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South Atlantic Quarterly
A G A I N S T the D A Y
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Guam: Protests at the Tip of America’s Spear
Guam is the largest and southernmost island in the Mariana Archipelago, a
string of fifteen islands in the Western Pacific. It has been home to the
Chamorro people for thousands of years, but for the past century it has been
an unincorporated territory, or colony, of the United States. Since it was first
taken by the US military in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, Guam
has played a key role in linking the United States to Asia, especially in terms
of its economic and military interests. While it was first used as a coaling station for US ships, today its strategic location on the edge of Asia makes it
ideal for the projection of force against friendly and hostile nations across
East Asia. Today, Guam is sometimes known as “the tip of America’s spear,”
a 212-square-mile colony with 29 percent of its land mass composed of US
Air Force and Navy bases.
Guam’s strategic value to the United States can be broken into two basic
parts; the first is its location and the second is its ambiguous political status.
Guam lies within just a few hours of all the major nations in East Asia. As
such, the island has played a key role in the transportation of troops and
weapons to every major US conflict in Asia since World War II. Guam has
also acted as a link to the United States in terms of the migration of refugees
from US-involved conflicts. Guam was host to more than 100,000 Vietnamese refugees in 1975 as part of Operation New Life. Guam has also hosted
refugees from Burma and Kurds from Iraq. The second aspect is Guam’s
colonial status. Guam is a possession of the United States, a colony, neither a
The South Atlantic Quarterly 116:1, January 2017
doi 10.1215/00382876-3749592 © 2017 Duke University Press
Published by Duke University Press
South Atlantic Quarterly
Guam: Protests at the Tip of America’s Spear
full part of the nation nor its own independent country. The US military is
given more freedom in Guam than they are in other countries in the region.
As such the US military does not need to ask permission for many of their
activities, as they are required to do for their bases in foreign countries.
The value of this in-between status was first articulated in 1969, in a
speech made by President Richard Nixon during a stopover in Guam. That
speech became known as the Guam Doctrine and called for “the shifting of
the American military perimeter from ‘contested bases,’ or contested sites, in
Asia to more secure locations throughout the Pacific” (Hanlon 1998: 219)
such as Guam, the Northern Marianas Islands, and elsewhere in Micronesia.
According to Admiral Fallon, formerly head of the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM), the advantage of having bases in Guam is that it is an
“American territory,” and “the island does not have the political restrictions,
such as those in South Korea that could impede U.S. military moves in an
emergency” (Halloran 2006). In contrast to countries such as South Korea,
Japan, and the Philippines where there is sometimes popular and governmental resistance directed to US military presence, Guam’s colonial status
makes it a vital asset. While those bases are considered to be contested, Guam,
as a possession of the United States, is represented as uncontested.
In his text Pacific Passages, World Culture, and Local Politics in Guam,
anthropologist Roland Stade (1998) shares a statement from a Captain
Douglas from the US Air Force that further clarifies Guam’s value as a colony to the United States:
People on Guam seem to forget that they are a possession, and not an equal
partner. . . . If California says that they want to do this, it is like my wife saying
that she wants to move here or there: I’ll have to respect her wish and at least
discuss it with her. If Guam says they want to do this or that, it is as if this cup
here [he pointed at his coffee mug] expresses a wish: the answer will be, you
belong to me and I can do with you as best I please. (192)
Douglas continued, making clear the implications of the word territory, especially in relation to US military interests: “This is a U.S. territory and not like
in the Philippines or other places, where they can kick us out. Here we have
absolute right of disposal” (194).
In this essay my goal is to provide an overview of recent US military
activities in Guam and the Marianas, not only to inform the reader, but
also to challenge the very notion of these islands as being “uncontested.”
To this extent, I will also provide an overview of popular resistance to
these military plans, which are no longer focused only in Guam, but also
in the Northern Marianas Islands of Pågan and Tinian.
Published by Duke University Press
South Atlantic Quarterly
176 The South Atlantic Quarterly
Against the Day
January 2017
HUGUA: The Guam Military Buildup
In 1946 Guam was added to the list of international Non-Self-Governing Territories maintained by the United Nations, which are political entities deserving of decolonization and the determining of their own political destiny
(United Nations 2016). The United States and other administering powers or
colonizers are obligated to help support their colonies toward decolonization.
The UN sees increased militarization and the building up of bases as a detriment to decolonization, as it can easily lead to countries ignoring the human
rights of colonized peoples in the name of national or regional security and
strategic interests. The United States has long ignored its responsibility in
this regard, and rather than decrease its military presence in the Marianas, it
currently seeks to dramatically increase it (United Nations 2016).
In 2002, then President George W. Bush called the twenty-first century
the “Pacific Century” (Bumiller 2002). This was echoed by a number of other
political leaders, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2011). These
calls are tied to a changing of US interests and priorities in the world as a result
of the rise of several Asia nations, especially China. In US strategic military
terms this has been referred to as a Pacific Pivot, a rearranging of US military
forces away from a European focus and moving them toward the Pacific Rim
(Hudson 2016). As part of this the US Department of Defense (DOD)
announced their intention in 2006 to move a significant number of their
Marines currently based in Okinawa to Guam (Park 2005). This move was
speculated to cost several billions of dollars, as it would require the construction
of new housing and training facilities for the troops and their dependents.
In 2009, the DOD released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement
(DEIS) outlining their intentions for militarizing Guam. A number of concerns were immediately apparent. The DEIS stated that Guam’s population,
currently at 160,000, could increase by 60,000 in just a few years with the
buildup. Plans to build a nuclear aircraft carrier berth would require dredging seventy acres of beautiful coral reef. In order to create a firing range complex for the Marines, places such as Pågat, which are culturally significant to
the island’s indigenous people, the Chamorros, were to be closed off to the
public and the US military would be required to lease between 1,000 and
2,400 new acres of land.
TULU: Protecting and Defending
Pågat is on the northeastern side of the island and features freshwater caves
and limestone cliffs. It was once the site of an ancient Chamorro village and
Published by Duke University Press
South Atlantic Quarterly
Guam: Protests at the Tip of America’s Spear
is now a favorite hiking spot and a place where traditional healers gather rare
plants. Today Chamorros seeking to reconnect to their ancient ancestors
hike to Pågat in order to pay respects among the artifacts and stone ruins of
the ancient homes. Pågat became a central point for those critiquing and
resisting this US military increase.
At present, the US military controls close to one-third of Guam’s land
mass and already restricts access to several places on Guam that are sacred
and contain numerous artifacts. Frustration over the loss of this site first
appeared in social media, primarily through the sharing of Facebook posts
and images that contrasted images of soldiers firing and training with cultural symbols important to Chamorros. The images were accompanied by
questions like “Do We Want This for Our Island?” (Naputi 2013: 188). A coalition of environmental, cultural, and political organizations banded together to
begin taking people on regular tours of the Pågat area, so that Guam residents
could experience its historical qualities themselves. Thousands of people were
taken to Pågat on what became known as “heritage hikes” meant to illustrate
for people what the cost of the proposed military increase might be (178).
From this initial activism, a collection of demilitarization groups
stepped forward to protest the military buildup, all of which rallied under
the banner of “Prutehi yan Difendi,” which is the Chamorro for “Protest and
Defend.” This coalition comprised older groups that had long sought the
return of Chamorro lands that had been taken following World War II by the
US military to build their bases to groups made up of younger professionals
who felt that Guam’s culture and environment were not being treated fairly
in this process. The phrase “Prutehi yan Difendi” is drawn from the Chamorro pledge or Inifresi, which is taught to all public school children on the
island. Through this idea of protecting and defending Pågat, a wider critical
conversation about the US military presence on Guam began to develop
(Naputi and Bevacqua 2015).
In talk radio, social media, and public meetings, people began to
express more and more discontent over the US military plans. People were
unhappy that one of the few places where the public could travel freely to
enjoy the natural beauty or to pay respect to their ancestral spirits might
soon be blocked off. The idea of a firing range built in the area was also considered offensive. If the US military carried through with their plans, tens of
millions of bullets would be fired from a hill above that area, frightening
hikers and desecrating the remains of Chamorros that are resting in Pågat.
More people were frustrated with the idea that even though the military
already controls so much of the island, it was nonetheless seeking to acquire
new lands (Underwood 2001).
Published by Duke University Press
South Atlantic Quarterly
178 The South Atlantic Quarterly
Against the Day
January 2017
FATFAT: The Poisons of Militarization
With the proposals for drastic increases on the table, residents of Guam
began to see themselves in a wider context and perceive the various ways in
which Guam is used by the US military, and how much of this takes place
without their knowledge or consent.
For instance, Guam is at the heart of a massive training area known as
the Mariana Island Training and Testing Area, or MITT. In the Mariana
Islands, the United States routinely holds large-scale multinational training
exercises. For example, in 2006, the United States coordinated the largest
ever peacetime naval exercises called “Valiant Shield.” In all, these exercises
included navies of a dozen different nations, and the United States military
alone consisted of 22,000 military personnel, 280 aircraft, 28 ships, and
3 aircraft carriers (Batdorf 2006). The exercise was so successful the United
States repeated the exercise in 2007 and 2010 with even more personnel and
hardware. As the US military uses Guam and the waters around it for training purposes, there is always the possibility for accidents to take place. From
2007 to 2008, there were seven crashes of aircraft in and around Guam
(Bevacqua 2008). In 2008 a nuclear submarine also leaked trace amounts of
radioactive waste into the waters around Guam.
The heavy militarization of Guam has led to a significant amount of
contamination. After World War II, hazardous and toxic chemicals were
dumped and buried around the island and are still being cleaned up until
today. Currently, there are at least seventy military toxic waste sites on the
island (Mitchell 2012). While the US military was conducting nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands, their ships were regularly brought to Guam for
cleaning and servicing. It is more than likely that fallout from the radiation
tests and also contamination from the cleaning has affected the health of
people living in certain areas. Some scientists speculate that the heavy contamination is one of the reasons why people on Guam suffer from incredibly
high rates of certain diseases, particularly cancer. For example, someone in
Guam is 2,000 percent more likely to get nasopharynx cancer than the average resident of the United States (Natividad and Kirk 2010).
Even the United States’ own Environmental Protection Agency strongly
criticized the proposal by the US military as “environmentally unsatisfactory,” claiming that it “should not proceed as proposed” (Harden 2010).
Nancy Woo of the EPA said, “The government of Guam and the Guam Waterworks cannot by themselves accommodate the military expansion. . . . It is
not possible and it is not fair that the island bear the cost” (Harden 2010). At
the time, Guam government officials put the total costs of the proposed
Published by Duke University Press
South Atlantic Quarterly
Guam: Protests at the Tip of America’s Spear
buildup at about $3 billion dollars, including $1.7 billion for infrastructure
and $100 million for the already severely overburdened public hospital. On
Guam—where a third of the population at the time received food stamps, a
massive influx of impoverished immigrants from the surrounding islands
was promoted by the United States, and about 25 percent of the population
lived below the US poverty level—that price tag could never have been paid
with local tax revenue.
LIMA: Public Comments
Using this history and the contemporary reality of military use, community
activists worked together during the ninety-day public comment period to
build more awareness and outrage over this military buildup. The potential
catastrophe of the buildup was clear from the size of the document itself, as
the potential environmental impacts to Guam required 11,000 pages to discuss (Aguon 2009). Resistance to the buildup continued to grow as protests,
teach-ins, petitions, and lawsuits were all carried out (Natividad and Leon
Guerrero 2010). Efforts at international solidarity were made, as Chamorro
activists reached out to those with similar struggles in Okinawa, Hawai‘i,
Australia, South Korea, and the Philippines. But as much of the world considers Guam to be “Guam USA” and just another part of American real
estate, other than the start of some strong grassroots links, little came from
these efforts.
In addition to hikes to sites threatened by militarization, a “swim-in”
occurred in Apra Harbor, Guam’s port, and the sites of the proposed aircraft
carrier berth. Through the organization We Are Guahan, people were
invited to snorkel and see firsthand several acres of the beautiful coral that
would have to be dredged in order to carry out the US military’s plans (Hauswirth 2010). A Unified Chamorro Statement against the US military buildup
was written by a group of professors at the University of Guam, and a diverse
group of over four dozen Chamorro organizations signed on expressing
their concerns over the US military buildup (Hattori et al. 2010). The US
military organized three public comment meetings where the community
could make statements and express their concerns. Thousands of people
attended these meetings, on one occasion forcing the event to go several
hours beyond its scheduled time as hundreds had shown up to express their
problems with what was being proposed for Guam.
At the end of the comment period more than 10,000 comments, most
critical, had been submitted.
Published by Duke University Press
South Atlantic Quarterly
180 The South Atlantic Quarterly
Against the Day
January 2017
GUNOM: Delays and Diversions
Despite the large number of comments and the critical voices of the people
of Guam, the US military’s plans were delayed because of outside forces, primarily economic downturns in the United States and Japan. With a price tag
in excess of $7 billion, both governments agreed a scaling down of this
transfer was necessary. In 2011 in response to a local lawsuit saying that the
US DOD had violated NEPA in their selection of Pågat for their firing range,
they agreed to temporarily delay their selection and conduct more study or a
SEIS (supplementary environmental impact statement) (Camacho 2013). In
2014, when discussions over the military buildup were started again, the
United States had changed their tactics and their targets.
When the DOD returned with new plans, proposed troop numbers
were reduced and their focus had been 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 sparsely populated and perceived to have fewer economic opportunities, the DOD was
certain they would receive a warmer welcome in the islands of Tinain and
Pågan. They were wrong.
In April 2015 the DOD announced plans that would radically alter the
face of both of these islands and, by using them for a number of different
types of artillery and bombing training, would cause potentially irreparable
environmental damage. The island of Tinian is most famous historically for
its role as a launching point for the Enola Gay during World War II. If the
DOD goes through with its plans, the northern half of the island would be
off-limits to civilians for an estimated sixteen to forty-five weeks of the year,
as training areas would be established that would displace hundreds of farmers and destroy several cultural and historical sites (Zotomayor 2015a). The
island of Pågan, with its black sand beaches and twin volcanoes, is known
internationally as an ecological treasure. But with the DOD’s intent to close
the island and use it for bombing and artillery training, its near-pristine
beauty is threatened (Olson 2015). Movements to build awareness of the possible destruction of this paradise in the Western Pacific have resulted in
small protests throughout the Marianas and an online petition that gathered
more than 100,000 signatures. Political leaders in the northern islands have
joined with community groups by passing resolutions to protest the DOD’s
proposals. The DEIS for the military buildup in Pågan and Tinian was 1,400
pages long, but the public outcry over the likely environmental, economic,
and social damages resulted in the submission of 28,000 public comments
through the NEPA process by October 2015 (Zotomayor 2015b).
Published by Duke University Press
South Atlantic Quarterly
Guam: Protests at the Tip of America’s Spear
As the DOD has spent the last five years shifting their plans in order to
make the buildup sleeker and more invisible to resistant forces, the overall
process was stalled because of financial concerns from the US Senate. Senators John McCain and Carl Levin put restrictions on funding for Guam/Marianas buildup-related projects until several conditions were met by the DOD,
most notably the requirement of a master plan for US force distribution in the
Asia-Pacific region. In October 2015, the US Congress approved the first payments for the military buildup, contracts for improving wastewater s …
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