An expression of sympathy to Mr. David M. Sablan Sr., whom I respect, on his passionate call for us to allow the military to occupy, use, and dispose the pristine beauty of the island of Pagan. I completely understand Mr. Sablan’s position on the matter because he was intimately affected by what he was exposed to during his younger years, right after the end of World War II. The atrocities of war are a life-changing experience and Mr. Sablan’s post-war growing up days seemed profoundly affected. He may not be a casualty of such atrocity but certainly it has impacted him in ways that influenced his post-war views. So I understand where he is coming from and no one can take that history away from him.
However, if we allow the military to proceed with its intent to occupy, use, and dispose the island of Pagan, our grandchildren and future Northern Marianas descent generations will condemn us forever. In the words of Wendell Barry, the most influential environmental activist, he said, “We have no right to destroy any other life form,” “the military has the capability to destroy other forms of life,” and therefore “we have the responsibility to see that they are not destroyed, but instead protected for generations to come.” One of the most thoughtful and poignant quotations about the environment and cultural land was expressed by Indian chief Seattle when he said, “We have not inherited the Earth from our ancestors, we have borrowed it from our children.” Seemingly so, our collective allegiance is to protect the future interests of the coming generations, the rightful heirs of our lands.
Not acceding to military land use request does not necessarily means that we are insensitive and anti-military, as subliminally implied by Mr. Sablan’s letter. On the contrary, the CNMI has lost sons and daughters fighting alongside brave men and women in the armed forces through different theaters. Our refusal to consent to the military’s land use plan is culturally fundamental and profoundly communal. Chamorros’ and Carolinians’ relationship with their land is intrinsically different in comparison with Westerners. In Western society people live off their land and use it as an economic means. Conversely, in Chamorro and Carolinian customs we live on the land and share it with family members and pass it on to our children.
Mr. Sablan’s empathy and intense emotion toward the military should understand that military training, especially bombing activities, is not synonymous with environmental protection and cultural preservation. Military training and bombing exercises involve simulations of hostility and destructions as if they are at a war zone. The training the military is talking about is not administrative training as we know it, but rather use of artilleries intended to cause visible destructive effects on land. The pristine environment and emerald beauty of Pagan Island is irreplaceable and literally uncompensable. However, once we allow the military access to the island, Pagan will never be the same. With all the artilleries and military war preparation activities going on at any given day, Pagan Island’s flora and fauna will be destroyed and decimated forever, not to mention highly toxic contaminants exposed to the island.
Furthermore, who is to say that the military is restricted only to just training and bombing, with all the large military weapons designed to fire munitions far beyond the range of infantries, and they will be using the most lethal form of land-based armament available today. This will be the 21th century military training and advance war preparation undertaking that they are planning to conduct on Pagan. During these training exercises no one (independent verifier) will be allowed on the ground to monitor the adverse impact caused to the island. The military is infamous for all kinds of covert operations; Pagan Island may be in that category too.
Our neighboring island of Guam is a model of unfettered military control and the people of Guam have absolutely zero restraining power. Acquiescing to the military’s request for the use of Pagan Island for their training and bombing activities will prevent indefinitely any resettlement of our local people back to Pagan. Once bombing activities commence, any hope of cohabitation is absolutely impossible. Anyone who thinks that cohabitation is possible on Pagan during live bombing exercise is just plain ignorant.
Let us not be misled by the usage of the word “training” that military brasses and their surrogates are presenting in their plan. In the military world training connotes preparation for war and other actual simulations of war readiness. War readiness and firing precisions demand that, when soldiers fire their weapons, they must hit and destroy the intended target and Pagan Island is the military’s intended target. Can you imagine what will happen to our island of Pagan when it explodes? Of course the military will classify the island as a restricted place and condemn it, just as they have done so in hundred other places they occupy, including our own backyard, the Tinian North Field Atom Bomb Pits, where two atomic bombs name Little Boy and Fat Man were loaded and dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, that nearly obliterated the two cities.
So Mr. Sablan, if we appear indifferent, apprehensive, and frightened about the military’s land use plan for Pagan Island, it is because we actually are. So for once, let us be a little bit smarter for our own good. History teaches us valuable lesson, let us learn from it. Preventing the military from destroying the virgin island of Pagan is the right decision for us to make. Not everything in life is about money; dignity and respect stand internally indespensable.