Guam: Why America’s Most Isolated Territory Exists


This video was made possible by Squarespace.
Start building your website for free at squarespace.com/wendover and then when you’re ready to launch, use
the code “wendover” for 10% off. If you were just dropped in this place with
no prior knowledge, where would you guess you were? Maybe Florida or California o r
Hawaii—somewhere tropical but this is definitely the US. It just looks like the US. From the
style of signs to the way the roads look to the stores that line the streets, you can
tell it’s the US but it’s not Florida, it’s not California, it’s not Hawaii,
it’s not even on this side of the world. It’s America’s most isolated territory.
It’s Guam. The United States has five inhabited territories—the
US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam itself.
Guam is the furthest of these five from the continental US—nearly 8,000 miles away from
Washington, DC—making it the most isolated. Beijing, Delhi, Cape Town, and Buenos Aires
are all closer to DC than Guam is and yet the island is a fully fledged territory of
the US. It is the US. Guam has been inhabited for thousands of years by the native Chamorro
people until the 1500s when it was first claimed as a territory by Spain. Centuries later,
after the US’ victory in the Spanish-American war, the territory was ceded to the United
States along with Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Aside from a brief and brutal Japanese occupation
during World War Two, the island has remained part of the US ever since. Many Americans
had never even heard of Guam until summer 2017. That was when North Korean leader Kim
Jong-un threatened to launch a ballistic missile at Guam. The threats may have since subsided,
but the effects of that summer have not. The island stretches less than 30 miles from
top to bottom which makes it smaller than every other US state and territory and yet
it packs more than 160,000 people into that small size. In fact, it’s more densely populated
than all but five US states or territories. Meanwhile, it is by far the most developed
place in Micronesia. To put it in perspective, Guam’s neighboring islands, the Northern
Mariana Islands, which are also part of the US, have a GDP per capita of $16,800 while
Guam’s is more than $35,000. Kiribati, meanwhile, the most populous county in Micronesia, has
a GDP per capita of $1,500. Guam is an outpost of the modern, developed world in one of the
poorest regions of the world. Its location though, is its greatest asset. It’s economy
exists because of where it is. The island is three hours from Tokyo, four
hours from Seoul, and five hours from Hong Kong. It’s close to Asia but it is still
the US—unequivocally. You see American license plates, American school buses, American-style
ambulances, they have US post offices, they use the US dollar, they have American stores,
American hotels, US National Parks, US airlines. There is no compromise on the American-ness
of Guam because it is the US. They fly the US flag and for tourists, this is a draw.
Instead of flying seven hours to Hawaii or ten hours to California, Japanese tourists
can and do just fly three hours to Guam in order to visit the US. The malls, which look
identical to any in Virginia or Kansas or anywhere else in the US, are hugely popular
with Asian tourists as they can buy American goods for a fraction of what they would cost
in Asia. About 1.5 million people visit the island of 160 thousand each year, but what’s
not good for tourism is missile threats. “Last summer when they were playing ‘who’s missile’s
bigger’ we were the ones who suffered, you know, our tourism took a huge nosedive that
month of August. We never saw so many news agencies coming to Guam from countries that
didn’t even realize we existed because all of a sudden Kim Jung Un was threatening the
American territory in the Pacific.” (17:39) This is Benjamin Cruz, speaker of the Guam
Legislature. As he said, the island’s economy suffered immensely from the North Korean missile
threat. Many visitors of Guam come as parts of school groups or corporate retreats and
these groups in particular almost universally cancelled their trips. “We lost, I mean,
almost all of Japan stopped coming. I mean, everybody was afraid to come, the only ones
that were coming were the news media.” (28:00) Fortunately, the effects were partially mitigated
by an increase in visitors from South Korea who were less worried about missile threats
since its a reality they live every day back home, but for an island so centered around
tourism, being dragged into politics is never good.
Despite being part of the US, though, Guam functions politically differently from every
other part of the US. Benjamin Cruz, along with the 14 other senators, are the lawmakers
of Guam. They can legislate just like any state legislature, but the main political
difference for Guam is at the federal level. All the US federal laws, the ones made in
Washington for the whole country, all those laws apply in Guam. What Guam doesn’t get
though, is a vote. Their congressional representatives don’t get a vote so by extension, the people
of Guam can’t vote on the laws that apply to them. In addition, unlike Washington, DC,
which also does’t receive a vote in Congress, Guam, along with the other US territories,
is not able to vote for their president—the US president. This presents an issue not only
because of the lapse in democracy, but also because many US laws that may make sense for
the continental United States just don’t for a territory on the other side of the world.
“We’d like to be able to invite people to the island and industries and not have
to worry about whether the SEC would approve it or the FCC would approve it. We’d like
to be able to have control over our skies so we can invite airlines to fly in without
having to clear with FAA on whether or not this airline or that airline can or cannot
fly.” (13:10) The process for a foreign airline of gaining approval to fly to the
US is often long and laborious and there are a number of special security and immigration
rules for flights to the US. This isn’t a problem for large, intercontinental airlines
or Mexican or Canadian ones for whom flights to the US represent a large part of their
market, but for small regional Asian carriers, they might pass on flights to Guam just to
avoid having to gain FAA approval. Another issue for Guam is the Jones Act. This
law prevents foreign built, owned, or operated ships from carrying cargo or passengers between
US ports. This may make sense within the continental United States. Just as you wouldn’t want
a foreign airline flying domestic cargo routes you wouldn’t want a foreign shipping company
taking over cargo routes like Houston to Charleston or Seattle to Oakland but Guam is a different
story. Cargo ships generally make many stops along their routes so it would be perfectly
normal for a Taiwanese ship, for example, to go from Oakland to Hawaii to Guam to Osaka
to Taipei but it can’t because then it’d be transporting goods between US ports. Instead,
only US ships can bring goods from the US, where most of Guam’s goods come from, to
Guam. Other US territories like American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands are exempt
from this rule but Guam is still subject to it which makes shipping to the island more
expensive. Despite the issues the US federal government
may cause, the people of Guam are in no hurry to distance themselves from it. “I think
if you were to ask a majority of the people on the island they would like to have a closer
union with the United States and some may even want statehood. In fact, a majority of
them would like to see statehood.” (5:00) In many ways, Guam is one of the most patriotic
areas in the US. The US military freed Guam from a brutal and deadly Japanese occupation
during World War Two which many of the older residents still remember. The younger residents,
meanwhile, quite often work for the US. “Just about every family on this island, I’m sure
almost every family on this island had at least one member of their family serve in
the military.” (11:40) One out of eight residents of Guam serve or have served in
the US armed forces. It has a higher enlistment rate than any US state but this is helped
by the fact that a quarter of the island is US military bases. The island is one of the
US military’s most strategic assets. Of course the US has plenty of bases in Japan
and South Korea but Guam is US soil less than four hours away from North Korea, the East
China Sea, and the South China Sea—all possible flash-points for US conflict. The US military
is the single largest employer on Guam and its economy depends on the military. While
tourism may have suffered recently, the military business is good. The number of military personnel
stationed on Guam is slated to more than double in the coming decade which will no doubt stimulate
the economy. This doesn’t come without concern, Guam only has so much land, but all factors
considered, Guam is on the rise. Guam is truly a unique place. Plenty of countries
have territories far away from their mainland but few are as developed and as similar to
the rest of the country as Guam. If Guam was just off the coast of the US mainland it would
be totally unremarkable—just another piece of the US that looks and acts like the rest
of the US—but it’s not. It’s on the other side of the world. Guam is a relic of
colonialism but today it’s a thriving, developed place. It may not get treated like the US
even by its own government, but in all other ways, Guam is the United States.
One aspect of Guam’s story that this video didn’t cover is how they’re trying to
grow their local, small businesses in order to make the economy more self-sustaining.
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when you’re ready to launch, you can get 10% off only by using the code “wendover”
at checkout. Squarespace is a great supporter of the show and makes ambitious videos like
this, which was filmed on location in Guam, possible so please do at least check them
out at squarespace.com/Wendover. Also, for those of you still here, I want to mention
that there’s a behind-the-scenes video on my personal channel of Brian from Real Engineering,
Joseph from Real Life Lore, and myself filming this video on location in Guam. Thanks for
watching and we’ll see you again in three weeks for another Wendover Productions video.

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. So many of you will know that I already made a video on Guam ages ago! This is a bit of a "take 2" on that as it's a fascinating place and this time I went on location and learned about what has happened on the island after the North Korean missile threat. Most importantly, I filmed a behind the scenes video with Brian from Real Engineering and Joseph from Real Life Lore which you can watch here: https://youtu.be/cNYJH4MQDuo

  2. If you never heard of Guam as an American Territories.You only know about Guam belonged to the United States only in the 2018 as the North Korean Nuclear weaponries Missiles threat.You need to go back to school again and getting more education into your head about the world.

  3. I stopped in Guam while in the Navy, and can say for a fact, that the inside of a Guamanian
    bar looks exactly the same as a US bar.

  4. Good video but you failed to address the title; Why does Guam exist? Aside from one line about Americans freeing Guam from occupation (which we have done all over the world) you've not mentioned WHY we kept it as a territory or its strategic importance.

  5. Lol these people who have 35X the GDP per capital of their neighbors are so fucking ungrateful and bitter about Trump, despite an unrivaled economy and US protection. Lol I’m not so sure Imperial Japan would have been so kind *cough cough death marches, mass killings

  6. Small Islands being independent nations is the most absurd thing ever thought of.
    Why would we create so many useless countries who aren’t capable of doing anything? None of them should exist!!!
    Guam is an example of what an island should actually be! Small islands are simply colonial territory up for grabs nothing more! They should always be owned by someone!

  7. im not white or racist against any skin color, but al places westerners took over have booming economies. no co-incidence im pretty sure

  8. So I can travel without a passport to Guam??? If so that's really cool I'll be down to visit my US brethren one of these days for sure!

  9. No mass shooters. Everyone served in the military. Dont get to vote for president, the representation in Congress can't vote for laws. Everyone is employed my the military industrial complex. I got it. It's a military base. The entire island.

  10. You're an incredible journalist, you basically covered everything there is to sum up about the relationship between Guam and the United States. Biba Guahan ! Biba America !

  11. 'Guam is part of us', 'Guam is part of us'… repeated god knows how many times. If he does the same topic on China and Taiwan, it will be a different story.

  12. "Guam is a relic of colonialism, but it is now very developed and thriving.." Let that sink in, and then tell me why we still grow up being lectured on the evils of colonialism.

  13. Guam and Puerto Rico should have the right to vote for the president and have representation in Congress. Especially if laws they make will effect their everyday way of life…

  14. Why not state the fact that half the population on Guam is receiving food stamps? The employees nor employers pay anything into the program like any tax payers on the mainland but they receive the benefits. The employers and employees also work together to make sure the employees do not earn too much each month so they qualify for next months food stamps. I worked there and lived there for a year and was witness to this. As beautiful as the place is and how friendly and warm and open the people are, it would be nice to get the whole story for once.

  15. People have been living there forever… but it was claimed by Spain…smh . unbelievable. I really like Guam and its people very tight family and community.

  16. Who else came here to see the island that Georgia democrat congressman Hank Johnson feared would 'tip over and capsize' if we sent more troops and military equipment to the island?

  17. An island that has lots of snakes, small bird life population. Main export is snakes that sneak in amongst freight items. Only place I know of that has full time snake patrol in all airport terminals, shipping yards and freight areas to stop snakes spreading abroad.

  18. 1:39 " Many Americans had never heard of Guam until North Korean Ballistic Missile Threat on summer 2017"

    Me : umm..about that…have you ever watch Pixels (2015)

  19. Thanks, WP, for the overview. Balanced and concise. When I read Kiribati's Constitution, it most closely resembles America's among those island paradise regions. That was very encouraging. But when it comes to medical care, the presence of American medicine is superior to them all.

  20. Just like Hawaii, Guam was also swallowed illegitimately by US. Japan invaded Guam during world war 2 only because Americans had military base there. Why America have base in pacific? Their continent is thousands of miles away, but their illegitimate possession of others land should be under scrutiny by Asian countries. All the countries in Asia must unite and start drilling together. Time to free Guam and Hawaii. AMERICANS GO HOME!

  21. the vote card is overplayed, in the last election Hillary Clinton got the majority-vote but Trump got the electoral vote. if you want MORE taxes then become a state, they have been trying to get Puerto Rico to become a state no chance for the same reason

  22. It's a strategic air force base. We dont need local decision on inviting or allowing air Al Queda to fly in. Pretext of passenger flights is a way to begin attack.

  23. Wait… So a lot of people from the U.S.(Where I'm from) really didn't know that Guam existed til 2017? Idk if it's because I'm into history stuff or what, but I've known since elementary XDD

  24. As a resident of Virginia i can confirm that that mall looks nothing like a mall in Virginia look up Spring Field Mall or even Tyson’s Corner. Those are examples that they look nothing like it.

  25. Better not to mess with that shipping rule. There is very little U.S. Merchant Marine…remove that rule and you will have none.

  26. Guam is Territory of the Philippines before the Spanish Colonized and Spanish sell it to the USA way back 1500

  27. Statehood would be the dumbest thing to do. Then you would be responsible for a share of the Federal debt and would be taxed. Stay a territory.

  28. They are not a state & don't want to be (he lied!)….so no vote people! They want America OUT! They'd all be speaking Japanese & wouldn't have any of the U.S. welfare (which 1/2 the island is on) or anything else we give them.

  29. I've been to Guam. I walked across the island. Let me tell you something: they have great snorkeling and scuba. Unspoiled as Hawaii is and cheaper.

  30. I have great pride for Guam and the people of Guam. I've always wished it to become the 51 state of America! Still do but at 64 years of age I'm not sure I will ever see that day come true. Peace love from a aging American from California!! Landed in Guam one time as a lay over as a Marine on my way to Vietnam in 1973.

  31. I was stationed in Guam by the U.S. Navy around 1970…visited the Osaka World Fair that year. I enjoyed my 2 years in Guam immensely.

  32. The USA :"Hitler wants to take over the world!!!"

    (When he offered peace 9 times.)

    Reality USA attacks everyone everywhere Africa with Libya and the middle East , Asia and still has bases in Europe .

  33. Funny how I went through Guam in 1993 on my way to Cambodia, and the US was closing the base. Times change I suppose

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