Saturday, May 22, 2010

Guam war reparations and the buildup

A lot of shockingly horrible things happened to the People of Guam during the Japanese occupation in World War II. The U.S. compounded it by prematurely cutting Guam off in 1951 from any reparations settlement with Japan, forcing them to appeal to Congress. To write almost anything on this topic is to enter a difficult zone of deep feelings, but the timing of a pending war reparations action in Congress needs examination.

U.S. Rep. Madeleine Bordallo issued a press release this week saying she has critical support to include a war reparations bill, the Guam World II Loyalty Recognition Act (HR 44), in a defense spending bill that is due for consideration.

The war reparations bill will be attached to HR 1536, the National Defense Authorization Act, which also funds part of the buildup. Legislatively, the buildup and reparations are linked.

Bordallo, and other political leaders, have long pushed for reparations, but if Congress is ready to approve reparations after years of delay is it happening because the hearts of lawmakers are now in a different place? Or is it because the most critical point in the buildup planning process is about to arrive?

The U.S. is set to issue a final Environmental Impact Statement in July and then its “Record of Decision” of it 30 days after. That means there will also be no time to really assess how the government has responded to the 10,000 comments it has received before the EIS is approved.

The U.S., if anything, seems to be pushing ahead rapidly on the buildup and is awarding millions of dollars in construction contracts.

On the issue of the build-up itself, what changes has the government made that addresses some of problems raised about it?

The governor asked for a slower buildup timetable, but there’s no evidence that the U.S. has agreed to it.

Dredging Apra Harbor? A U.S. official recently warned that they don’t see an alternative.

Live firing ranges?

There are hundreds of other issues, including opposition to the buildup in total.

But on some of the high profile buildup questions, the only black-and-white concession appears to be a promise not to condemn private land for the buildup -- but is this victory? The U.S. is still free to acquire land from owners willing to sell. All that has changed is the price of the land. The Guam government, in turn, looses leverage in its argument that the military should make better use of the land it now has.

Clearly, the buildup has given Bordallo an opportunity to press ahead for war reparations. (These are payments to both survivors and children of war survivors who have died in amounts that appear in the range of $7,000 to $25,000.) But how do you begin to assess the impact of the war reparation payments on either the buildup’s support or opposition? It may have have no impact. The reparations issue is so old that it may be perceived as absolutely apart from the buildup. But if you flip the question around and ask how people would feel about the buildup if reparations are rejected by Congress, then the answer might be different.

As I pointed out at the start of this post, the issue of war reparations is deep and the extent of its linkage to the buildup is not something that I can speculate on. I write from Washington, not from Guam, and all I can say for certain is that in my town there is a political calculus to everything.

[A related and interesting read: Guam war reparations is not a liberal boondoggle]

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