Sunday, September 07, 2014

A History Lesson

I miss having Robert Underwood in the US Congress. I often tell my students that the position of the non-voting delegate is where you can see so much of Guam's colonial position in action on a regular basis. While the delegate is supposed to be the tokenistic cover that hides the real existence of colonialism, it nonetheless constantly exudes that truth. The colonial position of Guam, its stupidity, its inequity, the sea of inclusions and exclusions are all realized in the strange existence of the non-voting delegate, and are all visible regardless of how many American flags or bald eagles they stand patriotically in front of.

When Underwood ran for the Governor of Guam position in 2002 and lost, he gave a very important lecture series at UOG called "Thinking Out Loud." He discussed his time in office there, but most importantly discussed the need for Guam to re-imagine its relationship to the United States in a way that would be more productive and more closely related to reality. He used songs, such as the "Sam, Sam, My Dear Uncle Sam" song as metaphors for making his points. In her dissertation, Vivian Dames, who interviewed both Underwood and his predecessor Ben Blaz built on some of Underwood's thoughts about the delegate and how the could nonetheless be effective although formally they were powerless in Congress.

Antonio Won Pat, how was the largest figure on Guam's postwar political scene, as he was elected continuously to office from before World War II to the 1980s.  He is most famous on island today for being the one who the airport is named after. He came into power when Guam had little support or identity at the Federal level save for the island's value as a base. He was nonetheless able to gain support by being a sort of favorite of powerful Democratic Congressmen. His small stature and the small stature of his island all helped give the impression of Guam as this place that needed US support in order to rebuild after wars and typhoons.

Ben Blaz who came next used his identity as a veteran and a soldier to overcome his powerlessness. As someone who had been a high ranking Marine Corps officer, he simply denied in many cases his lack of authority and acted as if he was a full member of the House of Representatives. Whereas Won Pat had respectfully requested things and created Guam as a place that needed desperately the help of the US, Blaz would sometimes demand things and bypass the colonial obsequiousness. The fact that he was a veteran and a pioneer in terms of the coloring of the US military helped, but he was still someone constantly frustrated by the lack of power.

For Underwood, his power was his skills as a historian and as a scholar. He had a good wit, a way with words, a lot of interesting anecdotes and he would use time on the floor to make his case by telling Guam's story. His storytelling abilities were recognized within the party, who would sometimes ask him to make statements on issues that had nothing to do with Guam at all. Although Congresswoman Bordallo works hard nowadays to also tell Guam's story, she cannot do it with the same passion or with the same background that Underwood did.

Below is a statement of his on Guam's political status from 1998.


Congressman Robert Underwood
March 16, 1998
US House of Representatives

Mr. Speaker, I take the opportunity today to discuss the matter of Federal policy towards insular areas.

H.R. 856, the Puerto Rico Status Bill, passed this House by the narrowest of margins almost 2 weeks ago. I supported that effort because the fulfillment of democratic principles that this country stands for and clarity in the relationship of people to people is not just better, it is the right thing to do.
Today, I want to draw attention to issues surrounding Guam, my home island, which was also taken during the course of the Spanish-American War in 1898, some 100 years ago.

In the course of the debate over Puerto Rico, a debate which touched on the meaning of, I think, our fundamental beliefs in the exercise and implementation of democratic principles, the fact of 100 years of American rule was raised repeatedly. There was much discussion about the meaning of the Spanish-American War, the commitments made under the Treaty of Paris which ended it and the subsequent rule of territories by this country.

We are the shapers of our destiny, the planners of our future. But we are also creatures of our own history and we must seek to understand the meaning of that conflict, as distant as it is in time, and its consequences today if we are to successfully resolve the issues pertaining to territories in this country.
We must recognize that the enduring legacy of the Spanish-American War are the challenges presented to us as a consequence of conquering distant islands thousands of miles from our shores and not knowing what to do with them politically after we have used them for strategic purposes which so animated American interests in the beginning.

In June of this year, we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the raising of the American flag over Guam to which we pledged allegiance to, ironically held by myself just a few minutes ago. This began an unique relationship between the United States and Guam which continues today in a fashion which most can say is satisfactory but one in which disputes and disagreements get resolved in a characteristically unAmerican way, a way in which U.S. citizens do not elect voting representatives to represent them in this body and there is no representation in the other.

Nor do they assist in the selection of the occupant of the White House at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Nor do they have a charter which governs the relationship which could conceivably function as a contract, as people do have with each other.

Nor do they have any ``constitutional status'' as do Native Americans or residents of the District of Columbia or native-born citizens. They simply exist at the pleasure of Congress under the territorial clause. This means that their issues and their dissatisfactions and their concerns are addressed in a framework in which Congress unilaterally decides. Congress can and usually is benign in this unique relationship, but I doubt if anyone can call it truly an American relationship. And I doubt that, as we go into the next century and into the next 100 years of American rule over Guam, that we think such a relationship truly reflects American principles of democracy.

How did my home island of Guam get to this point and what is its ultimate resolution? Well, these are issues which the people of Guam have dealt with since the arrival of the U.S.S. Charleston on June 20, 1898, and as a people in earnest since the 1930s when the people of Guam tried many different strategies to change their status under the United States flag.

Guam was taken as part of the Spanish-American War, as part of America's effort to, on the one hand, free the Cubans from Spanish control but take over from Spanish from the Spaniards the reins of control over the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam, in contradistinction to the original purpose of that conflict.

The turn of the century saw America become a world power. It seemed a natural step as America emerged from its industrialization and there was an end to the frontier which always seemed to absorb American energies. But the frontier no longer existed as America reached the Pacific shores.
The Treaty of Paris, which ended that war, required the Congress to ``determine the civil and political status of the native inhabitants of Guam and Puerto Rico.'' The war was fought over Cuba, but the United States ended up acquiring the Philippines and Puerto Rico and Guam insular areas, which were not only distant but populated with people speaking different languages and adhering to unique cultures.

Subduing the Philippines and defeating the Filipino revolutionaries took more than 4,000 lives, over 10 times the number of battle deaths during the actual Spanish-American War in which the United States acquired the Philippines. And the experience of the Spaniards in Cuba in the 1890s was now being experienced by the Americans in the boondocks of the Philippines in the early 1900s.
Also during the same time period, Wake Island and American Samoa and Hawaii were also taken under the American flag as America flexed its muscles and made its way across the Pacific ocean, guaranteeing coaling stations and naval bases as they moved across the Pacific towards a perceived importance of a China trade.

As a result of acquiring these new territories, the country came up with a new model of dealing with territories. This model posited that there were two kinds of territories the United States now had; there were incorporated and unincorporated.

The incorporated territory was the kind that always existed. In American history, whenever the United States expanded, the newly acquired territories were always seen as areas which would eventually become states. Such territories would eventually become states whenever a petition for statehood was accepted by Congress.

In the meantime, these areas, like the territory of Arizona or New Mexico or territory of Kansas, were organized by Congress through instrumentalities called organic acts; and the Constitution was fully applied to U.S. citizens in those territories. There were no provisions to keep people in those territories from becoming U.S. citizens unless treaty obligations made special conditions for the acquisition of the territories in question. The new territories at the turn of the century were unincorporated, meaning that they were owned by the United States but not part of the United States; and that is where we stand today.

Imagine, if you will, being the member of a body politic where the country and the courts rule that you are owned by that country but you are not part of that country. Now what does that mean? Well, that means that there is limited application of the U.S. Constitution. This body decides what parts of the Constitution apply to Guam and other insular areas, that your political status is yet to be determined, that there is no implied right to statehood.

The new territories which were acquired at the turn of the century were unincorporated, meaning that they were owned by the U.S. but not part of the U.S. What this means in actual application is that there is limited application of the U.S. Constitution, that a political status has yet to be determined, that there is no implied right to statehood.

Many feel that this new category of territories was based in large measure on the racial climate of the time at the turn of the century in which some people equate the Supreme Court cases which created unincorporated territories as the moral equivalent of ``separate by equal,'' ``Plessy vs. Ferguson.''
Now the idea that the United States was going to take territories and not treat them the same as other people, the possibility of this phenomenon was clear to many, including the very strong and dynamic anti-imperialists movement at the turn of the century, amongst the leaders being Mark Twain, who argued long and hard that the United States should not take territories overseas that it was not going to accept as political equals. If you acquire territories overseas, you must be willing to accept them as equals. If the United States decides to take territories overseas from other countries through conquests and decides that they cannot be a full part of this country, then that says something about the United States as a country.

Of course, this is exactly what has happened. The case of Guam perhaps would be as compelling as the case of Puerto Rico to the Nation if its people were as numerous as those of Puerto Rico and perhaps if it were as close as Puerto Rico. But Guam indeed is a small area with only a limited population, 150,000 today, and only 10,000 at the time of the conquest. But the implementation of democratic principles should not be compromised, should not depend on the size or importance. Principles, after all, are supposed to be principles.

Guam was taken 100 years ago through the Treaty of Paris because it fit into the naval plans of the time. It became a coaling station, part of a larger access network across the Pacific, including Hawaii, Wake islands, Guam, the Philippines. Not needed were the other islands which also Spain had a claim to. The other islands, the Marianas and the Caroline Islands, the rest of the Marianas Islands and the Caroline Islands were sold by Spain to Germany. Germany in turn lost those islands to Japan for Japanese support of the Allies during World War I. It became a mandate under the League of Nations. Japan in turn lost those islands back to the United States during World War II, in which the names of Peleilu and Saipan and Truk and Ponape joined the lexicon of World War II discussions.

But what happened to Guam in the meantime? Well, Guam was given over to the Department of the Navy to administer. The people were held to be in complete political limbo. Unlike foreigners, unlike even foreigners who came to this country, the people of Guam could not petition to become citizens of the United States and many attempts were turned down by the courts. Naval Court Martial Order 1923 issued by the Navy about the status of the natives of Guam, quote, held, while a native of Guam owes perpetual allegiance to the United States, he is not a citizen thereof nor is there any mechanism through which he can become a citizen. You owe allegiance to the United States, but you cannot become a citizen of the United States. Thus, the complete colonialization by a handful of naval officers became truly cemented. Taken by the greatest democratic Nation on Earth, they were given over to naval officials to be governed as if their home island was little more than a battleship. The people were forbidden to become citizens, and the native Guamanians or the Chamorros settled down to nearly 5 decades of highly autocratic rule by naval officers who issued citations for not cutting the grass, whistling in the streets of Agana and who passed laws segregating the natives in their own home island.

In spite of this treatment, when Guam was occupied by Japanese forces during World War II, the people were exceptionally loyal, proud of their affiliation with America, even when it was not reciprocated and proved through forced marches and internment and injury and even brutal death through beheadings that the flag which was raised on June 20, 1898, was their flag as well, the flag that is draped behind me in this body, the cradle of democracy. The people of Guam suffered enormously as the only people of the only U.S. territory taken by an enemy Nation in this century.
World War II changed many other things. Guam became, in the words of the Victory At Sea documentary about Guam and the battle for Guam, the supermarket of the Pacific for the military in winning the war against Japan. Much of its land was confiscated by U.S. military authorities from people who were not citizens and who had no civilian courts to adjudicate their claims. This, too, was clearly un-American. But even then, as long as people saw it as contributing to the victory over Japan, the people of Guam did not complain.

World War II also saw the world change in its attitudes toward colonial areas. In the completion of the United Nations Charter, the concept of trust territories and non-self-governing territories were fashioned right into the Charter of the United Nations at the behest, at the urging of the United States Government over the objections of its colonial minded allies like Great Britain. Trust territories were created from the dependencies of enemy states, including ironically the islands which were taken from Spain and sold to Germany at the turn of the century. What happened to areas like Guam? Well, they came under a system called non-self-governing territories, territories which were understood to be in a state of political development with obligations upon the administering power, in this case the United States. All those areas which belonged to the winning side of World War II were put into this non-self-governing territory system. Guam as an unincorporated territory was placed on that list by the United States, and there it sits to this day awaiting its final resolution for political status.
World War II also changed the people of Guam, who became more assertive and resisted the reintroduction of naval government. Naval government tried to be reintroduced even after all of this experience. An organic act was eventually passed which made possible the current civilian government of Guam and the people were declared citizens en masse. The people of Guam became what are known as statutory citizens. They had statutory citizenship; that is, citizenship by virtue of congressional action. There is dispute about what this means, whether there is a distinction between citizens who became citizens by virtue of the U.S. Constitution, meaning you are born in the United States or you were naturalized a citizen. Well, the people of Guam are clearly not that. Whatever the debate is, the people of Guam are clearly not like citizens, like most American citizens, and the United States could withdraw Guam as a place which makes United States citizens. It may not be likely, but it could technically happen.

The experience of the people of Guam since then has been good. The population has grown to 150,000, it has a very strong economy of over $3 billion annually. Most of it is fed by over a million tourists who come from Asian countries. The dependence on Federal expenditures on a per capita basis is lower than two-thirds of the States of the Union. The people of Guam are confident, are well-educated and eager to be full participants in the Asia-Pacific economy which surrounds them and to continue to be contributors to American influence, both strategically and politically in that, what I think is the most important part of the world economy today. The people of Guam have contributed enormously to the well-being of the United States. It has demonstrated its loyalty to this country in World War II through sacrifice and hardship not endured by very many as a civilian population during the war years. Its young people have joined the military service in large numbers and have fought with distinction in Korea and Vietnam and the Persian Gulf war. The 77 men who died in Vietnam was the highest per capita of any political jurisdiction in the United States.
The land of Guam has been used to extend American influence into Asia in countless other ways. Admiral Prueher, the current Commander in Chief Pacific, calls Guam America's bridge to Asia for logistics and the extension of military power in any future conflict. This has been the experience of the people of Guam in the course of these 100 years since the raising of the Stars and Stripes. No human experience of that nature that I am talking about can be one of unmitigated joy or unmitigated sorrow. It stands by itself. It is a proud experience and a proud history that is still filled with many unresolved political issues. Like any other group of people in the world, the people of Guam desire in their lives progress and plan for the perfection of their democratic experience.

But when the people of Guam today sit down to resolve problems with their Federal Government, they do not have the tools to do it. They are not part of any meaningful process of participation here in Washington. They must rely on the good will of some bureaucrat or the attention of some powerful person here in Washington. To some extent all of us share in that experience. But I hope that Members of this House will agree that unincorporated territories owned but not part of the United States, of the political status that I have described, are living in a decidedly unique political world, a very un-American world. It is in honor of this experience which I have described and in recognition of the American creed that I call on this House to join me in seeking ways to resolve the quandary of unincorporated territories.

This should not be interpreted as a plea for independence or statehood. It is a call to exercise our creativity to deal with Guam in other ways which recognize that full American political democracy does not yet exist there but that we will spare no effort to move in that direction. In the course of the debate over Puerto Rico, it struck me as odd that some individuals would raise their suitability for statehood in terms of language or welfare rates or Federal benefits as serious impediments to that legislation. To begin with, that legislation only set up a process for the selection of a political status and the result may not ultimately be statehood. But how curious and how demeaning to the principles of American democracy, to decide upon the right to participate from your fellow citizens on such hollow criteria. The inalienable rights to which we often pontificate are either inalienable and belong to American citizens or they do not. Our perfection of the ideas generated by the Founding Fathers tell me that inalienable political rights are not to be bounded by economic status, the inability to use English well or my cultural legacy. If we feel these elements to be above the democratic creed, then we have degraded all our country and all of our history.

Territories today do not have the most basic of all democratic rights. As stated by William Henry Harrison in a quote that is right off the Members' dining room, and I invite them to look at it and visit it every time they come out of the dining room, quote, ``The only legitimate right to govern is an express grant of power from the governed.'' The territorial clause inherently denies this. It is up to us to make it work for Guam. One hundred years is a long time to work in this system. Let us work together in a framework that the people of Guam have provided and suggested in H.R. 100 in honor of the centennial, the Guam Commonwealth Act, to provide for a new framework, one commensurate with the American sense of fair play and one which does honor to this Nation.

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