Guam: Why America’s Most Isolated Territory Exists

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.
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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.


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

  • Wendover Productions says:

    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:

  • I was not expecting such an American sounding voice to come out of the guy in the video. Hmm, guess that’s just my ignorance.

  • Wake Island, Midway Island < little more isolated and thanks to Agenda 21 you can't go there unless you work for the National Park Service. Thanks UN #assholes!

  • Without even watching the video we own Guam because we can who is going to stop us noone that's who if we really wanted to we could conquer the entire earth in under one year and wouldn't even break a sweat

  • Michael Ledford says:

    My wife & i almost moved to Guam when we retired,we quickly discovered its not expensive living in Guam when we visited family there & discussed retiring there,what prevented us moving to Guam was the insane costs involved with shipping our posessions to Guam,to ship our belongings that couldnt be replaced including our hifi system ,motorcycles & 1969 AMC AMX the total cost involved was just over $120,000 .

  • As a percentage of population, more people from Guam died in Vietnam than from any state. Beautiful memorial on south end of island.

  • So that means as soon as weed is federally legalized, it will be legalized in Guam. If you really follow the federal law Guam, you better do that too when the time comes.

  • America is Guam because America Annexed Guam. So we annexed a country and then we tell their people they cant vote for their leader? Guamanians must be severely indoctrinated to be perfectly ok with their history and the present laws that are in place that forbids them from voting.
    The war with the Spanish was started by the United states under false pretenses. The USS Maine exploded because of a boiler malfunction, the United states immediately accused the spanish without investigation and started a war.

  • Lieutenant sohl says:

    You said 4 hours from Seoul but my name is sohl and how you said it is how you pronounce my name

    Also I live in America I’m no 4 hours from Guam

  • Pretty interesting place. I was sent by the U.S. Government to Guam about 20 years ago. It did look like a typical American beach town, with signs that bigger U.S. big box companies were moving in. The U.S. military was actually exiting the island at that time, closing numerous installations and giving some of them over to the local government. You had to change out your plumbing every few years cause the local water was not potable. Thy sold SPAM in Tabasco sauce. The Chamorrow are a definite their own people and I didn't pick up any vibs they were dying to become Americans. The Japanese were their main tourists because of the lower cost getting there. You had to know where to go swimming as many coral reefs in front of the big hotels had been damaged. At this point, they have nuclear warheads back on the island because of North Korea 5 hours away by jet.

  • annoying jalapeño alvarez says:

    my dad is from guam but i know nothing about it since i didn’t grow up with him around, so i came here to learn more! thanks for the info!

  • I was a Navy Diver stationed on a ship in Guam in the 80's We split time tending subs there & Diego Garcia in the Indian ocean. Guam has great weather & beaches & lots of great snorkeling & scuba diving. But very expensive on military pay, especially near a base. The people are friendly as long as you show respect for them & their ways. The speed limit was 35 when I was there & I bought a little french car because the alternative was a bus that only went to the bars & strip clubs outside the base. I found me a native girl & moved in with her & her mom to get off the ship. Home cooked meals & a real bed, man I was living the life on a tropical island most only dream of. The people of Guam & their Island? I would defend them like any US state.

  • US most isolated territory. AMERICA is a CONTINENT. Guam is Not in the AMERICAN CONTINENT. It cannot be an American territory. But a US territory. Got it UNITEDSTATERESERS!!!

  • all are american but the 41,000 inhabitants are fillipinos fillipinos have been populating it for centuries hehehe ! nice video more power !

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