Guam: Why America’s Most Isolated Territory Exists
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Guam: Why America’s Most Isolated Territory Exists

This video was made possible by Squarespace.
Start building your website for free at 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.
Squarespace also helps with this. They help small businesses make what was previously
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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 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.

About James Carlton

Read All Posts By James Carlton

100 thoughts on “Guam: Why America’s Most Isolated Territory Exists

  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:

  2. 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 !

  3. '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.

  4. "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.

  5. 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…

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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?

  9. 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.

  10. 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)

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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

  16. 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.

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

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

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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 .

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

  26. Your videos are informative.
    I am from Pakistan, and I am hoping that you will make videos on Pakistan.
    Stay happy.🙄

  27. I taught science at the Inarajan Middle School 1087-1990. I loved it there and all my great students. You did not show any of the Southern villages which are very special and beautiful.

  28. Ok 641.25 sq miles and 160,000 people.
    Sounds like a typical County in America. Plus, in my neck of the woods (North Florida), looks nothing like that. It looks like East Texas or the Carolina Plains.

  29. Oh I almost forgot; what was that Dem Moron whom thought there was so much military might and “weight” on Guam that he “thought” it might “flip” over??? He thought islands floated like icebergs (NO HE WAS NOT being FACETIOUS!).

  30. Nope go fuck yourself I wanted to watch this but 3 minutes in after learning how seriously Guam “is the US” I wanna fuckin kill myself

  31. Guam like Puerto Rico was stolen from Spain which the purpose not only to build US military bases also allow only their British cousins and French relatives to be lands in Pacific and America….nowdays Chamorros are second class citizens and first class to be hit by nuclear attack from NK, China and Russia….

  32. I visited Guam once when I was in the Navy, and I really liked it. Tumon Bay is one of the most naturally beautiful places on Earth. I think that U.S. territories should have more legislative representation, considering that the people are citizens who pay taxes. I seem to remember something from history class about "taxation without representation…"

  33. 4:33 lol that's so true. A North Korean missile threat? That's another Monday to us. In fact my mom visited Guam last year because it was cheaper than usual. Good guy Kim Jong Un making a trip to Guam more affordable.

  34. I am sick of hearing that America somehow mistreats or is unfair to our territories like Guam, Samoa or Puerto Rico.  They should all feel lucky as hell to be part of the U.S., they are far better off economically and far safer from other major countries with U.S. protection.  Would any native of Guam like to switch places with their nearest non-American neighbor and go from making 35k a year to 1500 a year? They continuously bitch about wanting more and show no appreciation for already having more than any small island country like them. Hoe about Puerto Rico being cut off completely from the U.S. with no trade, how many years do you think it would take for your country to be as horrible as Honduras and Nicaragua? Most of these places would be poor as fuck without U.S. tourism, military and businesses. They should appreciate what they have more and bitch and complain about being a 'colony' less.

  35. Let that fat little psycho in PRNK launch a missile at Guam. It'll be the North Korea's last day on this planet.

  36. What kind of Asian goes to the US for American goods lol??? Your fashion is 2 years behind and we can get your tec for the same prices domestically…

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