Pentagon Plans to Bomb Pristine, ‘Protected’ Islands

September 4th, 2013 - by admin

Leevin Camacho and Daniel Broudy / The Asia-Pacific Journal & – 2013-09-04 16:05:10

‘Sweetening’ the Pentagon’s Deal in the Marianas:
From Guam to Pagan

Leevin Camacho and Daniel Broudy / The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 27, No. 1

(July 8, 2013) — One of the most tested and effective means of maintaining order in society is controlling the meanings of keywords and concepts. In his book, Living in the Number One Country: Reflections of a Critic on American Empire, Herbert Schiller observes that ‘definitional control’ serves “to bulwark, or at least minimize, threats to the prevailing order.”1

In the context of contemporary Guam, control over concepts of patriotism toward the United States have hardly needed any coercion from the top of the political order as gratitude toward the US military for ending the brutal wartime Japanese occupation of Guam, decades ago, has largely remained fixed in the memory of the indigenous Chamorro people.2

Nevertheless, these long-lived and largely uncontested concepts of gratitude are presently undergoing a reassessment in Guam generally and expressly among indigenous people. The present public battle over control of indigenous land rights has created another battle over the very words that might best represent the intentions of those in the US military who seek to assert claims over sacred indigenous land.

The memory of (Ret.) General David Bice characterizing political leaders of Guam as targets for enticement in 2010 also remains fresh in the minds of people struggling to protect land, particularly sacred land, from what is widely felt to be unwarranted military expansion.

The military’s push to maintain control took the form of an email from Bice to concerned military organizations stating that the local community and its leaders must be divided in order for the Navy to get its way in securing sacred spaces for a new military firing range complex.

In striking a tone of concern tempered by calm reassurance, Bice observed that
[g]roups opposing Marine relocation [from Okinawa] are successfully seizing on Pagat as a means to gain legitimacy with public [sic] — need to take the issue off the table to isolate them. We can get all of the land eventually, including a [surface danger zone] over Pagat; we need to be patient and build trust with the community first.

Evident in Bice’s characterization of the issue are at least two flaws.

The first comes from what seems to be a profound and troubling ignorance of the significance surrounding the Pagat “issue.” The historical and cultural importance of Pagat Village dates back 900 years or more and provides a concrete way for any visitor to Guam to see first-hand the remnants of a complex Chamorro narrative that developed before, during, and after contact with the Spanish.

Archaeologists and historians have uncovered evidence that supports the local belief that Pagat Village is the resting place for the bodies and spirits of their ancestors. Bound to indigenous beliefs and stories about life and death were routes of access to fresh water, a principal and pragmatic reason why ancient Chamorros were able to settle in the area. Pagat Village is located over Guam’s aquifer, which provides drinking water for 85% of Guam’s population.

The proposed location of a firing range complex over an indigenous village and burial site in addition to the potential adverse impacts on the island’s largest water resource were ample reasons to oppose Department of Defense (DoD) plans. But the community opposition was also rooted in a deeper, shared belief that DoD had simply sunk into greed.

Most Chamorro families on Guam have personally witnessed DoD taking their land and converting these stolen tracts into airfields, roadways, and ammunition storage facilities.

Stories also still abound about taking indigenous lands and turning them into beach resorts, golf courses, and McDonald’s restaurants. Shortly after the close of WWII, DoD annexed Fena Lake, another major ancient Chamorro settlement and source of fresh water in order to secure its own water source for military personnel.

As a distressing spectacle of irony, DoD now sells the water from Fena Lake back to the government of Guam. Whereas Bice and his cohort have attempted to cast the “Pagat issue” as solely being about access to a tiny area it called “Pagat Village,” the community has viewed this as a blatant DoD attempt to take more land and externalize the negative impacts to the local populace outside the boundaries of the barbed-wire fence.

Notwithstanding the cultural significance of the natural environment with its priceless resource of fresh water, the location of Pagat itself and the artifacts unearthed there in earlier excavations suggest that the area was at one time awash with trading activity and part of a large network of cultural exchange.

To historians, the site represents extremely fertile ground for continued studies in Western colonial activities and the mark these leave on the cultures and landscapes they subsume.

The second flaw is really the subtext of Bice’s sketch of the growing opposition that Navy officials are now facing. By casting local lawmakers in Guam as mere children who could be deftly bought off with some lucrative political deals, the content of the email typifies a remarkable underestimation of the reasoning power of common citizens.

Much of the control over ideas about, and definitions of, key people whose consent was, and still is, necessary for the Navy’s expansion plans, slipped away when Bice’s email message was leaked to the wider public. His suggestion that the DoD would need to offer local leaders (i.e. Guam’s legislature) “sweeteners”3 so as to gain their support has hardly been sweet for the wider populace of Guam — where the community already contends with military forces occupying nearly 30% of the surface areas.4

On Guam, and throughout the Mariana Islands, DoD has hitherto largely avoided criticism for the vast areas of land, ocean, and air it has long appropriated for military training exercises. This is in no small part because, in many tight-knit communities across the region, DoD has had its own provincial champions — the local businesspeople and politicians who directly profit from military construction projects and environmental “mitigation” measures.

This privileged group of local collaborators represents one front of DoD’s two-pronged campaign to expand the scope of the military in the face of resistance from civil society. The second front, in the face of warnings of environmental destruction, is the strong media insistence that failure to give DoD carte blanche control will spell economic ruin for the region.

Despite the widespread opposition of historic preservation organizations, both local and national, the DoD campaign won approval of a key document known as a “Programmatic Agreement.” This enabled DoD to conjure up the illusion that the controversy surrounding “Pagat Village” was actually “off the table” and would no longer be part of its plans for a vast firing range complex.

Local media, in turn, have avoided challenging DoD’s attempt to redistrict indigenous lands, choosing, rather, to focus on the millions of dollars that could be generated from leases and the potential benefits of swapping ancestral lands for “valuable” properties ready for commercial development.

As stories of “sweet” deals for local people flood various media, the real prospect of economic ruin and its close connection to widespread environmental degradation has not been lost on the larger population.

Some members of the local community have maintained deep skepticism about DoD attempts to present the issue as one of simple access to Pagat Village, while various grassroots organizations have tried to keep the public focused on the broader issues associated with the attempted land grab.

Recently, the unwarranted expansion of military ownership of indigenous lands is threatening to spread to the Northern Mariana Islands. Again, as Bice had intimated in his original email, taking the issue of Pagat “off the table” will “isolate” those trying to save this culturally valuable ancient site even while it appears that the size of DoD’s appetite is growing and it seeks to extend its reach from Guam to other parts of the Marianas.

In March 2013, the DoD announced expanded plans that will effectively convert two-thirds of Tinian into a large-scale military training complex. DoD has maintained a lease on these lands for decades, but has let the lands sit abandoned, much to the chagrin of the local community. Officials also revealed their intentions to transform the entire island of Pagan into a sprawling military training complex.

If these plans are allowed to unfold, one-third of Guam, two-thirds of Tinian, and the entire islands of Farallon de Medinilla and Pagan (pictured below) would fall under the control of the US Department of Defense.

The present plans to annex Pagan would result in the permanent displacement of hundreds of indigenous families who were evacuated after a volcano on the island erupted in 1983. These families have been waiting for three decades for the local government to allow them to return to their homeland.

Of course, none of these people could have imagined that their inability to return home would create such a golden opportunity for DoD officials to portray Pagan as having “no permanent inhabitants.”

As David Vine observes in his study of Diego Garcia, DoD efforts to control the definition of a people’s status is part and parcel of a much larger US effort to exercise “control over other nations and peoples not primarily through colonies but through its base network and a range of other military, economic, and political tools.”5

Correspondingly, Pagan’s present lack of “permanent inhabitants,” in such a remote and, thus, invisible region 6, has been a critical component of DoD’s conclusion that Pagan was the only suitable site for combined-level training, replete with enough practice space for coordinated amphibious and aerial assaults.

In an attempt to pitch the plans to the local community, DoD has attempted to recast the indigenous people of Pagan as permanent transients — inhabitants with no habitat.

Some have compared these designs for Pagan with those drawn up in Vieques, Puerto Rico in the 1940’s. The comparison underscores the wider practice and history of making military designs and imposing them upon civil societies that had no hand in their creation.

Observers of this trend note that it’s no coincidence that Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands are all US “possessions,” with no voting representation in the US Congress and no means of participating in other cherished hallmarks of representative democracy. When people feel entirely possessed by distant centers of power, as in Guam, they may feel all the more motivated to challenge the legal and moral bases that purport to justify possessions of this magnitude.

Kyle Kajihiro pointedly observes that, at times, “the large countries have cooperated to impose imperial (dis)order, drowning local and indigenous cultures and economies under a rising tide of ‘progress.'”7 When land, water, and air all become objects of the military’s sense of progress, what will be left to protect?

Furthermore, who in society should be most engaged in working out the meanings of the most significant terms and concepts? The military or the populace? The authors of Under Occupation: Resistance and Struggle in a Militarised Asia-Pacificere seek and entertain various answers to questions like these.


1 Herbert Schiller, Living in the Number One Country: Reflections of a Critic on American Empire (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2000), 152.

2 Miyume Tanji, “Japanese Wartime Occupation, War Reparation and Guam’s Chamorro Self-Determination,” in Under Occupation: Resistance and Struggle in a Militarised Asia-Pacific, eds. Daniel Broudy, Peter Simpson, and Makoto Arakaki. (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013), 161.

3 Read the full email from David Bice here

4 Catherine Lutz, “US Military Bases on Guam in Global Perspective,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 30-3-10, July 26, 2010.

5 David Vine, Island of Shame: The Secret History of the US Military Base on Diego Garcia, (Princeton University Press, 2011), 190.

6 Engseng Ho, “Empire through Diasporic Eyes: A View from the Other Boat,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 2004, 46(2) 210-246, 232

7 Kyle Kajihiro, “Moananuiākea or ‘American Lake’? Contested Histories of the US ‘Pacific Pivot’,” in Under Occupation: Resistance and Struggle in a Militarised Asia-Pacific, eds. Daniel Broudy, Peter Simpson, and Makoto Arakaki. (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013), 127.

Leevin Camacho is a contributor and Daniel Broudy is a co-editor to Under Occupation: Resistance and Struggle in a Militarised Asia-Pacific.

Leevin Camacho is a practicing attorney in Guam and active member of WeAreGuahan — a collective of concerned individuals engaged in the preservation of native Chamorro culture, environment and resources. His research and work are focused on social and domestic issues.

Daniel Broudy is Professor of Rhetoric and Applied Linguistics at Okinawa Christian University. He has taught in the United States, Korea, and Japan. His research includes the critical analysis of media discourse, signs, and symbols. He is co-author of Rhetorical Rape: The Verbal Violations of the Punditocracy (2010), serves as a managing editor for Synaesthesia communications journal, and writes about current discourse practices that shape the public mind.

Fanohge Chamorro put i Tano’ta!
Save one of the most beautiful natural places on earth from senseless destruction!!!

The United States military has plans to take the beautiful island of Pagan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and use it as a live-fire training range. This will include full-spectrum weapons deployment: Aircraft gunnery, bombing, rocketry, missile delivery, strafing and mine laying, tank fighting, beach landings with amphibious craft and more.

It will not only deprive the people of the Marianas of the use of their own land, it will destroy it. This is in addition to their plans to raise the level of live-fire and greatly increase the live-fire areas of Tinian island, which means bringing weapons such as mortars, howitzers, artillary, high explosive munitions and anti-tank weapons closer to the 3,000 islanders who live there. Help us stop this!

You can read the Department of the Navy’s CNMI Joint Military Training Requirements and Siting Study here. It is clear that Pagan — like our island of Farallon de Medinilla, which the Navy has been bombing for 30 years — will no longer be inhabitable due to the unexploded ordinance.

The beautiful beaches will be torn apart. The damage from rockets, missiles, bombs and mines will forever change the landscape of this indescribably beautiful place.

It is ironic that the reasons the study sites for making the island suitable for military use are the same reasons why Pagan is valuable for the people of the CNMI as a home and for eco and cultural tourism. The study describes the island as having no permanent inhabitants.

This is not true. There is a Pagan community waiting on Saipan for the chance to go home. They visit Pagan every chance they get and stay as long as they can. The only hurtle stopping their permanent residency is the lack of investment funding for basic infrastructure — a tiny fraction of the expense that the US government would spend to transform Pagan into a target for destruction.

To the Chamorro and Refaluwasch people, the impact of destroying Pagan is like the heartache most Americans would suffer from the destruction of Yosemite National Park. The needless, terrible waste of one of the most beautiful, beloved places in the world should be stopped.

It is wrong to destroy an island of such beauty. It is wrong to deprive American citizens of their homes especially when they are too poor to defend themselves. It is wrong for the US government to negotiate an agreement in which the Commonwealth is created in exchange for an entire island to destroy (Farallon de Medinilla), two-thirds of Tinian for US Military use, parts of Saipan for military use, and then simply take another island, the fifth largest island that is our cultural and historic treasure.

That was never in the Covenant Agreement that was negotiated in good faith by representatives of the Chamorro and Refaluwasch people of the Northern Marianas with the understanding that the United States both recognizes and respects “the importance of the ownership of land for the culture and traditions of the people of the Northern Mariana Islands” and the need to “to protect them against exploitation and to promote their economic advancement and self-sufficiency.”

The forced taking of additional land via “eminent domain” is a betrayal of this trust.

If the US Military occupies this island, we will never get it back. You will never experience this incredible place with its black sand beaches, dramatic landscape, abundant indigenous birds, fruit bats, giant coconut crabs, its fresh water lakes and surrounding ocean teaming with fish and coral. Instead it will be destroyed with bombs more powerful than you can imagine.

The surrounding waters will be polluted with runoff. Dangerous, unexploded ordinance will be scattered everywhere. This is your island where Chamorros lived for thousands of years. It is rich in history — our history.

It is one of the last of our islands that is still environmentally healthy. It can support a small community again. One day you may get to visit it with your children or grandchildren. But not if the US Military takes it and bombs the hell out of it for practice.

The US Military has already extensively bombed two Marianas islands for practice – Farallon de Medinilla and Aguijan. These islands are no longer inhabitable. The US has 3.79 million square miles of land. The CNMI only has 177 square miles. Of this, the US Military already controls 30.4 square miles. This is in to addition the land they have taken on Guam, which is 1/3 of the entire island.

How Can You Help?
Take action before this pristine and stunningly beautiful island is destroyed forever!

Sign the petition.

Spread the word to your friends and family by phone, email, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media (use the links at the top of this page). Ask them to join you in standing up for the people of the Guam and the CNMI.

If there is anyone you know who can help us — a politician, environmentalist, news reporter, US Senator or House Representative — please contact them NOW!

Be fully informed.
Visit the Save Pagan Island website to learn more about this atrocity.

Write an open letter.
Express your opposition to US Military’s plans. Send it to We will publish it under a new tab entitled “Letters” that is coming soon.

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