Reflections on Militourism, US Imperialism, and American Studies
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Reflections on Militourism, US Imperialism, and American Studies

For Louis Owens (1948–2002)

My thoughts as I have been reflecting on the submissions to this special issue of American Quarterly have been weaving in, out, and around two tours.

  1. 1. “Detour,” Honolulu, USA, November 2012. Tour guides: Kyle Kajihiro and Terri Keko‘olani. Facilitators: Katherine Higgins and Ehito Kimura.

  2. 2. “Ngāti Toa Historical Sites,” Wellington, New Zealand, February 2016. Tour guide: Kahu Ropata. Organizers: Jana Grossmannova and Wiremu Grace.

The first of these might fit in the vein of “solidarity tourism” (see Kelly, this issue). The “de” in the “Detour” I was taken on in 2012 was all about demilitarization and decolonization.1 We began at ‘Iolani Palace, the site of the Native Hawaiian monarchical sovereignty that was usurped in the name of US interests in 1893. We ended it at Ke Awalau ‘o Pu‘uloa—better known as Pearl Harbor—where our longtime activist guides Kyle and Aunty Terri bemused other tourists with their dissonant counternarratives. They acknowledged the tragic loss of so much life on December 7, 1941, while insisting on the need to remember the prior significance of the landscape, its confluence of streams—a veritable food basket for kanaka maoli—an area once governed by a chiefly woman before it was coveted and illegally acquired as a base for expanding US imperialist interests in the Pacific. Still an active naval base today, the harbor has been made toxic by leaking fuel tanks, the passage of nuclear-powered vessels, and all manner of chemical waste from the dense concentration of military vessels and personnel; in such an environment, indigenous livelihoods are difficult if not impossible to maintain. The “Detour” highlights the role that Pearl Harbor plays in legitimizing US imperialism and militarization in the Pacific, and unsettles the very foundations of the naval base by reminding us of the illegal acts that led to its establishment. To wrap up the tour, Aunty Terri asked us to plant our bare feet in a patch of grass away [End Page 847] from the tourist throngs, and we offered a pule, a prayer, to the ancestors and spirits of Ke Awalau ‘o Pu‘uloa: a prayer for decolonization and demilitarization.

The second, and more recent, tour of “Ngāti Toa Historical Sites” in Aotearoa New Zealand is difficult to categorize. It could be described as “educational tourism,”2 except that it took place outside any formal educational or professional organizations, and the majority of the “tour-ists” were not students or professionals seeking certification or advancement but members of the iwi (tribe) whose historical sites we were learning about. Most of the tour-ists lived in the region that we were touring; some of them lived around the Takapuwahia marae, where we started and ended; and others lived on the Hongoeka marae, where we stopped to have lunch. Many of them—including our tour guide, Kahu—shared descent from the same nineteenth-century ancestor, Wi Parata.3 Throughout his narration on the bus ride, Kahu made references to kōrero (oral histories/stories) he had received through his family line as well as key published texts. Elderly women seated at the front of the bus occasionally expanded and added to his kōrero around different historical sites. Whenever this happened, Kahu acknowledged that different versions existed while staying grounded in what he had learned and inherited. Kahu’s kōrero spanned the discovery and naming of Aotearoa New Zealand by the Polynesian voyager Kupe and his wife, Kuramārōtini; the arrival of European whalers, traders, and settlers; precolonial intertribal warfare; the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi; New Zealand wars; world wars; treaty claims; Ngāti Toa’s ubiquitous haka (rallying chant and performance); and even the impact of the recently signed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement on Māori.

There were two aspects of this second tour that stood out to me, as someone interested in the relationship between militarism and tourism. First, the tour guide represented his iwi as proud fighters and warriors who would dispatch weaker tribes who got in their way as readily as they would any foreign colonizers; he provided no...