Saturday, January 26, 2008

Damned foreigners

Guambat went for the headline in the front page article in the Washington Post, but knew from the start that this was not going to go down well with him.

The tip off?: it was written about Guam USA by the "Foreign Service" at WaPo.

Any time you get that at the beginning of any article having to do with Guam, you just know that it will be full of superficialities, often entirely mistaken, and will have to include the obligatory snake story.

Snakes, you see, invaded Guam along with the military back in the 1940's. A long time ago. Mostly harmless, they have been absolutely devastating to the island's bird population (along with house pussies).

And to hear the story told by someone who hasn't been here, they are everywhere, in your pantry, bed and cup of tea.

When Guambat came to Guam in the 1980's there was, indeed, a noticeable void of boid. But the governments (Territorial and Federal) have been making diligent and concerted efforts to get the snakes contained, and with some good success.

But, in Guambat's first encampment on Guam in the '80's, he only ever saw one such snake. And on returning after 17 years in Sydneytown, he has noted a distinct flourishing of numbers and varieties of birds and has only seen one dead snake (roadkill).

But the very mention of the "snake issue" is made to emphasize just what a other-worldly place this island of Guam is to most Statesiders, who have a penchant for making Guam the butt of endless jokes.

As WaPo tries to paternalistically put it, Guam is "a quirkily American place". Yeah, like New York City is pretty quirky, and Berkeley is quirky and New Orleans is quirky.... More "different" than "quirky" really.

Guam "marries the beauty of Bali with the banality of Kmart", and WaPo marries literature with cat litter, Seattle marries whales and Starbucks, Chicago marries blues and abattoirs....

Why do Foreign Service writers have to belittle Guam to tell the story of the greatest peace time and peaceful invasion/occupation of a small island by US military in its history?

Why can't the Foreign Service writers get the record straight that after lengthy and very public negotiations Japan is going to pay a large bulk of the bill instead of maliciously stating "U.S. tax dollars by the billions ($13 billion at last count) are to be dispatched to Guam over the next six years".

Why does the foreign service continue to skew the story that Guam doesn't pay US income tax? The fact is, Guam residents do pay the very same tax, but, rather than the US make direct payments to support the US territory, it "allows" the taxes from Guam to stay on Guam. Given that the average income of Guamanians has always been near the bottom of all US jurisdictions, that doesn't provide an awful lot of tax largess.
(By the way, and on a different story, that fiscal stimulus package Washington is all agog about will, like the EITC handout it passed years ago, do huge damage to Guam's budget because, being the low income place that it is, its tax revenues aren't adequate to cope with these Federal handouts. Guam's Revenue and Taxation Department cannot even pay the tax refunds rightfully due its taxpayers because the government is running so deep in the hole. If you don't pay, you're penalized, but if they don't pay, hey, OOG.)
In fairness, once past the opening scenes, which Guambat found unnecessary, the rest of the story reflecting on the biggest changes to hit Guam since Magellan were balanced enough to portray the issues facing Guambat's neighbours, who are some of the friendliest and most pleasant people Guambat has had the pleasure to share community with, anywhere.

It's a conundrum, really. Guam is one of the most patriotic places in all of America, contributing far above its weight in military service. And Guamanians tend to be very hospitable. So it is difficult for them to express the anguish that many loyal citizens feel about the so-called "military build-up". (However, read the comments by "jbrodie" to the PDN article link above and here; the other comments are also enlightening, after a fashion.)

Guamanians aren't so naive that they forget how the colonizers, first from Spain and then from the US, are fickle about their use of the island and islanders. How the US Navy controlled Guam from 1898 until the 1960's for its own purposes, "sacrificing" rather than defending it, then bombing the bejeezus out of it to retake it, taking land that hasn't been returned or accounted for, and then, in the coolness of the end of the Cold War, packing up and leaving it all behind, just to come back and push aside the nascent tourism industry that was blossoming in the wake of the last military pull-out to make way for yet another planner who has recognized, as have others throughout the centuries (but only from time to time), that Guam sits at a pretty strategic part in the Pacific pool.

Guambat grew up on military bases and has looked at both sides now (apologies Judy). He has sat around the hotel swimming pool with a quiet group of Japanese visitors spending their money, making the hotel possible, and sat around that same pool when a visiting ship dropped hundreds of big, happy, playful sailors, tossing footballs across the pool, shouting and having a decent, good time while the Japanese tourists picked up their towels and went to the beach.

Things will change on Guam, and always have. For many of us, the quality of life will diminish, particularly the community and the places where the community congregates. But we will also be part of a much bigger picture, and Guamanians have for a long time felt worthy of holding their own in such a place, and that will be a big bonus.

And there will be much more material wealth, no doubt. Hopefully, that will lead to better education, health and other infrastructure, but the military is making no promises about that, and the US government suggests that Guam is perhaps asking for too much to expect anything of substance in return for being such great little natives sitting out there on that tip of the spear.

And since Guam residents do not have any vote in Congress nor can they vote for President, it is not likely that they will have much opportunity to voice their concerns to their fellow American citizens sitting far back toward the throwing end of the spear.

See, also Guam military platform concerns locals

Note that Guam, along with Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, was acquired by the US as the spoils of the trumped up ("Remember the Maine!") Spanish-American War (that "splendid little war" as described by the US ambassador to England to not-yet-President Teddy Roosevelt) and the Treaty of Paris ending that war, signed in 1898, the same year the US "annexed" Hawaii. All of those territorial spoils were officially "annexed" in 1899.

Note, too, that the US had the opportunity at the time to acquire all of the Marianas and most of Micronesia when negotiating the Treaty of Paris, but didn't want to be bothered with the burden of administration, so Germany bought it off Spain. The US very deliberately cherry-picked Guam, taking with the island all the people living on it, for its own, narrow strategic purposes, not Guam's.

At the time Guam was annexed as a territory of the United States, great chunks of the US were also mere territories, including Oklahoma (statehood in 1907), New Mexico (1909), and Arizona (1912); Alaska (purchased from Russia in 1867, before most of the Western states were admitted) and Hawaii were made states in 1959.


Blogger Jack said...


While waiting in the optometrist's office today I picked
up a surprisingly recent (June, 2005) National Geographic that had an article on flora and fauna that had been transplanted to new locations where they thrive at the expense of local beasts and flowers. Prominently featured was the Borneo Brown Snake's invasion of Guam.
According to the self-appointed authority who authored the piece, the Brown Snake has kilt off eleven of thirteen native birds in Guam and has found the climate so delightful that it has fecunded its population to the density of eleven thousand per square mile, eating up all the birds, toads, lizards and, who knows?, dogs, cats and infant Chomorros.
Who are we to believe, National Geographic or some
lawyer who just happens to live there? Is the defense of the serpent a reflection on patrimony or nominclature? We need to look into this.

Cactus Jack in Friday Harbor

31 January 2008 at 11:36:00 am GMT+10  
Blogger Guambat Stew said...

Welcome Poppa Jack! Chuffed to get your attention and comment. Drop in more often.

May I suggest that when one is sitting in an optometrist's office, said sitter is hardly one to "look into" anything.

Well, let's see: landsize of Guam is 212 sq miles, making that about 2.3 million snakes, not a one of them on airplanes. Sounds perfect for a movie script.

Actually, the comment about snakes eating the toads is interesting, too. In the '80's the huge cane toads were so prolific that the roads at times, under street lights at night, almost became slick with toadie roadie kill. They'd dry out in the sun as flat toad plops, which were endearingly referred to as "Guam Frisbees". Now they are still about but nowhere near in the same numbers, also in a time when, judging anecdotally, bird life is coming back and snake life is disssssipating. Hard to reconcile the decline in toad coincident with the observed decline in snakes with the article's observations, but Guambat doesn't want to argue the point with National Geographic; unless, of course, there was a fee involved.

The only Borneo Brown Guambat knows to invade Guam is Jess, and we can all live happily with that. It'd be fun to get Cactus Jack and Borneo Brown here at the same time.

For the perspective of someone with a better lattitude than Guambat, see


1 February 2008 at 3:17:00 am GMT+10  

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