Most countries have given up their colonies. Why hasn’t America?

Roundup
tags: American territories



David Vine is Associate Professor of Anthropology at American University in Washington, DC. He is the author of Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World. David is also the author of Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia. His writing has appeared in the New York Times,Washington Post, The Guardian, Mother Jones, Boston Globe, Huffington Post, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. 

... After the Spanish-American War, U.S. officials proudly referred to their new possessions as colonies. The Navy designated all of Guam a U.S. naval station. Technically, the island was one large military base: Naval officers served as governors and generally ran Guam like a ship. In a pattern that has mostly continued to this day, the rights of the people of Guam came second to the military’s.

In a series of cases, the Supreme Court upheld the colonized status of Guam’s indigenous Chamorros, whose ancestors had lived there for almost 4,000 years. The court ruled that as “alien races,” Guam’s people (and Puerto Ricans and Filipinos) were entitled to neither U.S. citizenship nor full constitutional rights.

The Navy controlled Guam until World War II, when it became one of the few parts of the United States occupied by Japanese troops. After brutally suffering at the hands of the Japanese for 32 months, Chamorros expected their suffering and bravery to be rewarded with citizenship and self-rule, if not statehood.

Military officials thought otherwise. They wanted direct military — not civilian — control over as many islands in the Pacific as possible. At their urging, the government held onto Guam and the other colonies as what euphemistically became called territories. The government granted the Philippines independence in 1946, but pressured the former colony into a 99-year rent-free lease on 23 military installations.

On Guam, the Navy reestablished military rule and began a major base building campaign that displaced people from their lands or prevented many interned by the Japanese from returning home. Military installations occupied as much as to 60 percent of the island, transforming it into an increasingly powerful military outpost and high-profile Cold War target.

Only after years of Chamorro protest did Guam become an “unincorporated territory” in 1950. This status provided Chamorros with U.S. citizenship and limited rights to self-governance. Congress, however, maintained ultimate control. In the words of the Department of the Interior, Guam remained a place where “only selected parts of the United States Constitution apply.”

In the decades since 1950, Guam’s status has not advanced. The island has subsequently become a major Navy and Air Force base for deploying forces throughout East Asia and a home for some of the nation’s most powerful weaponry.

Why have territories like Guam become so central to U.S. military might? Precisely because the people there lack the full rights of citizenship. The U.S. military has hundreds of foreign military bases throughout the world — an estimated 800 bases in around 80 countries and possessions worldwide. But while bases in foreign countries are a major source of U.S. power globally, these bases usually encounter restrictions from local laws and the possibility of protest or eviction, as happened in Okinawa, Japan, and the Philippines. ...




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