Monday, July 05, 2010

Independence and Liberation

This year I celebrated American Independence Day in our Nation's capitol. A friend of a friend is a retired major in the Army and he was able to gain us entrance to Fort Myer, where we watched the fireworks over the Washington Monument from an unobstructed hillside on Whipple Field. While we waited for the fireworks to start we sipped on mojitos and gorged on a traditional meal of KFC. The fireworks were a sight to behold and afterwards we partook in that other American tradition: sitting in traffic.

Scene in the Camp at Chalan Kanoa. Photograph from the CNMI Museum.

Back in Saipan, the local government doesn't officially recognize Independence Day; we celebrate something we call Liberation Day, which coincidently also happens to fall on the Fourth of July. In one of the many ironies that makes Saipan, Saipan, Liberation Day commemorates the anniversary of the day the Chamorro people living on Saipan were liberated from the US Military, not by the US Military. For two years after the invasion of Saipan, the indigenous people of Saipan (and the Japanese, Okinawan and Korean civilians living there before the invasion) were forced to live in an internment camp called Camp Susupe. Our Liberation came when the United States released us from a cage.  Liberation Day only commemorates Saipan's liberation from the Japanese in the sense that it commemorates the end of the war's hostilities and America's need for a launching pad to invade Japan.

Camp Susupe (Japanese Section) Saipan, 1944. Photograph courtesy of the CNMI Historic Preservation Office.

The release from Camp Susupe on July 4, 1946, set the indigenous people down the path towards self-government, something they had not had since Magellan "discovered" the islands, and something not achieved until January 9, 1978. The annual celebration of Liberation Day helps remind us of our democracy's humble beginnings, beginnings much humbler than those of the land- and slave-owning gentlemen who signed the US Declaration of Independence in 1776.

In practice, however, Liberation Day is more a celebration of Independence Day than it is a reminder of the horrors of war or of the beginnings of democracy in Saipan. In essence, we celebrate our liberation from and relationship to the United States on the same day. And this supposed parodox plays out every single day in Saipan. For example, in the local House of Representatives, one member calls America an enemy, while another serves in the Army Reserve. Patriotism runs deep, but so does anti-Americanism.

Just another day in paradise.


Saipan Writer said...

great photos.

nice comment on the ironies of the CNMI's Liberation Day, too.

We don't really think too much about any of it. We just enjoy the day.

Rick said...

If you ask most young people in the CNMI what July 4th means, they will say it has to do with liberation from the Japanese. Is the correct history not taught in the local schools?


As a side note, I know many Filipinos who think that Philippine Independence Day is July 4th (when the USA said it could be free in 1945) as opposed to the actual declaration of independence from Spain on June 12, 1898.

Mapongo said...

I remember as recent as several years ago local papers reported and carried ads based on the misconception of "American invasion = Liberation" in describing the Liberation Day, thereby making its history two years longer :).
A 1947 report says the day of liberation was July 1, 1946 (not July 4). "Here they were kept behind barbed wire until July 1st., 1946." CIMA report "Chamorros and Carolinians of Saipan -Personality Studies of Saipanese Children and Adults, including a Report on Psychopathology".