect on you. For many Chamorros, the liberation of the Chamorro by the United States, i magoggue-na, and therefore its eternal dependency on its colonizer is a sort of foundational common sense. When someone says, hayi gumoggue hamyo ginnen i Chapones? its intent is to smack you in the face with that which you as a Chamorro whose legacy is supposed to be loyal subordinate patriotism to the United States, is already supposed to understand as the ways things simply are...

For those of us who have dared tread (hoben yan amko') into the frightening world of questioning the "liberation" of Guam as a political project, ... we know very well, the response meant to snap us back to reality and shove a flag full of patriotic pills into every orifice imaginable. It is this simple, but supposedly terrifying phrase, "Would You Rather Be Under the Japanese?"
The invoking of the brutal occupation of Guam by the Japanese during World War II is supposed to be some sort of magical gesture whereby the sins of anyone else, ko'lo'lo'na the United States must be forgotten or washed away as if nothing. As the spectre of Japanese colonialism in Guam haunts the present, propping up the necessity and liberating aspects of the United States, its role in keeping us happy, healthy, alive and American, then we reach the point that in Puerto Rico can be defined as the "none of the above" complex, where colonialism in whatever banal, racist or comfortable forms it exists in locally, seems to be a much more attractive option than anything else. To bring this to Guam, as one Chamorro, very much a reckless American apologist put it, “If America colonized Guam, then maybe colonialism isn’t so bad."

[snip]This colonizing logic stems from the assumption that the coordinates of Chamorro existence can never leave the realm of colonized. That the Chamorro and its limits of possibility or life are defined by its being passed from one colonizer to another like a "spoil of war." There is here no sovereignty for Chamorros, in any formal or obscene sense. If we critique the current prevailing framework, if we call into question the legitimacy of American rule over us, or the veracity of its claims to benevolence, greatness and exceptionalism, the tangled logic here will never lead us out of the colonial world, but instead lead us to the dubious rule of a former colonizer, or dangerous rule of a new potential colonizer.

To patriotic Chamorros or even to liberal and conservative Americans, if we critique the United States, it is never something which is attached or understood to be related to our own sovereignty. In the most common instance, for those possessing some knowledge about Guam and its history, we are rudely thrown against a wall, and confronted with an angry fist before us demands to know if we would prefer to be under the Japanese again? For without the United States in 1944, that is precisely where we would be, suffering under the yoke of their rule and not basking in the greatness of the United States. The Chamorro, as we all are supposed to know is impossible, and so from the perspective of both a patriotic Guam Chamorro and your average American citizen, the United States has and continues to give you everything you need to exist and prosper, without it you are nothing. The terrible fantasy here is that life without the United States, life without the ability to share in its wishful glories and technologies whether it be democracy, electricity, food or happiness, is akin to the suffering our elders endured during World War II at the hands of the Japanese.

[snip]If critiques are made of the United States from Guam, its very common that someone with a base knowledge of the geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific region, who is in some way invested in represented, defending or protecting the "greatness" of the United States, will respond that such ideas are bad and dangerous since, if you are not with the United States, then the Chinese will take over you!

[snip]When people use these two phrases to reproach critical speech or to incite fear and dread in those who are attempting to be critical, they are using the heavy emotional and material damage and weight of the war experiences of Chamorros, to continue the colonization of Guam. [...] They use those very real and concrete, raw, angry and fearful scenes and emotions, to create the feeling that to speak ill against the United States,... will bring about the destitution, violence and destruction of World War II. The colonization of Guam through this everyday statement is perpetuated because the fantasy that drives almost any process of colonization and control, is the eventually development and concretization of a relationship between colonizer and colonized, whereby the colonized understands itself as existing solely because of the colonizers kindness, largese, wealth and power.
[snip]As I've put it in other works and posts, we must break the links between negativity and Chamorroness, and positivity and Americaness, which creates the impression that for the most part, as we move closer towards the United States and further away from what is perceived to be Chamorro (laziness, corruption, oppressive family structures, loinclothes, backwardness, violence, etc.) we get better, we exist better, our lives are just all around better. If, even in the smallest and most mundane ways we assume this dynamic to be true, whether excitingly or grudingly, then we condemn ourselves to continued colonization, because we will only be able to perceive decolonization as an acceptance of all the negative, suicidal and corrupting things in the universe. If this is the case, then colonization is necessarily to "fix" or "civilize" the native, and therefore must always be governed, administered and controlled.

[...]when any of us interested in decolonizing Guam are asked the question of "under who ass would you prefer?" it is crucial that we do not respond within the framework of the question, which is narrow and crudely assumes the impossibility of the Chamorro. Instead we must reject the limits of these question, and reject forcefully and in everyway we can that colonizing notion that the Chamorro must be under someone's ass in order to survive.
To loop this in with my own feelings about AZ, I refer to the italics I put in, which deal with the remarkably topheavy US colonial/ "protector" policies which assume everythin non-US is backward, evil, poor, dirty, etc. I would insist that promarily it is used in a lopsidedly colorist sense, in that while we might giggle at Canada, we don't think of it as poor and backwards as we conceive of the entirety of Latin America (maybe excepting Brazil).

Having studied colonialism for a while, it astonishes me when politicians rushing headlong into something or another in another country, ie a country of people dark/ non-Xtian/ non English-speaking manage to simplify the complexities of nations inevitably older and more culturally historic than our own. Not that all culturally old areas I find appealing, but we rarely think of England as a backwater because they have socialized medicine, or wear black socks with running shoes, or simply have a funny accent. We simplify the complexities of Ireland because they're "like us".

I challenge us to find a country like us-- I don't think it exists, which is a positive, and a negative. We have so little concept of the world outside us at times, or at least our leaders seem to. I think we have to deal with the difficult truth that we have tended to be colonizers in a very patriarchal way, insisting that the Amurrcan (tm) Way is the only way. We scare and bully and harass people who challenge the hegemony, by warning of the dire effects of the non-presence of the US.

Why and when did we become such a global bully? Heavens...

*sigh, trudge, sip margarita*

1 comment:

James said...

Interesting post. Lots of food for thought.