Riding and creating global waves

Guam is more than a military base


By Kenneth Gofigan Kuper

One of the most important things we can do to comprehend the web of our daily lives is to understand Guam’s position in the world. Guam is first and foremost, the homeland of the indigenous CHamoru people. This is an unchangeable fact.


Our standing in the politics of the world, however, is a strategically located island that is an unincorporated territory of the United States hosting a substantial U.S. military presence. To much of the world, this is what we are.


This hit home when I took a ferry to a small island, Waiheke, off of Auckland, New Zealand. After ordering some fish and chips, the woman taking my order asked where my partner and I were from. As soon as I mentioned Guam, the cook in the back said, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that, that’s the giant military base, right?” This is not all we are, of course, but it tends to be our international image. Our position in the world affects our daily lives and experiences.


For many of us in Guam, there have been times in our lives where we felt the effects of the world, maybe more than we wanted to.


On a dreadful day in 2007, I was with my family at my grandmother’s house when we received news that my cousin’s husband and one of my best friends, John Flores, had died in Iraq. I immediately fell to my knees in tears. At 16 years old, this was a formative moment for me. It made it viscerally real that things that happen thousands of miles away can affect us in the most impactful ways.


It was not long before I felt those familiar pangs again. In 2013, I was at a lavender farm in Maui when my mother called me. She was crying. She told me to pray for the island as North Korea threatened to bomb Guam. Being away from the island, I felt a sense of guilt if something were to happen while I was enjoying the sights and scents of lavender.


The lesson repeated in perpetuity is that Guam is far from being an “isolated” island. Rather, we should always expect global waves to crash onto our shores smoothly or brutally. Many roads lead to Guam, and we are affected by these routes bringing global events to our doors.


Some of the global waves reach Guam’s shores merely because we exist. Climate change is a perfect example. No matter Guam’s affiliations or political status, climate change is an issue that we must deal with. Other waves, such as being the center of geopolitical threats or the host of new military technologies, are brought to our shores because of our unique position in the world.


Being a territory with a large military presence brings in waves, both good and bad (depending on one’s perspective) to the island. This would not be the case if Guam were not so important as a hub for U.S. power projection in the region. All of these things affect our lives, even if we may not immediately notice it.


This sets the stage for this brand-new column. I am naming this column, “Global Guam.” My plan, for each month, is to discuss different global waves reaching Guam and how they affect the island. I will cover topics such as geopolitical maneuvering and strategic competition between China and the United States, the decisions of international organizations, U.S. domestic politics, climate change, food security and the global supply chain, and global economic shocks because learning about the world around us is imperative to understanding many aspects of our daily, lived experience.


I will also show how our political status and position in the world affect our ability to respond to these waves from the degree, to how the U.S. military is able to operate here, to how we are able to handle the pandemic. These waves can hit differently depending on what we do to our shores.


More importantly, in this column, I will show how Guam itself can create ripples in the global ocean. I challenge the conception that Guam is simply a recipient or victim of global events.


I will not exaggerate Guam’s role and say that we are the most powerful island in existence, but rather I challenge a narrative of being affected and having no effect. I aim to show, using Guam and other places around the world, how the local has also affected the global.


What I ultimately hope you get out of this monthly column is an appreciation for how the global affects you and how you are not powerless to make a global ripple yourself. It is not easy, of course, but it is surely possible.


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I hope this column provides you with a new perspective on how you view the world. Rather than looking at the empty aisles of our grocery stores and just feeling upset you have to come back next week, you can also become fiercely curious about the global pieces of the puzzle that created that empty aisle.


I want to end this inaugural piece with a tribute to John Flores. His death made me feel the weight of the world’s waves as they crashed so viciously that day. Losing him to events so far away lit a fire within me to understand our connections with the world. I hope that you, the reader, can join me on this journey.


Together, we can understand how the world around us affects us and how we can affect the world.


Kenneth Gofigan Kuper is assistant professor of Political Science, CHamoru Studies, and Micronesian Studies at the University of Guam and director of the Pacific Center for Island Security. Send feedback to kennethkuper@gmail.com



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