Resisting the United States Military in the Marianas
Sylvia C. Frain
The United States Department of Defence (DOD) currently has several hundred thousand individual buildings and structures located at more than 5,000 different locations around the world. When all sites are added together, the DOD utilizes over 30 million acres of land (Defence, 2015). These military bases and colonial military units are often-overlooked aspects of Unite States (U.S.) global militarisation.
The Mariana archipelago in the Western Pacific, 8,950 miles from Washington D.C. and the Pentagon and 5,100 miles from the mainland is one such location. The Marianas is a chain of 15 islands referred to as the ‘tip of the spear’ by the DOD. Brigadier General Douglas H. Owens, the former commanding officer of Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base considers Guåhan (Guam), the largest of the islands, an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” (Natividad & Kirk, 2010, p. 3). Guåhan is an unincorporated territory of the U.S., and nearly one-third of the island is a restricted strategic base for all branches of the American military (Warheit, 2010).
The U.S. Constitution does not apply in full and the local peoples, Chamorros, are as second-class U.S. citizens, without political representation in U.S. Congress and without a vote for the commander-in-chief. According to the United Nations Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, Guåhan “is a possession but not part of the United States” (“Guam Working paper prepared by the Secretariat,” 2015, p. 5).
Despite being part of the same archipelago as Guåhan, the remaining 14 islands are politically structured as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) who’s residents do not vote for U.S. president and the U.S. maintains “certain military and defence rights, while providing yearly financial assistance” (Hezel, 2013, p. 7). Due to the colonial status of the entire Mariana Archipelago, the U.S. exercises its “unparalleled” military capabilities freely (Defence, 2015). The DOD continues to use the island of Tinian, where the nuclear bombs were launched from in World War II, Saipan and Rota for live firing training and other military exercise activities (Zotomayor, 2015a).
In addition to the land the DOD occupies, the people of the Marianas serve in the U.S. military at rates three times higher than any other State or territory in the U.S. (Tuttle, 2014). It is estimated that at least one in eight Chamorros, are currently serving or have served in the United States Armed Forces.
The Marianas are a central locale for the Obama administration’s “Rebalance to Asia” policy as expressed through the military “Asia-Pacific Pivot” strategy. This requires a military “build-up” of the Marianas in the name of “national and regional security” according to the ‘expert’ Marine Forces Pacific Executive Director Craig B. Whelden (Zotomayor, 2015b).
The U.S. Pacific Command, which oversees the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, and is planning on relocating thousands of Marines and their dependents from bases on Okinawa, Japan to Guåhan. This includes major infrastructure build-up of the island and the construction of an additional Live Firing Range Complex (LFRC) at Litekyan (Ritidian Point), which is currently a National Wildlife Refuge (Norton, 2014). In December 2014, a 4,000-year-old Chamorro village was ‘re-discovered’ (Hernandez, 2014), however, this has not deterred the DOD from selecting this as the ‘preferred’ location.
The CNMI Joint Military Training Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) includes utilizing the entire island of Pågan as a bombing target for air combat exercises and continue to build-up Tinian, where the DOD currently controls two-thirds of the island (Zotomayor, 2015a).
Resistance activities in the Marianas have historically been nonviolent (Bevacqua, 2014) and are part of an ongoing process of “ordinary people” using nonviolent resistance to “pursue a wide variety of goals, from… seeking territorial self-determination to contesting widespread discriminatory practices” (Chenoweth & Cunningham, p. 272). Today, women and men are challenging the dominant, patriarchy paradigm of militarisation and pro-build-up narrative through the dissemination of alternative textual and visual information that (re)educate, inform and share knowledge relating to the build-up. The Joint Region Marianas Command (a Department of Defence Agency) disseminates biased and inaccurate information on the projected impact and effects of the build-up, which is then uncritically echoed in the Pacific Daily News (a mainstream media outlet on Guåhan).
Activists have created Facebook groups and forms such as: “We Are Guahan” (https://www.facebook.com/groups/201035718843/), “Fanacho Marianas” (https://www.facebook.com/groups/929252297125311/930535633663644/?ref=notif¬if_t=group_activity), a community page, “Our Islands Are Sacred” (https://www.facebook.com/ourislandsaresacred?fref=ts), “Manhita Marianas- Marianas Together” public group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/471177866379761/), Alternative Zero Coalition (https://www.facebook.com/AlternativeZeroMarianas) and PLEASE HELP SAVE TINIAN & PAGAN (https://www.facebook.com/groups/111796979155408/).
Indigenous struggles against colonialism and militarism are processes that are also “highly gendered, and liberation is not possible without also dismantling patriarchal systems of domination that correspond with these structures of power” (Dr. Aikau, 2015). Contemporary feminist scholars and activists continue to re-examine gender and sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, globalization, nationalism, colonialism, militarism within power and privilege specifically in relation to the Pacific (De Matos, 2012; Ferguson & Mironesco, 2008; Fukushima, 2014; Hattori, 2006; Jolly & Macintyre, 1989; E. Kihleng, 2008; Kirk & Okazawa‐Rey, 2004; Leckie, 2009; Natividad & Kirk, 2010; Secretariat, 2012; Shigematsu & Camacho, 2010; Souder-Jaffery, 1991, 1992; Teaiwa, 2011). This feminist critical militarisation approach includes focusing on the U.S. military’s sexist and racist violence in the Pacific and the need to address “specifically [the] violence against women [as] a fundamental element of a demilitarized future” (Kirk & Okazawa‐Rey, 2004, p. 62).
Through compelling political art and the revival of indigenous culture, women and men are non-violently resisting (Holmes & Gan, 2005; Irwin & Faison, 1978) the “sexist policies of the patriarchal colonial state” (Amadiume, 2002, p. 42). Feminist security studies “challenge the conventional military notion of security: that the military protects ordinary people” (Kirk & Okazawa‐Rey, 2004, p. 62). Genuine security includes protecting and honouring the natural environment so it may sustain life. A conference organized by Women for Genuine Security in 2009, entitled, “Chinemma’, Nina’maolek, Yan Insresetu para Direchon Taotao” (“Resistance, Resilience, and Respect for Human Rights”) was held on Guåhan and included women from Okinawa Japan, Jeju South Korea, Hawai’i, the Philippines, Australia, and the Republic of Belau (Palau) (2009).
In 2014, an international webinar entitled “Rethinking the Asia-Pacific Pivot: Challenging Everyday Militarism and Bridging Communities of Women” (Fukushima, 2014) featured women scholars and activists from around the Pacific. This solidarity also exists among other U.S. Pacific territories, including American Samoa, Hawai’i, the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Belau (Palau) and is manifested through anti-military, anti-base, anti-recruiting and nuclear-free activities (Barker, 2013; 2006; Gagné & Salaün, 2012; Hanlon, 1998; Imada, 2008; E. Kihleng, 2008; Lewis, 2014; 2011; Rollason, 2014; Secretariat, 2012; Sierra, 2011; Silva, 2004; Souder-Jaffery, 1992). Transnational women’s organizations have been at the forefront of the resistance activities and have done so non-violently and through the arts (Davis, 2015; K. Kihleng & Pacheco, 2000; Kirk & Okazawa‐Rey, 2004; Maga, 1984; Owen, 2010; Rivera, 2014; Shigematsu & Camacho, 2010; Souder-Jaffery, 1991). These women confront these issues within their island communities and “actively, [and] often in remarkably creative and effective ways” (Bhavnani, Foran, & Kurian, 2003, p. 2).
Currently, women and men of all ages and ethnicities across the Mariana archipelago are resisting the U.S. contemporary colonization and everyday militarization of their islands through artistic channels and social media. They have created online petitions, formed Facebook forums, groups, pages, continue to upload YouTube videos and use Instagram and #hashtags such as #savepagan, #savetinian, #saveriditian, #notOneMoreAcre, #BirdsongsNotBombRuns, #speakupmarianas, #PrutenhiYanDefendi, and #BombsInParadise, to resist the decisions being made without CHamoru consent in Washington, D.C. and at the Pentagon.
The online petition has gained over 115,000 signatures and counting! Please continue to sign and share! (https://www.change.org/p/united-states-department-of-defense-do-not-use-the-inhabited-us-islands-of-tinian-pagan-as-a-high-impact-bombing-range).
Please join in supporting the people of the Marianas to raise awareness and connect with other communities resisting militarization and destruction of their natural and sacred environment.
For more information and ways to show your solidarity, visit the Facebook page: Oceania Resistance (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Oceania-Resistance/883965481628059) or email Sylvia.Frain@postgrad.otago.ac.nz.
*Sylvia C. Frain is a Ph.D. Student with The Department of History & Art History and The National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago/ Te Ao O Rongomaraeroa New Zealand/Aotearoa and Research Associate with the Micronesia Area Research Center (MARC) at the University of Guam/ Unibetsedåt Guåhan Guam/Guåhan, Micronesia.