The United States and the Chinese governments have some remarkable similarities when it comes to colonization. The Chinese government has sent a huge Han population to inhabit Tibet and overwhelm the Tibetan population, even building the world's highest railway to get people and materials there.
The United States government, with virtually no consultation with the local government and citizens, is increasing the population of its non-voting territory, Guam, by 25%. 8,000 U.S. Marines, their dependents and associated logistics units and personnel-a total of 42,000 new residents-will be moved to the small Pacific island (barely three times the size of Washington, DC) that has a current population of 175,000. The move will have a tremendous impact on the cultural and social identity of the island.
These military forces are being relocated to Guam, in great measure, because of the "Close US Military Bases" campaign organized by citizen activists in Okinawa, Japan. The United States has had a huge military presence there since the end of World War II.
I thought I was reasonably well-informed about America's interests in the Pacific. I had worked as a US diplomat in Micronesia for two years and travelled many times through Guam, a US territory, located an 8 hour flight west of Honolulu.
But earlier this month, in Guam on a study tour sponsored by a coalition of Japanese peace activists spearheaded by CODEPINK-Osaka, Japan, which included a former member of the Japanese Diet (Parliament), I learned new aspects of the decision to relocate this large number of U.S. military to Guam.
Guam was first colonized by the Spanish in the 1500s, became a US colony in 1898, a war-trophy from the Spanish-American war and served as a stopover for ships travelling to the Philippines. During World War II, Guam was attacked and occupied by Japan on December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. American citizens living on the island had been evacuated by the United States government before the attack, but the indigenous Chamorro population was left behind. During the 31 months of Japanese occupation, the Chamorros endured forced labor, concentration camps, forced prostitution, rape and execution by the Japanese military. The United States military returned three and one-half years later on July 21, 1944 to retake Guam.
In 1950, Guam was made an "unincorporated territory" of the United States by a US Congressional act and residents were given US as one of 16 "non-self governing territories" left in the world.
Lands were taken after World War II from the native Chamorro population without compensation by the US military to construct major air and naval bases which the US military still uses. Currently, there are 3,000 US Air Force and 2,000 US Navy personnel and 1,000 employees of other federal security agencies assigned to Guam.
Three Guam legislators told us that the Guam government has not been properly consulted in the discussions between the US and Japanese governments on the relocation of the large US Marine force. Guam officials have been given little firm information about the military expansion plans. They are very concerned about the impact of further militarization of their island as its major income is provided by hundreds of thousands of Japanese tourists who visit the tropical island annually.
They are disturbed by rumors of proposed forced condemnation of another 950 acres of land owned by members of the native Chamorro population for a live fire range for the incoming Marines. Residues of Agent Orange left from the Vietnam War and other toxic wastes from the military bases, plus the possibility that artillery shells and other munitions made from depleted uranium will be used on their island, are all sources of concern for the people of Guam.
In order to get the 8,000 US Marines out of Okinawa, the Japanese government is paying $6 billion to the US government for their relocation. Guam officials are concerned that not enough of the relocation funds will be made available for the large infrastructure improvements that will be needed for the island's roads, water, sewage and electrical systems as it tries to support a 25% increase in population. They feel the military will take care of its bases but may leave the local population struggling with the new infrastructure problems created by the large number of military personnel.
The Japanese people, too, are in the dark about the details of the billions of dollars they will pay the US government to have US forces leave Japan. Japanese members of our delegation were shocked when they learned from local Guam activists that the relocation budget calls for the Japanese government to pay $650,000 for the construction of each new house on the base, while Guam activists told us the cost of a middle class home on Guam is around $250,000. The Japanese delegation was greatly concerned that their government is funding such inflated projects and is going to raise the budget with Japanese Diet members when they return to Japan.
Of concern to the Guam business community is consideration by US House of Representatives law makers to give Japanese contractors the same access as American firms to bidding on contracts worth more than $2.5 billion in upcoming US military construction projects on Guam. Apparently, the Japanese government, like the US government, likes to have its commercial firms benefit from government aid projects it is funding "overseas." With Japan's $6 billion contribution to the $10 billion cost of relocating the Marines, Japan wants some of that money returned to Japan through construction contracts on the Guam infrastructure projects.
Many Guam officials and a large number of Guam citizens are deeply concerned about the cultural, economic and security impact of the dramatic increase in population and militarization of their island the relocation would present. The current cultural divide of those living in relative luxury inside the bases with better housing, schools and services has been a source of friction between the US military and the local population over the years.
Guam officials said that they too have been perturbed about the extraordinarily high expenditures on US military base facilities, when the Government of Guam is strapped financially. The officials said they were amazed and horrified when they learned that the Air Force recently built an on-base animal kennel for $27 million, with each animal space costing $100,000, when locally, the government is unable to provide sufficient infrastructure for its citizens, much less animals.
Professors and students at the University of Guam expressed concern that there will be a sharp increase in sexual assault and rape on the island due to the relocation of US Marines. They believe one of the reasons the Japanese government finally was able to get the US government to move some military forces out of Okinawa was because of major citizen mobilizations that occurred in response to rapes by US military personnel.
In 2008, the US Ambassador to Japan had to fly to Okinawa to give his apologies for the rape of a 14 year old girl by a US Marine. The US military forces on Okinawa had a 3 day stand-down for "reflection" and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to express her "regrets" to the Japanese Prime Minister "for the terrible incident that happened in Okinawa... we are concerned for the well-being of the young girl and her family."
In April, 2008, U.S. Marine Staff Sergeant Tyrone Hadnott, 38, who had been in the Marines 18 years, was charged with the February 10, 2008, rape of 14 year old girl, abusive sexual contact with a child, making a false official statement, adultery and kidnapping.
On May 17, 2008, Hadnott was found guilty of abusive sexual conduct and the four other charges were dropped. Hadnott was sentenced to four years in prison, but will only serve a maximum of three years in prison due to a pretrial agreement that suspended the fourth year of the sentence. He was reduced to private and given a dishonorable discharge from the US Marines.
The rape accusation against Hadnott stirred memories of a brutal rape more than a decade ago and triggered outrage across Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said that Hadnott's actions were "unforgivable."
There are US Congressional stirrings of concern about the relocation of the Marines to Guam. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee chair Ike Skelton has raised concerns about the size, scope and cost of the move to Guam. "At over $10 billion (two and one-half times the initial cost estimate of $4 billion), it is an enormous project, and I am concerned that the thinking behind it is not yet sufficiently mature," Skelton said at a recent Congressional hearing. "We need to do this, but it needs to be done right."
In a challenge to US military "forward deployment" strategy in Asia and the Pacific, Guam activists strongly feel the US military should relocate large forces to the mainland of the US where there presence can be better absorbed by the greater populations and existing large military bases, rather than to their small Pacific island.
However, the US federal government seldom takes into account local feelings about their projects, particularly military projects in a region far removed from the Washington power center.
Guam activists want their voices heard and respected and not to be treated as merely residents of a colony of the United States.