BETTY SHIMABUKURO / BETTY@STARBULLETINCOM
Deloris Coulter Cougan has written a book about Guam's long quest for self-governance.
Nebraska woman documents Guam’s battle for democracy
With all holidays, it's easy to overlook the reason for the season in favor of partying, food and other celebratory trappings. Not so when it comes to Doloris Coulter Cogan and Liberation Day.
Cogan, author of "We Fought the Navy and Won: Guam's Quest for Democracy," is headed for Guam from her home in Indiana this week. Her plan is to spend the holiday offering her new book as a reminder of the Liberation Day heritage and the fight for self-governance that followed.
That such a book would come to be written by a Nebraska farm girl is a story in itself.
Cogan earned an undergraduate degree in English, with a background in debate and public speaking. She had hoped for a career in radio, but women weren't hired for that sort of work in the 1940s, so she headed for the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.
Cogan also took night classes in imperialism and world politics. Consider the times -- heated discussion centered on the shape the world would take after the war.
As a newly minted graduate in 1946, Cogan was hired as editor of publications for the Institute of Ethnic Affairs in Washington, D.C. It was there that she came to know a place called Guam, one of the battlefields of World War II that was undergoing sweeping change in peacetime.
Liberation Day 1944, when U.S. troops took the island back from the Japanese, was like ending a fairy tale with an implied "happily ever after." But it was only the beginning of Cogan's tale, which covers the after-story -- the period of Navy rule that followed.
In this she is not an impartial observer, as evidenced by the provocative title she gave her book. Cogan met, wrote about and came to respect many of the Guamanian activists seeking to restore civilian control of their island.
"I have nothing against the military -- my husband was a Navy man," Cogan said during a stopover in Honolulu on her way to Guam. "The military certainly has its place in protecting democracy. But military men were not trained to govern civilians."
Her book covers the five-year period from 1945 to 1950, ending in the passage of the Organic Act that gave the people of Guam U.S. citizenship and set the terms for a civilian government.
Now in her 80s, Cogan relived the time through issues of newsletters she edited -- she kept all 60-plus issues from the time period. "It read like a mystery. It was really a see-saw battle."
The process holds lessons for the future, Cogan says. "This experience shows that the military can change its mind. ... The important thing is you can achieve change through discussion and education, and that change does not have to involve war. You can win without war."