By Sylvia Frain
On Saturday morning August 29, 2015, the United States Navy signed the Record of Decision (ROD), the final document needed for the implementation of one of the largest “peacetime” military build-ups in American history. This will cost between $8 and 9 billion, with only $174 million for civilian infrastructure, which Congress has not released yet. As a central aspect of American’s foreign policy ‘Pivot to the Pacific’, the build-up will relocate thousands of Marines and their dependents from Okinawa, Japan to Guam.
This does not auger well for the people of Guam. For decades, the Okinawans have protested the violence, pollution, military accidents, and sexual assaults committed by American Marines on the local population. Moving those Marines to tiny Guam frightens many.
Military-colonial destruction is not new to the people of Guam. The indigenous Chamorro people were nearly exterminated by invasion and colonization by Spain, then the US, then Japan during WWII, and then back into US possession. Located in the Western Pacific Ocean more than 8,000 miles from Washington D.C., Guam remains an unincorporated territory and possession of the United States. While residents are American citizens, carry U.S. passports and pay federal taxes, they have no representation in the Senate, have a non-voting delegate in Congress and cannot vote in Presidential elections.
Currently, one-third of the island of Guam (210 square miles) is US Department of Defense (DOD) property and inaccessible to non-military residents. Many people are still waiting for war reparations from World War II and compensation for their land taken by the military. In addition, people from the Guam serve and die in the United States Armed Forces at higher rates than any other state in America.
The build-up will add further strain on already fragile infrastructure and limited resources:
- A thousand acres of limestone forest will be destroyed for housing the Marines and their dependents and the military will control the largest water source for the island.
- Guam will become the biggest storage facility for fuel and ammunitions in the Pacific.
- A Live Fire Range Complex (LFRC) will be constructed at Northwest Field on Anderson Air Force Base and will close Ritidian National Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary to numerous endangered species and a sacred site to the indigenous people. The public will no longer have access to the National Wildlife Refuge, including the pristine beach, ancient caves, education center and a newly ‘rediscovered’ 4,000-year-old fishing village containing the oldest archaeological artefacts found on Guam. In the early 1990’s, local families demanded that Ritidian Point, or Litekyan, be returned to its traditional owners. However, the federal government instead created the National Wildlife Refugee, owned by the United States Fish and Wildlife Services.
While the Governor of Guam, the non-voting Congresswoman, the Guam Chamber of Commerce and other military-business lobbyists welcome the military build-up, many people on Guam consider the ROD’s release a sad day for the people, land, wildlife and culture of Guam. With an economy 60 percent derived from tourism, a massive expansion of the military on a vulnerable small island will only degrade both the environment and the native Chamorro people.
Sylvia C. Frain is a Ph.D. candidate with the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago on the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand and a Research Associate with the Micronesia Area Research Center (MARC) at the University of Guam.