Michael Lujan Bevacqua, PhD / Space Alert (GNAWNPS) – 2016-03-17 01:29:04
Special to Environmentalist Against War
Anderson Air Force Base, Guam
(Spring 2016) — For more than 110 years, the United States has held Guam, an island in the Marianas group in the western Pacific, as an “unincorporated territory” — a colony. Guam is increasingly important strategically, as its location allows the US to project force across east Asia. Guam is often called “the tip of America’s spear,” only 212 square miles, 29% of that land mass is US Air Force and Navy bases.
Since the end of World War II, Guam has been on the United Nations’ list of “non-self-governing territories” with a goal of decolonization and political self-determination. The UN requires the US and other “administering powers” to support the decolonization of these occupied states.
Increased militarization and the building-up of bases are detrimental to this goal, as that sidelines the human rights of colonized peoples in the name of national or regional security and strategic interests. But the US has long ignored its responsibility in this regard and is even seeking to dramatically increase rather than decrease its military presence in the Marianas.
Since 2006, the US military has been planning the transfer of thousands of Marines (and their dependents) from Okinawa to Guam. In 2009, the US Department of Defense (DOD) released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) outlining its intentions.
A coalition of community activists worked together to build public awareness of DOD’s audacious plans, which included increasing the population of 160,000 by another 60,000 and dredging a beautiful coral reef.
The catastrophe was clear from the size of the document itself, as the potential environmental “impact” on Guam filled 11,000 pages. Protests, teach- ins, petitions and lawsuits, and more than ten thousand official comments to the DEIS, most critical, resulted.
Economic downturns in Japan and the US, combined with these local efforts, stalled the buildup. When DOD returned with new plans, proposed troop numbers were reduced and their focus was moved north of Guam into other islands in the Marianas Archipelago.
Guam is the most densely populated of all the Marianas Islands and the one with the longest history of protests against US militarism. As the northern islands are much more sparely populated and perceived to have fewer economic opportunities, DOD was certain it would receive a warmer welcome in the islands of Tinian and Pagan. It was wrong.
In April 2015, DOD announced plans that would radically alter the face of both of these islands, and using them for a number of different types of artillery and bombing training that would cause potentially irreparable environmental damage. Half of Tinian would be off- limits to civilians for 16-45 weeks every year for military training, displacing hundreds of farmers and destroying cultural and historical sites.
Pagan is known internationally as a near-pristine ecological treasure, but DOD intends to displace its residents and decimate the entire island with bombing and artillery training. An online petition against these plans has garnered more than 100,000 signatures.
Local political leaders have joined with community groups to protest DOD’s proposals, and 28,000 people made official comments on the DEIS for Pagan and Tinian by October 2015.
DOD has spent the last five years shifting its plans in order to make the buildup sleeker and more invisible to resistant forces. Although critical efforts have emerged over each individual island — Tinian, Pagan, Guahan — there has been little success in unifying demilitarized resistance.
Guam’s colonial status, as a territory that belongs to the United States and is not an equal part of it, weighs heavily, helping to create a sense of apathy over the perceived impossibility of challenging the most powerful military and country in the world.
This military increase is being forced on the people of the Mariana Islands. With no vote for US president and no voting representation in the US Congress, Guam exists at the whim of the US federal government.
When the possibility of moving Marines from Okinawa to Guam was first discussed, representatives of Japan and the US met, but no one from Guam sat at the negotiation table. Although the people of Guam may “comment” on DOD plans for their islands, the DOD can and does ignore their comments.
As a final note, Guam, Tinian, and Pagan, like other island bases, provides a good lesson in how militarization works and what must be done in order to counter and disrupt it. Their perceived distance, colonial political status, and smaller size means they are invisible in global politics, to hide the training or activities that are conducted there.
When larger, more visible places protest and demand that training be reduced or bases be closed, the US feels safe in moving its forces to “uncontested” places like Guam. For those seeking to dismantle global networks of military power, it is important to keep this dynamic in mind.
Michael Lujan Bevacqua, PhD, is an assistant professor of Chamorro Studies at the University of Guam and a longtime activist for the decolonization and demilitarization of Guam.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.