innumeracy and quantitative literacy

i’ve pasted a powerful and passionate narrative written by Julian Aguon titled “On War and Numbers.” the narrative is centered around numbers “that cannot contain the anguish they carry.” the use of numbers for narrative effect has always interested me, both as counterpoint to individual experience, and also as an imperative to fill empty, neutral numbers with emotional content. this engagement also pushes the narrative against societal and personal “innumeracy,” which is so often used as a shield.(in this sense i mean innumeracy not so much as mathematical competency, but more a psychological comprehension of numbers). anyways, i’m wondering what others think about the use of numbers? does it have an ennabling effect? or is it numbing and empty?

you can also buy julian’s book here


Julian Aguon
Christensen, Voice Project
November 30, 2006

On War and Numbers

This time last year, the U.S. government announced its plan to transfer 7,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam as part of its grand military realignment plan for the Asia-Pacific region.

Since then, numbers have rained down hard.

First, it was 7,000. Then, 8,000. Plus their 9,000 dependents. That was earlier. In his June 28 address, our governor informed us that the new number is 35,000, which now includes additional troops and their dependents from the Army, Air Force, and Navy. This does not include the number of foreign laborers on military contracts that will join them. Last week, the Asia Times gave us that one. 15,000 Filipinos are it.
But the U.S. will flood its modern colony with a lot more than men.

According to the Navy, six nuclear submarines will be added to the three already housed here. There’s talk of a monstrous Global Strike Force and a sixth aircraft carrier in the works. Deputy Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command Daniel Leaf recently informed us of plans to establish a strike and intelligence surveillance reconnaissance hub at Andersen Air Force Base. But this buildup will only complement the impressive Air Force and Navy show of force, which takes up a third of Guam already.

No word, however, as to how Guam is supposed to ready herself for this violent demographic change. Mum’s the word on how the native Chamorus of Guam, who now make up only 37% of the 171,000 people living in Guam, are to survive this latest act of Empire. To date, no social or environmental impact study has been done to assess the burdens this buildup will place on the island. Recent fact-finding missions in Okinawa reveal alarmingly high rates of societal violence, including hundreds of rapes and rape-murders against the women of Okinawa. More than 4,790 acts of military violence against civilian women have occurred in the 34 years since Okinawa reverted back to Japan.

No matter. Defense officials promise: These Marines are family-oriented.
A mysterious master plan said to detail the transfer has yet to be presented to Guam leaders though it has been promised three times. Our politicians wait with bated breath.

Meanwhile, the largest joint military exercise in recent history conducted what have been casually called war games off our waters. 22,000 U.S. military personnel, 30 ships, and 280 aircraft partook in “Valiant Shield.” That weekend, water was cut off to a number of villages on the Navy water line. The people of those villages went some thirty out of sixty days without running water. There’s talk of plans to condemn more of our land to accommodate its accelerated military needs. In contrast, there’s no talk of plans to clean up radioactive contaminations of Guam from toxins leftover from its World War II activities and its intense nuclear bombing campaign of the Marshall Islands. A bill for compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act sits in Congress, still awaiting a floor vote. Nobody knows when that will be.

So, what do we know? That the same military now playing war games off our waters poisoned our waters, our lands, and our livers with an older version of the same game. That almost immediately after the last world war, the U.S. conducted a series of nuclear experiments in its so-called Trust Territory.

A report released by the committee commissioned by the 26th Guam Legislature to investigate how Guam was affected by the U.S. bombing of the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958 offered evidence of radioactive contaminations of our home. Guam, 1200 miles west of the Marshalls, received nuclear fallout from more than ten of the sixty-six bombs dropped on Enewetak atoll alone.
The planes flown over those plumes to measure radioactivity were flown to Guam and flushed out.

To date, the toxics at Apra Habor and Cocos Lagoon have yet to be cleaned. The Guam Environmental Protection Agency recently issued a public warning to refrain from eating fish in that area due to dangerous levels of cancer-causing dioxins in the water.

Just last year, east of us, four Marshallese babies born without eyeballs reminded the world of these transgressions.

Reports of related contamination are coming in from all over. Recently in Harris County, Texas, a retired U.S. Navy Lieutenant – riddled with a fifty-year-old guilt – declared before a Notary Public that Guam received radioactive fallout from the first hydrogen bomb test done in the Marshall Islands. Bert Schreiber, the Atomic, Biological, and Chemical Warfare Defense Officer stationed in Guam at the time of the first series of bombings, gave written testimony that on the morning of November 3, 1952, after discovering radioactive material from an H-bomb dropped on Enewetak atoll two days prior, his superior ordered him to keep his mouth shut.

The nuclear fallout came down like dust on an unsuspecting people that otherwise ordinary morning.

Today, there’s another poison in the air. A desperate lethargy. An understanding that the world is being robbed of an entire people.

Let me be specific. Here’s a number that cannot contain the anguish it carries:
Last week, the Marianas Variety reported that 748 of less than a thousand students at Saipan Southern High School have signed on as cadets of the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC). JROTC is a U.S. military curriculum for American high schools designed to breed nationalism among teenagers. Saipan belongs, like Guam, to the Mariana Islands, which is the ancient archipelago and home to the Chamoru people for 4,000 years. Due to devastating economic conditions in our islands, the U.S. military today, in large part through its JROTC and ROTC programs, recruits our young in record numbers.

“I would die for my country,” says sixteen-year-old Kelvin Babauta, who believes that enlisting in the U.S. military will afford him a college education. “I also see the military as a way to travel. See better things besides Saipan.” All down the halls of local high schools, the words resound loud. This is the mantra marching our kids off to war to fight faithfully for Uncle Sam, and, if need be, die for him.

I wonder if this boy knows that his family name, in the ancient tongue, means “our flag.”

I see them: Our children. On battlefields so far from home; Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa. Armed with guns, not history. Fighting a war that is not theirs. Both the foot soldiers and the fodder.

But I won’t tell them this when, or if, they come home.

I will only throw my arms around them and cry.


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