When You Live In a Colony, You Are Easy Meat: Guam In the Crosshairs of Warmongering

Escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea directly threaten the people of Guam.

Julian Aguon August 21, 2017

A peace rally held in August 2017 in Hagåtña, Guam. (Edgar Flores)

Esca­lat­ing ten­sions between the Unit­ed States and North Korea cul­mi­nat­ed recent­ly in increas­ing­ly spe­cif­ic threats to the island and peo­ple of Guam. North Korea announced that Guam was with­in strik­ing range and that it was seri­ous­ly exam­in­ing” a plan to launch four inter­me­di­ate-range bal­lis­tic rock­ets toward the island. One head­line read, 14 Min­utes,” which is the amount of time Guam Home­land Secu­ri­ty says it will take for a mis­sile to reach us.

Guam may have to bear the burden of being a colony in a world suffering from decolonization fatigue, but—to be clear—her people mean to live.

Four­teen min­utes. To run for cov­er. Round up our chil­dren. Reach Deep. Steel our­selves for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of oblivion.

We need not wor­ry, our lead­ers tell us. We are a resilient peo­ple. We need only sum­mon that strength now. Will some­one please tell them that resilience is not a thing to be trot­ted out in try­ing times like a kind of prize pony? As the Hait­ian-Amer­i­can writer Edwidge Dan­ti­cat put it, Hait­ian peo­ple are very resilient, but it doesn’t mean they can suf­fer more than oth­er peo­ple.” The same applies to the peo­ple of Guam.

Pres­i­dent Trump even phoned the gov­er­nor of Guam, telling him that he, that the Unit­ed States, was with [us] a thou­sand per­cent.” The con­ver­sa­tion devolved from there, with our Gov­er­nor say­ing, Mr. Pres­i­dent … I have nev­er felt more safe or so con­fi­dent [than] with you at the helm … We need a Pres­i­dent like you.” The call last­ed all of three min­utes, with Trump telling Gov­er­nor Cal­vo he’d become extreme­ly famous” and the pair going on to talk about the local hotel occu­pan­cy rate and the prospect of tourism going up ten­fold.”

Mor­ti­fy­ing though it be, it was also odd­ly inti­mate. Pil­low Talkish.

For its part, Guam Home­land Secu­ri­ty released a fact sheet of sug­ges­tions for how to pre­pare for an immi­nent mis­sile threat. Take cov­er behind any­thing that might offer pro­tec­tion,” it advis­es. Lie flat on the ground and cov­er your head.” And this one, for those of us unfor­tu­nate enough to find our­selves out­side dur­ing the blast: Wash your hair with sham­poo, or soap and water. Do not use con­di­tion­er … because it will bind radioac­tive mate­r­i­al to your hair.”

What are we to do with these spec­tac­u­lar­ly use­less sug­ges­tions? How can we not be defeat­ed by this kind of extreme stu­pid­i­ty? Why is no one talk­ing about the fact that nuclear war is unlike any oth­er kind of war? 

Last Wednes­day, GOP Sen­a­tor Lind­sey Gra­ham, in an inter­view with CBS This Morn­ing, assured the Amer­i­can peo­ple that, even if the Trump admin­is­tra­tion elects to go to war with North Korea, they should fret not. If there’s going to be a war, it’s going to be in the region, not here in Amer­i­ca,” he said.

And there it is. The Kiss of Kissinger.

Dur­ing the Cold War, the Unit­ed States con­duct­ed a nuclear test­ing pro­gram from 1946 to 1958 just 1,300 miles from Guam — in the Mar­shall Islands, where it det­o­nat­ed 67 atom­ic and ther­monu­clear weapons. The com­bined yield of that det­o­na­tion was 108 mega­tons, rough­ly equiv­a­lent to 7,200 Hiroshi­ma bombs, or about 1.6 Hiroshi­ma bombs every day for 12 years. Of those, a device known as Bra­vo,” with explo­sive pow­er of 15 mega­tons, was the worst. Det­o­nat­ed on March 1, 1954, it deposit­ed life-threat­en­ing quan­ti­ties of radioac­tive fall­out on the Mar­shallese. Accord­ing to anthro­pol­o­gist Hol­ly Bark­er, radioac­tive iodine was released into the atmos­phere in an amount 150 times greater than the esti­mat­ed 40 mil­lion curies released as a result of the Cher­nobyl nuclear accident.”

They say the radioac­tive fall­out was so thick that many Mar­shallese, hav­ing nev­er seen snow, thought it was snow­ing. Chil­dren played in it.

It goes with­out say­ing that the nuclear test­ing pro­gram vis­it­ed unspeak­able vio­lence on the Mar­shallese. The rate of mis­car­riages in the wake of these tests, for instance, is with­out par­al­lel. One woman, a dear friend who has long since passed, suf­fered sev­en mis­car­riages in her life­time. And this is to say noth­ing of the birth abnor­mal­i­ties that forced Mar­shallese women to have to devise an entire­ly new lan­guage to describe the things they’ve seen and the babies they’ve birthed — for exam­ple, jel­ly­fish babies, or babies born with­out bones and translu­cent skin. Beau­ti­ful babies buried before their time.

For­mer Inte­ri­or Sec­re­tary Wal­ter Hick­el claimed that Hen­ry Kissinger once said this of forcibly remov­ing the Mar­shallese peo­ple: There are only 90,000 peo­ple out there. Who gives a damn?” Even those Mar­shallese who nev­er went to col­lege can quote this with­out blinking.

If U.S.-North Korea rela­tions be com­plex, this be sim­ple: When you live in a colony, you’re easy meat. That was Sen­a­tor Graham’s entire — and utter­ly uno­rig­i­nal — point.

But alas, the dogs have been called off — for now.

The oth­er day, the Wall Street Jour­nal broke the sto­ry that the threat to Guam is gone. Jonathan Cheng, writ­ing for the Jour­nal, assured us that North Korea has decid­ed not to launch a threat­ened mis­sile attack on Guam.” But, Kim Jong-un warned, North Korea would still con­sid­er a strike if the Yan­kees per­sist in their extreme­ly dan­ger­ous reck­less actions.”

The oth­er news out­lets quick­ly fol­lowed suit, and in the span of a few short hours, the weath­er had changed and the world had moved on. Reporters returned to their hotel rooms, sort­ed their suit­cas­es, and booked their respec­tive flights home.

They may have made their flights, but they missed the boat.

The truth is this: Nuclear weapons do not have to be used to be dead­ly. As the Indi­an writer Arund­hati Roy writes in her book, The Cost of Liv­ing, it would be supreme fol­ly” to think so. Nuclear weapons per­vade our think­ing,” Roy argues. They bury them­selves like meat hooks deep in the base of our brains … They are the ulti­mate colonizer.”

Truer words were nev­er written.

It was my partner’s birth­day on Sun­day. It was midafter­noon. I was head­ed to the near­by bak­ery to pick up a birth­day cake. I was frus­trat­ed because I couldn’t fig­ure out where to put the cake once I picked it up, as my car was already full from shop­ping I had done ear­li­er that day. I had decid­ed the day before that it was bet­ter to be safe than sor­ry, and so that morn­ing I went out and bought two weeks’ worth of sup­plies – canned food, pow­dered milk, a bat­tery-pow­ered radio. You know — just in case.

I was fuss­ing with the bags in the back­seat when it hit: Birth­day cakes mean birth­days. Anoth­er year in the life of a loved one.

Guam may have to bear the bur­den of being a colony in a world suf­fer­ing from decol­o­niza­tion fatigue, but — to be clear — her peo­ple mean to live.

Julian Aguon is an inter­na­tion­al human rights lawyer, adjunct law pro­fes­sor and author. He is the founder of Blue Ocean Law, a region­al law firm that works with gov­ern­men­tal and non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions in Guam, Microne­sia, and Ocea­nia. His last book, What We Bury At Night, address­es the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the Microne­sian sub-region.
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