Richard F. Taitano
Micronesian Area Research Center Thinking out loud guam humanities council lecture series
sam my dear old uncle sam, wonâ€™t you please be kind to guam? one of three by
Dr. robert a. underwood August 2003
An online publication of the Micronesian Area Research Center University of Guam
Thinking Out Loud Uncle Sam, Sam My Dear Old Uncle Sam, Won't You Please Be Kind To Guam? Dr. Robert A. Underwood Buenas Noches yan Hafa Adai Todos Hamyo. I wish to thank the Guam Humanities Council, the University of Guam and the Bank of Guam for making this series of three lectures possible. In our proposal for these lectures, we put together a group called "Thinking Out Loud." This is exactly what I propose to do in the course of the three lectures. I suggest that we take some of our innermost assumptions and taken for granted beliefs and explicate them; explain, expose and discuss them and, hopefully, have an invigorating time along the way. There is no greater issue in Guam politics, in our history since 1898 and contemporary social development than our relationship with the federal government. Whether it is the immigration of people, the fixing of roads in Yona, the training of our teachers or even watching over the suddenly beloved carabao, every issue has a federal nexus. Moreover that nexus is frequently dominant and is almost always tied to money. There is virtually no issue in Guam that does not have a federal connection and almost every federal issue is fundamentally about resources, primarily funding. There is nothing particularly unusual about that. After all, we are Americans and all Americans experience the federal government in some direct way almost every single day of their life. There will always be the opportunity to interact with the federal government whether it is paying taxes, benefiting from the military's protection, dealing with health care issues or just going to school. The federal government is omnipresent in our life and not just here in Guam, but throughout the 50 states. But we are not a state and the nature of our relationship with the federal government is inherently an amalgamation of historical experience, happenstance, some good planning and some inadvertent consequence of policies intended for other areas. We are not full participants in federal decisionmaking but neither are we full contributors to the federal treasury. As a consequence, we must make some very unique arguments in our discussions with the federal government in order to take advantage of our relationship as we should.
It is the nature of the arguments that we use to develop or modify federal policy towards Guam which I propose to analyze. What is the nature of the rhetoric that we use? What historical experiences do we select over others in order to make our case? Do we think we have the high moral ground when we interact with the federal government? Do we see ourselves as victims of neglect, poor treatment, or a lack of respect? Are these arguments understood by the federal government or only by us? Do they have any effect in Washington? Are we just feeding our own sense of importance or assuming that everyone knows what we are talking about? These are difficult questions. They are not meant to have easy answers. We need to reflect on the accuracy, the intended audience, the coherence of our message to Washington. Whether it was the initial trip to Washington by B. J. Bordallo and F. B. Leon Guerrero or subsequent Congressional representation (in Mr. Won Pat, Mr. Blaz, I and now, Ms. Bordallo) or the recent trip by Governor Camacho, there are fundamental similarities in the representation of Guam issues. There are common themes which suggest that we look at Guam-federal relationships in a certain way; a prism which may only make sense to us. Through our own eyes, our prism yields bright colors, a multiplicity of rich hues which reflect the experience of a great people. Perhaps through other eyes, there is only an opaque darkness; many words, many concepts, but containing very little of significance and lacking in persuasion. In this first lecture, I will analyze our own arguments; our insistence on relying on the themes of "fairness", "equity" and "loyalty" in nearly every statement we make in Washington or to federal officials. In the second lecture next month, I will take a look at what those words mean. In Washington politics and how our arguments are perceived. In the last lecture, we will explore the possibility of new themes and concepts designed to ensure a better response in Washington while we invigorate our own sense of self and purpose here at home. I have been a political figure in the past and may well be again in the future. This is an uncomfortable and precarious situation to be in. Advisers tell politicians not to explicate too much, because they run a lot of risks. Almost any statement can be taken out of context; in fact, this has happened to me already. I want to clarify my intent here. It is to help us, all of us from Guam be clearer and more effective in our message in Washington. Let me also clarify my position vis a vis a federal funds for Guam. I have no hesitation in proclaiming that we should get as much from the federal government as we should. I think we are a bargain. It costs each French citizen over $27 per year to have territories in the Pacific. It costs each American citizen a little more than $4 to have Guam and American Samoa. Considering our strategic value and contributions to the nation, I think we are a bargain.
But policies are not made on such assumptions. No one is sitting in Congress or anywhere in Washington thinking that Guam is a bargain. No one believes that we ought to give Guam more money to build a hospital or schools or to forgive them their debts. I believe we contribute enough to the nation to merit the assistance that we receive. I believe that we are a bargain. But the gap between what we believe about ourselves and what others perceive us to be is the fissure into which good intentions, good policy and goodwill sometimes disappears. Loyalty and Sacrifice The most common and enduring theme in every political leader's presentation to Washington officials has been loyalty. The people of Guam have proven themselves to be loyal, steadfast, and faithful. This kind of loyalty is not just your ordinary type of patriotism or love of country. It goes beyond that; it is the kind of loyalty that has been tested repeatedly and we, the people of Guam, have always passed with flying colors. "As fellow Americans and America's westernmost gateway, the people of Guam have proven their patriotism and loyalty to the principles of democracy to make this nation great." "Our parents and grandparents fought gallantly to defend our piece of America against invasion...Six hundred Chamorros were officially executed...In defiance of their occupiers, our people coined a song so telling of our deep patriotism: "Uncle Sam Won't You Please Come Back to Guam." These were the words of Governor Felix Camacho in his testimony before the House Resources Committee on July 10, 2003. The bill under discussion was HR 2522 pertaining to the forgiveness of federal debt in lieu of compact impact assistance. These could have been the words of any Governor or Delegate or Speaker of the Guam Legislature. They have been spoken so often, they seem almost automatic, second nature to us; a part of our political encoding which we use when discussing issues not just pertaining to patriotism or loyalty; but to any issue between Guam and Washington. We are amongst the most loyal and faithful of all Americans and we have proven it in actual experience. For those who doubt this, there is the World War II experience and for a more updated version, there is Vietnam and every war since World War II. Again, Governor Camacho, "Our people have sacrificed for many wars, including the Vietnam War, where our young Chamorro soldiers had one of the highest death rates in that conflict." Why do we insist on raising the story in nearly every federal issue? Does anyone doubt Guam's loyalty? Do we think that Washington officials need to be reminded
about our sacrifice or do we think that they need to be softened up before we ask for what we really came for--new roads, capital improvement projects, compact impact money, and Medicaid adjustments? It does seem unusual to make a connection between pronouncements about loyalty and federal-territorial funding issues. It makes perfectly good sense when arguing for war reparations or veterans benefits, but how can loyalty be connected to compact impact aid? For us, we have been using this line for so long, it seems second-nature. The interesting quality about loyalty is that it is supposed to be a virtue which stands on its own. Virtues are supposed to be their own reward. Proclaiming loyalty, reminding others about our super-loyalty tested in war, recounting the sacrifices of earlier generations are not supposed to be policy matters. Typically, they are recounted during civic ceremonies accompanying civic holidays like July 4 or Liberation Day. But we like to do it year around to remind Washington about the political bonds which tie us together in historical sacrifice and loyalty. What do we expect to see happen as a result of an expression of this loyalty? If loyalty is an expression of faithfulness, then there should be no reward expected. We do not put conditions on loyalty if there is true and faithful allegiance to ideals and values. Do we subconsciously think "loyalty is a two-way street," and if we don't get any loyalty in return, then the federal government has broken a solemn bond. And do we measure the federal government's loyalty to us in new political relationships granting us some dignity or in funding us special projects which can range from building a new wharf at Commercial Port to federal loan guarantees. Is the loyalty and sacrifice expressed in Chamorro cultural terms? Reciprocity is the optimal value in Chamorro culture; you assist and you expect assistance in return; you sacrifice now so someone will sacrifice for you later; you give chenchule, in the full expectation of receiving chenchule, in your time of need or the need of your loved ones later on. Loyalty in the complex system of Chamorro reciprocity which includes chenchule, books and notes require evidence of recognition and some generosity in return. And if you don't receive after you have given, you have a right to take umbrage about the lack of manners, lack of loyalty and lack of generosity from those whom you suffered and sacrificed for. In Chamorro terms, you can talk about them all you want; their lack of sensitivity, their lack of understanding, their lack of--well, reciprocity. And if you ever listen to talk radio, particularly on Tony Blaz's show--the sentiment about the lack of federal reciprocity is expressed in very deep and personal terms. The interesting dimension about this personalization of the relationship of loyalty is that it is seen as a kind of bargain between two groups of people. There are parallel realities. Is this really a group of super-Americans bragging to other Americans? Or is this a group of people who see themselves as outside of America who continue to be loyal and who continue to sacrifice even though the loyalty is sometimes unrewarded. Moreover, the obligation to reciprocate is transferable to loved ones. My parents helped your parents so you have an
obligation to me since I inherited the goodwill generated by my parents. This is such a major part of Chamorro thinking that there is shock and awe when federal officials are unable to make the connection between the sacrifices made during World War II or Vietnam battlefields and Medicaid caps. Many will say with genuine exasperation, "why did our parents suffer so much, if we can't get the federal government to pay us back?" How do we really see loyalty? I think the answer lies somewhere between the typical American understanding of the phrase "loyalty is a two-way street" and Chamorro reciprocity. We do expect to be rewarded in some way otherwise we would only recount our stories in civic ceremonies. And we will use our loyalty and song "Uncle Sam Won't You Please Come Back to Guam," even in the most unusual and seemingly contradictory circumstance like arguing to close a military base or examining the size of the military footprint in Guam. But we will use the Tun Pedron Rosario's song over and over again and in ways he never thought possible. Who thought it would be an argument for compact imapct aid reciprocity? We must also recognize that the practical value and effect of these arguments have shifted dramatically over time. When F.B. Leon Guerrero proclaimed right after World War II that there is only one "ism" on Guam and that is "Americansism," he found a willing audience ready to make a fundamental change in Guam's political status. The Congress listened and it resulted in the Organic Act. When Antonio Won Pat argued for more and more federal funding for any number of projects in the 1970s, he prefaced those statements with stories about loyalty and sacrifice and not just current need. An argument for new roads is not predicated on the basis of the need for roads, it was consciously connected to roads for a population steeped in loyalty to America. But he spoke to a Congressional audience that consisted largely of World War II veterans. The massage resonated and there were immediate benefits. They heard about Guam, its occupation and its liberation. But by the time, Ben Blaz, Robert Underwood and Madeline Bordallo arrived, the audience had changed. But the legitimacy of the sacrifice message still had meaning for Blaz. It personally belonged to Blaz because of his experience as a young man during the Japanese Occupation and as a battlefield veteran. When he said, "the people of Guam are equal in war, but not in peace," he spoke with authority. And people listened and they still remember. There was still some energy left in the tank. But for the civilian Robert Underwood born after World War II, the political landscape had shifted and new arguments were needed. He was dealing with a Congressional audience that heard more about the brown tree snake than the sacrifices of the World War II generation.
But we are still used in loyalty and sacrifice. There is something innately invigorating in making those statements. They speak to our better nature and make us feel like more legitimate advocates of our position. But there are questions about whether loyalty trumps other issues in the federal-territorial relationship. And there is the question whther federal officials bear witness to loyalty in the same way we do. It is a sure bet that there are few chechule books in Washinton D.C. If anything, they are discarded into fireplaces with regularity. Law enforcement would have a dim view about chenchule books. What Is Fair Treatment? Prefacing a presentation by recalling stories of loyalty and sacrifice is a prelude to discussing issues of "fairness" and "equity". Fairness and equity are related but I would argue that they are quite different when used in the Guam context, particularly when proposing shifts in federal policy-making and in the allocation of federal funds. Being fair is usually defined as being "marked by impartiality and honesty." It is free from self-interest. In decision making, it is developing a process which achieves a proper balance of conflicting interests. Washington D. C. is the place where decisions are made and it certainly is the venue for conflicting interests. What Americans want most from their government is the sense that their concerns are being handled "fairly". Almost no one in Guam believes we are being treated fairly in Washington. We may get a "fair hearing" of our concerns from time to time, but fair and equitable decisions are not part of our general relations with Washington. We must not fight to get something extra, but to get what is fair. Based on loyalty and sacrifice, we are "due a fair share". And we are in general agreement that we are not getting it. In the recent hearing on the compact impact aid relief bill, this sentiment was encapsulated very directly by Speaker Ben Pangelinan. He told the Resources Committee, "We appear here today, without shame, not seeking charity, but seeking the grace of Congress and its honorable members. With H.R. 2522, Guam is not asking for special treatment with regard to repayment of federal funds. In this case, Guam is both a lender and a borrower; we only see an equitable repayment plan." I can tell you that relying on the honor and grace of Congress can be risky business, but it is important to frame the discussion in those terms. It is also important to argue that all Guam seeks is "fair treatment". We do not want anything more than we deserve. We do not seek anything more than a fair and objective consideration of our request for funding or policy-changes. Any right minded, fair person will see that Guam is not getting its "fair share".
Fairness is not like beauty. It is not just in the eye of the beholder. There is a characteristic American sense of fair play. There is supposed to be policies and procedures in place which require "fairness". America makes a good faith effort at creating the legal process for fairness. Maya Angelou, the poet, tells us, "One cannot legislate love, but what one can do is legislate fairness." In many respects, the fair treatment of grievances, the equitable handling of competing and conflicting interests is what the democratic process is supposed to be about. And the policies, procedures, and laws which a democracy produces are supposed to be about ultimate fairness and equality. But we aren't dealt with fairly because of many circumstances which we can recount very easily. People in Washington do not know about our special story, our unique experiences, and our loyalty. We have no real political clout in Washington, no vote in Congress, no way to ensure that Guam is treated fairly by policy makers. We have no real political clout in Washington, no vote in Congress, no way to ensure that Guam is treated fairly by policy makers. We have to rely on lobbyists and a single Congressional delegate. We are not full members of the American republic and we are not democratically represented. In my time in Congress, I frequently took visitors to read one quotation of several hundred written on the walls and ceilings of the Capitol. My favorite is from William Henry Harrison, he is quoted as saying, "the only legitimate right to govern is from the consent of the governed." Territories have not given that consent so therefore there is no legitimate right to govern. We are creatures of Congress which enjoys authority from the "territorial clause" in the Constitution. The special added dimension of this quote is that it is made by a President who once was a territorial delegate to Congress. So there is hope for territorial delegates to run for President. Given these circumstances, it is no wonder that we are not treated fairly. But understanding the circumstances of our political conditions is not the same as establishing the benchmark for fairness. What do we mean by fairness? Is the federal government supposed to approve every proposal we come up with in the interest of fairness? If they disapprove, modify or even ignore our request, is it because they lack fairness? Perhaps they have considered competing and conflicting interests and we just came up short. While we are expert at identifying unfairness, we lack clarity when asked to describe fairness. It cannot be a closed definition as in everything we propose is fair, therefore accept it or risk being called unfair. This seems to be the order of the day on talk radio or barbeque discussions and our political discourse. One thing for sure in Guam politics is that you can never go wrong by criticizing the federal government or its representatives in Guam. We can easily protest the military's handling of the carabao, but we sort of hold back on protesting the
readiness of schools. We have an entirely free and energetic hand to ascribe motives to those for whom we are not responsible--the federal government, in this instance the military. But we are complicit in the school situation so it is hard to protest incompetence or dereliction of duty or lack of funding priorities. These are our democratically-elected leaders and our people who are working in the system. We will be a little reticent. But on behalf of the carabaos and against federal officials for whom we are not responsible, the opportunities are wide-open. Unfairness to carabaos, umbrage at the insensitivity of uniformed officers, ignorance about the role of carabaos in our history are all rolled into an emotional outburst which discusses fair treatment. You can almost hear the voices say that if Guam were a state or had two Senators, this wouldn't happen. We and the carabaos would be treated fairly. Whining about unfair treatment, protesting unfairness, describing it in process still does not get us closer to the issue of when we do that Guam is being treated fairly. For the majority of federal officials, fairness is issue-specific not a matter of relationships. There may be times when Guam is treated unfairly. They would argue that it is important for us to point out where and when. But Guam is not unfairly handled when one considers the competing national interests in D.C. and the funding arrangements. But for us, fairness is a relationship matter. We are always being treated unfairly. It is inherent in the relationship. In this sense, we are comfortable with the notion that we are victims. We have been victimized by the federal government for so long and so often, almost everything they do is a subplot or element of the overall perpetrator-victim relationship. This characterization may be a little overdrawn but the distinction between us and federal officials on the topic of fairness can be seen. For federal officials, each issue must be tested. For us, each issue is a reflection of the fundamental unfairness of the relationship. Neither one gets closer to the meaning of fairness for U.S. citizens in a small Pacific territory. And if we are going to move towards a more functional relationship, we have to develop a common understanding of fairness. What is Equity? Although fairness and equity are linked, they are not of the same spirit and energy. The concept of equity is getting what is just. At times, this can be getting more than what is "fair" or exceeding the same arrangement as others. Achieving equity is a quest for justice based upon notions of natural law or right. The term is most often used in American law in connection with the redress of grievances, particularly past discrimination. For years, we have had gender and racial equity centers sponsored by the federal government. They were trying to deal with past wrongs through empowering relationships today.
An attempt to deal with past grievances and bring about remedial justice animates the search for equity. In Anglo-American law, these remedies are expected to be beyond precedent and frequently attempt to override a narrow, rigid system of law. In Guam's case, the concept of equity has been applied to federal land return and as an exasperated response to the tin ear given by the federal government to our requests for assistance. A quote attributed to Governor Ricky Bordallo in his first term illustrates the attitude implicit in the search for equity. Governor Bordallo had just returned from Washington and was recounting all of the federal assistance he had lined up. A reporter asked him, "Aren't you tired of going to Washington and begging for money?" His legendary reply was, "When I go to Washington, I don't go begging, I go collecting." There is a fundamental difference between arguing for a fair share vis a vis every other supplicant in Washington and arguing that Guam deserves all of its share and possible more. There is a difference between arguing that Guam deserves special consideration and not just state-like treatment. The special treatment must be framed as a redress of grievances, as restorative justice of some sort. You must also have an "attitude" about it. The search for "equity" is most clear in the land return legislation and the exercise of Chamorro self-determination. Both issues are based upon an interpretation of past events which says that an injustice was committed. The Chamorro people were colonized and interrupted from their natural development and the only way out of this mangled history is to give them the right to selfdetermination. Fundamentally, it is an appeal to natural law as reflected in United Nations resolutions and general discussions about self-determination. To date, the federal government has been opposed to this effort. Self-determination is not a commodity which can be seen or sold. The land legislation has been more successful. Land has been returned to the Government of Guam and some has been returned to original land owners under a complicated system of federal and local statutes which seem to steer clear of each other, but which allow the land to be moved into private hands. Since the land was condemned at a time when access to the courts was limited, there was an acknowledged injustice. Since there was additional compensation given by the federal government in the 1970s and 1980s, it became a judgment call whether justice and redress was adequately given. Equity had been achieved according to some Department of Defense officials. As the need for land subsided in the 1990s, the voices inside DOD were no longer as loud or vociferous. At the passage of the Guam Land Return Act on the House floor in January 1994, I stated, "Because of the strategic nature of our island 'our land' our dot in the middle of the ocean we have been traversed by pirateers, so-called
discoverers, interlopers and strategists all eager in some way, so it seems, to dispossess us of our land for some grander purpose... It is about time that return it (the land) to the people of Guam; it is about time that we do the right thing. There is bitterness, anger, rage over how the land was originally taken on Guam. But there is also hope and opportunity. It is up to us here today to demonstrate that such hope and opportunity can override bitterness and rage through responsible public policy which says that we hear the people of Guam and the House is willing to do the right thing." A more defiant tone has accompanied these efforts as we talk about other resource issues with the federal government. The search for equity continues, but is present only on certain key "grievance" issues. These are the issues which go beyond concerns about "fair treatment" and would likely continue to exist regardless of the political relationship between Guam and the federal government. Conclusion It is tempting to simply dismiss the whole Guam-federal relationship as dysfunctional and to argue that we should begin anew. But our history with the federal government is not one which is totally devoid of reciprocity, It is a complicated story in which we have been treated with fairness and which grievances have been dealt with. It is not the relationship itself which is under scrutiny, but how we frame it when we argue for policy changes. To date, we have relied on the loyalty and sacrifice test to demonstrate our honor and respect for the United States. We expect federal officials to not just acknowledge the loyalty, but to make it a part of the mindset when considering Guam issues. We feel frustrated and not a little anger when this is not acknowledged. We also make appeals to fairness and, at times to equity, when we ask for resources. In some respects, our attitude is like that of a frustrated spouse asking for a new washing machine. We first proclaim our love and sacrifice. We contextualize the request. We then argue that others in the neighborhood are getting a new machine. In the interest of fairness, a new machine must be obtained. Lastly, we may argue that getting a new machine is the only "just" way to allocate resources in the household. Given all of the other priorities of the household, this is the only just one. Remember when you promised in the past to get a new machine. In the meantime, the spouse continues to read the paper or otherwise seems disinterested. This leads to more frustrations and when the opportunity presents itself to express a little outrage in some entirely unrelated discussion, it often does. This is how the washing machine discussion weaves its way into selecting
the movie to watch. This is how all kinds of issues get raised on the shoulders of the beleaguered, but steady, loyal and faithful carabao. This analogy has many limitations. If we accept it, we limit our own effectiveness. We acknowledge that we are in a subordinate role. Calling the federal government Uncle Sam only exacerbates matters. The only thing we can do with an Uncle is appeal to his sense of fairness. We can't negotiate a new definition of fairness and we are not able to order him. We certainly shouldn't be antagonizing him. After all, he is our uncle. We do utilize these three loosely-defined but connected approaches to request changes in federal behavior towards Guam. They have served us well in the past and they continue to have some usefulness in the present. Without understanding how loyalty, fairness and equity are defined in Washington, our arguments may make sense only to us. In the next lecture, we will deal with these values and concepts from the Washington perspective. Thank you, dangkolo si Yu'os ma'ase, and remain faithful and loyal to our values of fairness and equity. -Editor's Note: This is the first in a three part Guam Humanities Council lecture series, Thinking Out Loud presented in August 2003.
This is the first in a three part Guam Humanities Council lecture series, Thinking Out Loud presented in August 2003.
Published on Jan 27, 2010
This is the first in a three part Guam Humanities Council lecture series, Thinking Out Loud presented in August 2003.