THE United States seems to be on the edge of fiscal chaos lately –state governments going bankrupt, the federal government tearing itself apart, clamoring from all sides of the ideological spectrum for cuts. Amidst all the talk about cutting parts of federal spending, I was surprised to see how very little attention was given to the arm of the federal government which not only receives the most money, but whose track record makes it the most over-bloated, inefficient and corrupt part of the entire U.S. government: the Department of Defense.
Most on Guam might consider our local government to be the worst part of the United States and its empire when it comes to things such as oversight or money, but the vice of Guam's government is minor in so many ways compared to the constant and obvious theft which takes place in broad daylight through the Department of Defense each day.
This comparison is not meant to excuse corruption on Guam, but rather to place it in a better context. The hiring of a relative or a poorly-qualified, but politically-related person is not good, but the level at which Guam's government corrupts life on Guam is so insignificant compared to the amount of graft and sheer mind-numbing incompetence at the Pentagon. The corruption there reaches global proportions, since the amount of money wasted in both war and peace dwarfs thousands of times over the entire budget of the government of Guam, and could make up the economy of a large country.
This is important because when people on Guam give an identity to the military and to the Department of Defense, they tend to do it in positively skewed ways, pining for its garbage free roadsides or cheaper gas prices and seeing it as something that acts solely on merit and not “politics.” The government of Guam on the other hand is something which is always skewed negatively, something which can be assumed to be unable to handle even simple tasks, something which you can always assume to screw things up, make them worse. You see the military positively through proud serving men and women, and the government of Guam negatively through a crowd of orange-vested men seemingly doing nothing at a construction site or a bus driver sleeping in his vehicle while waiting for his next shift.
It is always surprising to see then the gap between the reality of an institution such as DOD and the daily sense impressions of people. That gap is precisely what makes the level of waste possible at DOD. In the case of something like the government of Guam, there is always a feeling of it needing to be better watched and monitored, and that is why even if it means that the island has failed itself, people can celebrate when GovGuam agencies are put in receivership.
In the case of DOD, there is a feeling that one can let it do whatever it wants and everything should be ok. For Guam, this feeling of trust stems from personal feelings of the regimented order of military life, the nostalgia of the racist and paternal control from the Navy in pre-World War II Guam, and the perceptions of DOD as having endless coffers of cash from which it can draw to constantly improve itself and take care of its problems. It is interesting how this fantasy then clashes with reality over things such as the military buildup. So long as the buildup was in DOD's hands, it appeared to be an economic dream come true. The natural faith that people have in DOD being able to keep promises, do the impossible and ensure order seeped into the buildup, and so the more that others became involved in the process, activists, local leaders, the governments of Japan and the United States, the more it seemed to fall apart. Even if the interventions of others were necessary or did important things in improving the buildup or calling into question things that needed to be questioned, there was still a tension amongst those who are ideologically predisposed to believe the fantasies of DOD supremacy, that something horrible had been done by daring to question whether DOD has the interests of Guam and its people at heart.