28 August 2011

‘The Not-So-Secret Guam Wikileaks’


by Michael Bevacqua

 FORMER Congressman Robert Underwood used to call Guam “The Rodney Dangerfield of the Pacific” because it never seems to get much respect from the federal government or from the United States in general. So when I first heard that there were Guam mentions in the much discussed and maligned Wikileaks archive of U.S. State Department communiqués, I was certain that most of them wouldn’t be of any substance, but rather would reflect the way Guam is often mentioned in American popular culture; as the butt of jokes. Eventually we learned that the details were very important and shed much light on how the Guam military buildup was or wasn’t really planned. They were salacious enough, although not in the silly way I had initially wished for. For your reading pleasure, here are some of the not-so-secret Wikileaks Guam mentions that I imagined finding.

I was certain that several of them would simply be conversations wherein confused employees of the State Department debated what exactly Guam is, or if it even exists. It wasn’t too long ago that a Chamorro woman in Texas had to argue that Guam exists and is a part of the United States in order to join a federal program for child care for her kids. She received a letter of rejection because of the fact that being from Guam, her children were not U.S. citizens. When she called to let them know about the error, and that she had even provided their birth certificates, she was laughed at by a supervisor who told her that he had attended college and never heard anything about Guam being a part of the U.S.

I myself have had issues with Guam birth certificates and how they may not count as U.S. birth certificates. Once, while my renewed passport was late arriving on Guam, I traveled to California using just my Guam birth certificate. On my return trip, I was to fly on Delta from Los Angeles to Honolulu, but was not allowed to fly since while the staff at Delta knew that Guam existed, they were nonetheless certain it was a foreign country and so my birth certificate did not prove that I was a U.S. citizen. When I argued Guam was a colony and territory of the U.S., I was told to go call my embassy. When I responded that Guam doesn’t have one, I was told to call the U.S. State Department to get evidence that Guam wasn’t a foreign country. Needless to say, I didn’t fly until several days later. No doubt one of the Wikileaks was probably about my futile call to the State Department attempting to obtain a letter from Hillary Clinton saying that Guam is a part of the United States.

Perhaps the mentions were used in the way Guam was for a very long time in different parts of the federal government; as a place to which careers are exiled. Punishment for poor performance or incurring the wrath of a vindictive boss could get you a mythical transfer to the farthest and most isolated corners of America and its empire. Guam was, for a very long time, prime real estate and a strategically important location amongst the list of places federal employees did not want to be sent. Film buffs will remember the Guam mention at the end of the movie “Good Morning Vietnam.” Robin William’s antagonist throughout the film, played by the late J.T. Walsh, is given his punishment for being the story’s sourpuss. What is his sentence? A transfer to Guam. “Guam sir?” he shrieks, “There’s nothing going on in Guam. Why Guam!?”

I had a bet that after someone at the State Department had screwed the diplomatic pooch, a conversation followed where someone was chided that surely the only place their career was heading now, is to Guam!
Last October, inboxes around the U.S. were filled with a Guam story that seemed to be either a very late or very early April Fool’s prank or a poorly written news parody from The Onion. I was certain that Wikileaks would contain at least one mention about how the U.S. was bombing Guam with frozen mice in order to kill snakes. How could people not talk about this story, which on the surface boggles the mind?

One of the saddest things about the actual mentions of Guam that came from the Wikileaks troves, was that when they were revealed on Guam they had little effect. Although the leaks showed there were serious issues of deception and overall miscommunication between different federal agencies over the Guam buildup and negotiations with Japan, it did little to affect people’s perceptions or opinions about the buildup or how the Department of Defense is handling the issue. What is truly unfortunate is that people probably would have cared more or been more enraged if the Guam mentions from Wikileaks had been of the caliber I have joked about in this column.