It’s been a hell of a few months for the outlying territories of the United States. In the wake of Hurricane Irma, President Trump said that he “met with the President of the Virgin Islands,” despite he himself being that president. Earlier in the month, amid concerns about the government’s response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico, some Americans were made aware — perhaps for the first time — that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, and have been since 1917 (when they had citizenship forced upon them in order to make them eligible for the draft in World War I). Several months ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions voiced his dismay that a federal judge from Hawaii could have influence on laws on the mainland. And over the summer, when North Korea threatened the tiny island of Guam, many Americans took notice for the first time of their distant countrymen. We have seen a series of reminders recently of the geographic extent of our nation, often brought to light by absurd or tragic circumstances. And this presents for us an opportunity to expand our collective knowledge.
Hawaii and the three territories featured in recent headlines represent only a fraction of our nation’s collective holdings, and with this trend in full-swing, it’s time to shed light on some of our lesser known compatriots and their homes. It shouldn’t take a natural disaster or the threat of a nuclear attack to get these territories back in our collective consciousness, either. With a proper strategy aimed at exposing the territory to the awakened nation, there’s no reason we can’t put a spotlight on all of the places that Americans can (but often don’t) call home.
American Samoa, for example, was formally occupied in 1900 following a military skirmish between Germans and Americans, during which an armistice was called after all six warships involved were destroyed by a typhoon. It is also possibly the namesake for Samoas, the Girl Scout cookies that are similar to (but not the same as) Caramel DeLites. And sure, American Samoa is often confused with neighboring independent Samoa — but not by you. You know which is which now. And you’ll never forget.
Midway Atoll played a prominent role in the Second World War, and has mostly languished in obscurity since. But as a territory whose population is made up mostly of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel, it can now play a critical role in attracting the remaining government scientists to its friendly confines in order to fight for climate change in a place most politicians won’t be bothered to remember. It’ll be our little secret.
The Northern Mariana Islands were home to a vibrant sugar cane industry prior to the United States assuming control from Japan. As the second most populous territory behind Puerto Rico, what better way to make the rest of the American people take notice than to remind them of its sweet, forgotten potential? The people of the islands don’t have to change a thing, either. Just keep us enticed with the periodic reminder of a useful resource you know mainlanders would love to exploit.
And last but not least, we have Johnston Atoll. This Pacific territory, about a thousand miles west of Hawaii, once played a prominent role in the early days of nuclear weapons testing. It has since become an uninhabitable wasteland of chemical stockpiles and nuclear radiation as a result. What better way to bring this desolate hellhole back into our consciousness than with a museum devoted to its greatest spawn: Godzilla. The untapped potential for the American and Japanese tourism industries is off the charts if we tap into our collective pop appreciation for all things kaiju.
America is at a turning point right now in its appreciation of all of our territories. We must take this opportunity to highlight all of the benefits of continuing to embrace our geographically distant brethren. If we can tap into this trend to help Americans understand the scope of our past imperialism, there’s no limit to how great we can make our geographic literacy.