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  • By Robert A. Underwood

9/2 and 9/11: Dates that we should remember and learn from

By Robert Underwood

September will give us in Guahan and the United States two historical dates. They could have a great deal to do with our future in these islands no matter how far they are in the past.

Historical days have the opportunity to repeat themselves. At least, we think so. Other times, they just inspire reflection more than action. These dates will be used to propel us to policy action, sometimes in conflicting directions.

Sept. 2 marks the second anniversary of the Sept. 2, 2019 Fanohge March.

This started from Adelup and went to the federal courthouse in a symbolic protest of the Davis decision declaring an election of CHamoru self-determination to be illegal if it actually only included CHamorus.

The march was led by a banner carried by BJ Cruz, Nerissa Underwood, Hope Cristobal, Maria Teehan – all original members of the Organization of People for Indigenous Rights or OPI-R.

OPI-R was the first activist group to raise the matter of CHamoru self-determination in 1981. These banner holders went to the United Nations, filed cases in court, circulated positions and argued for the CHamoru people, even though two of them weren’t CHamoru.

The 2019 march was supported by every elected official at the time (governor, legislature and mayors). Maga’haga Leon Guerrero was present and helped guide the large Guahan flag. Only Delegate San Nicolas did not sign the pledge of support.

The march commemorated the historical appearance of Hurao and 2,000 CHamoru warriors in Hagatna to attack the soldiers who protected the missionaries in September 1670.

It remains unclear whether Hurao made his appearance in September 1670 or 1671. It is clear that the warriors attacked the Spanish garrison on Sept. 11. Although it was unsuccessful, the date will be the 350th or 351st anniversary of Hurao’s revolutionary actions and the speech which is emblazoned on the front wall of the Guam Museum.

Of course, Sept. 11, 2021 is also the 20th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York. Most of us have pretty vivid memories of that event. It eventually led to the so-called “War on Terror.” This actually meant wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands of American lives have been lost and $7 trillion spent. The terrorists responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have been dealt with. Unfortunately, terror itself still survives.

America has been a different country since 9/11. A superstructure of internal security checks has become part of the day-to-day American experience.

Trillions have been spent on securing the state and protecting America from terrorists and foes — real and imagined.

Islamophobia is a real disease. Some see Shari’a law as a real threat.

Some Americans want to use this infrastructure to investigate imagined election fraud, but not investigate completely the American terrorists who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

America is a country deeply divided about the meaning of its own history and role in the world.

We are at the end of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. This has resulted in chaos, more terrorist attacks but the evacuation of some 115,000 people from that beleaguered country.

Although the Taliban are now in charge, it is easy to see that even more hardships and future conflicts await the Afghan people. Nearly everybody agrees that America should leave but almost nobody is happy with how America left. The problem is you can’t have one without the other.

The impact of the Afghanistan experience upon future American strategic thinking will be enormous. It is yet another bitter lesson about a land war in Asia.

Questions about American strength and resolve will emerge. Is America strong enough to exert its leadership around the world? Is America in perpetual decline? Will America be able to deal with conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America or here in the Pacific closer to home. Who will be America’s allies and friends in the future?

These are important questions but should not take central focus. These questions belie a concern about strength and international pre-eminence expressed primarily in military terms.

American values and commitment to democracy as well as economic interests can be advanced with soft as well as hard power. Soft power is influence, identifying common interests and using diplomacy. It is the Peace Corps and not just Armed Forces. America still needs hard power, but it should be used only when necessary and in limited fashion.

In the process, America must remind itself of what it stands for. Democracy is practiced, not bought. Democratic values are learned not indoctrinated. Nation-building must start within the nation itself. America needs to understand that national security concerns do not always trump a concern for human rights or democracy.

The danger is that America starts to see itself as a nation in decline or a nation that must play defense. It will establish rings of military facilities not as adjuncts to a sound policy of engagement, but as a defense perimeter behind which it feels safe.

Sept. 2 marks the second anniversary of the Sept. 2, 2019 Fanohge March.

The military buildup in Guahan is starting to be shaped this way. The conversation over missile defense here in Guahan has intensified dramatically.

The billions which will be spent on contractors and the Department of Defense will give a false sense of security. The size of this investment will certainly attract the intense support of the military-industrial-technology complex.

Guahan’s familiar role as the tip of the spear meant that the spear is being aimed at someplace and for some purpose. Guahan will now lie behind a missile defense line because it is the first “American” point. It is no longer a power projection. It feels more like a defense perimeter, a kind of Pacific Maginot Line.

The facilities in the Marshalls and eventually in the Federated States of Micronesia will be part of this perimeter.

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The failure in Afghanistan will be used to reinforce this point of view. Do not let it happen. Instead, America must remain confident and work on implementing its true commitment to democracy and self-determination.

The world is better off when that vision is maintained. It could start with helping solve Guahan’s dilemma which is at least 350 years old. It is 122 years old under the American flag.

Sept. 2 can also be remembered for more than the Fanohge March. On Sept. 2, 1945 Japan formally surrendered to the United States and allied powers. It ended World War II, but it didn’t end war. We have enjoyed a tenuous peace since then.

America hasn’t always found the right mixture between soft and hard power. But every time it thought that military strength could be used to enforce nation-building, the result was a disaster. That is the lasting lesson.

What we choose to remember from this month’s experience in Kabul and the historical events from Sept. 2 and 11 will help determine the kind of world we live in. Study these days carefully.

Dr. Robert Underwood is the former president of the University of Guam and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Send feedback to

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