While he jokes that perhaps the American flag should be an American Samoan waving a flag that shows a Guamanian waving an American flag, his argument still rests on the assumption that military service = citizenship and national belonging. This is part of the same logic that is used with regards to DREAM Act, that has the potential to provide citizenship to undocumented immigrants who immigrated as minors, and who either complete a four-year college degree or have served in the armed forces.
These same conversations have also happened historically with regards to Filipinos who served in US armed forces, where again, military service pays dividends in American citizenship. [Note too that citizens of the Republic of the Marshall Islands may also currently elect to serve in the US Armed Forces.]
Two things though become somewhat troubling, or at least bring up questions for me.
- The relationship of Guam and American Samoa to the US military is largely through recruitment centers. Recruitment centers are also notoriously overrepresented in impoverished communities and communities of color. These young men and women enlist as privates with the promise of a potential career. This contrasts sharply with the experiences of students who matriculate into the war colleges with nominations from their congressional representatives (which is a separate application process from the military academy’s). These students can often come from elite high schools, and upon graduating begin a military career as officers. Typically, officer-ranks require four-year or professional college degrees. While the military does provide support to transition from enlisted to an officer, there is still an education divide. In essence, racialized and class-based divisions are replicated within this already hierarchical framework of the US military.
- Through the overrepresentation of young people of color in the military (in respect to their national demographics), there is then the question of how the military comes to be viewed and valued when it becomes less a site of social prestige and heroic masculinity, and more a site of aspiration and social uplift. In a country that devalues the lives of black men and women (#blacklivesmatter), how does a military that’s over representing those lives get treated? During war? After war? What about veteran services? And what even about our (US) choices about deployment overseas and instigation into yet another conflict/war/imperial excursion?
Yes. There is a massive issue at play with regards to voting rights (VRA, Selma, gerrymandering, American territories). But there is also an issue too about the values we place onto military service. As the military becomes a place for communities of color and poor communities to find national belonging, will it still offer that? Does it even currently offer that? And does the preponderance of bodies of color in the military facilitate the nation’s willingness to militarily engage overseas, taking more risks, and expanding its use of force when those bodies have historically not always even be seen as American?
Camacho, Keith L. and Laurel A. Monnig. “Uncomfortable Fatigues: Chamorro Soldiers, Gendered Identities, and the Question of Decolonization in Guam,” in Militarized Currents: Toward a Decolonized Future in Asia and the Pacific edited by Setsu Shigematsu and Keith L. Camacho. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.