Guam: A Tiny Island In The Middle of a Global War of Words.

Over the past few days, North Korea and the United States have once again exchanged threats. The President has promised ‘fire and fury’ and Kim Jong has promised missile attacks. This time, like every time, it seems like this trading of words might lead to something more.

I’ll leave that analysis up to the foreign policy wonks.

However, what I always want to make sure we understand is that every single issue we face as a nation – and a world – is rooted in history. The United States and North Korea are no strangers to each other.

But, today’s blog isn’t a rehashing of the Korean War or a renewed discussion of Communism v. Capitalism.

Today’s blog deals with an issue that branches off of this impending battle. It is Guam.

If you have been following the news somewhat closely you know that Guam has been in it — a lot. But, what does Guam have to do with what might be an inevitable global war?

Well, you might recall that they are a U.S. protectorate. But, the United States has sixteen different territories. Why Guam? If you’re not a geography whiz (I’m right there with ya) then you’ll appear even more thoroughly confused.

Guam sits in the Pacific. Thus, it is within North Korea’s striking distance. In fact, Kim Jong Un threatened a strike that would create, “an enveloping fire” around the island in an attack that would come later this month.

Still, why should this matter to us? Well, Guam is home to a strategic American air base. Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Base Guam is home to an estimated 13,000 military members and their families. One-third of the island is effectively owned by the United States military.

That’s all the back story on why Guam is in the news today. The history question is this: How did the United States come to acquire Guam?

First, here’s a brief bit of information about the island. The territory is only 12 miles at its widest point. It is home to about 163,000 people – making it comparable to the city of Sioux Falls, South Dakota in terms of population.

This tiny Pacific island has been a U.S. territory for over a century now. It is our strategic link between the United States and Asia. It sits about 2,100 miles southeast of Pyongyang (the capital city of North Korea) and 3,800 miles west of Honolulu. It is nearly 6,000 miles from California.

The only reason the United States annexed Guam was because we were at war with Spain. In 1898, the Spanish-American War broke out and Guam was under Spanish control – it had been for nearly 300 years.

Interestingly enough, the U.S. wasn’t so much wanting to take over Guam as it was wanting to conquer the Spanish Philippines. But, the military figured it would need to take Guam first.

So, in June of 1898, the U.S. sent the USS Charleston to capture the island.

While U.S. imperialism isn’t really funny this story is rather odd. When the ship had arrived, the Americans on board sent up warning signals to let the Spanish know they had arrived.

They, of course, expected a military response. There was none. This was a declaration of attack…why had no one recognized the Americans?

A few hours later, a boat carrying Spanish authorities sailed over to the Charleston. When they reached the ship, the Spanish apologized for not responding. They perceived the signals as a salute or greeting from the Americans.

The Americans had reportedly replied, “No, we’re at war.”

As it turns out, no one had told them that they were two months in to the Spanish-American War. Once the miscommunication was all cleared up, the Americans sent a letter to the Spanish governor of Guam giving him 30 minutes to surrender.

Historial documents indicated that it took the governor until the 29th minute to respond. The island of Guam surrendered and it belonged to the Americans.

Afterwards, the Americans only stayed on the island for 24 to 36 hours before sailing away. They left no Americans in charge of the island and even took the flag they had raised there. It was the first and last event in the war that took place in Guam. It was completely bloodless.

A little bit of military diplomacy I suppose.

When the U.S. had won the war, Guam became an official U.S. territory. Guamanians, as they are referred to by the government, are U.S. citizens by birth. However, they cannot vote in federal elections and do not have representation in Congress.

As with every ‘new event,’ there is always an historical tie. While this story is mostly inconsequential in regard to the impending doom–it is always important to stay informed. Plus, you never know what kind of silly story you’ll run into.

Thanks!
–History Hero

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