Guam 1974 redux

Our far-flung correspondent1, Shannon Murphy, adds some corrections to the record re: Roger Gale’s article excerpted in Guam in 1974.

Spain first occupied the Marianas (named after Queen Mariana), to include Guam, in 1668. Legaspi claimed the island in 1565. So that means the Marianas have been colonized for 443 years if you go by Legaspi or 340 years if you go by when the Spanish first settled there – not 250. The US took Guam from Spain during the Spanish American War in 1898, so its been under American rule for only 110 years, minus the 2 and a half years of Japanese occupation during World War II.

Guam changed the most just after World War II then any time during Guam’s history as the island was badly bombed and then 150,000 American military occupied the island for three years or so making it a staging base for the planned attack on Japan and Asia. The villages were destroyed and then relocated, much of the land was seized (by writ of eminent domain to non- U.S. citizens) and the bases were built. The 22,000 Chamorros on the island were marginalized to the military mission. They had no rights and no voice and those who survived a brutal Japanese occupation (the Japanese punished them for being loyal to the Americans) were sickly and starved.

[The United States military] built something like 6 runways, 6 field hospitals, filled in land to make a better harbor and port, built hundreds of quonset huts all over the island. Then they dropped the bombs on Japan (taking off from next door Tinian) and the war was over.

“We Fought the Navy and Won: Guam’s Quest for Democracy (Latitude 20 Books)” (Doloris Coulter Cogan)

Doloris Coulter Cogan’s book has been highly recommended if you are interested in this history. From the blurb:

We Fought the Navy and Won is a carefully documented yet impassioned recollection of Guam’s struggle to liberate itself from the absolutist rule of the U.S. Navy. Doloris Cogan concentrates on five crucial years, 1945-1950, when, fresh out of journalism school, she had the good fortune to join the distinguished team of idealists at the newly formed Institute of Ethnic Affairs in Washington, D.C. Working as a writer/editor on the monthly Guam Echo under the leadership of the Institute’s director, John Collier, Cogan witnessed and recorded the battle fought at the very top between Collier (assisted by former Secretary of the Interior Harry L. Ickes) and Navy Secretary James V. Forrestal as the people of Guam petitioned the U.S. Congress for civilian government under a constitution. Taken up by newspapers throughout the country, this war of words illustrated how much freedom of the press plays in achieving and sustaining true democracy.

Part of the story centers around a young Chamorro named Carlos Taitano, who returned home to Guam in 1948 after serving in the U.S. Army in the Pacific. Taitano joined his colleagues in the lower house and walked out of the Guam Congress in 1949 to protest the naval governor, who had refused their right to subpoena an American businessman suspected of illegal activity. The walkout was the catalyst that introduced the Organic Act of Guam, which was signed into law by President Truman in 1950. Many other Guamanians, including the men and women who testified before the U.S. Congress, were involved in this historic struggle. We Fought the Navy and Won is the first book to tell their story and the first detailed look at the events surrounding Guam’s elevation from possession to territory.

Our far-flung correspondent continues:

It took another several years before Chamorros were made US citizens and then many more before they could elect their own governor. We still can’t vote for President or by a meaningful part of Congress.

All the rest of the corrections are just because this is a 30 year old article:

Our population by the last census update was 162,000.

The military gave some “excess” land back in the 90s so now they only have about 1/4 of the island, rather than 1/3. They might take some more again though.

We have our new airport and lots of airlines now.

The Political Status Commission isn’t doing anything anymore. Sen. Frank Lujan died already as have others who spoke up so well. Most people now have accepted the status quo and are just trying to figure out how to make this all work out. We don’t believe there is anything we can do about the military build up here. Many people welcome it, seeing it as an opportunity to make some money.

Your last paragraph was right on – Guam is an occupied territory. Chamorros (they don’t call themselves Guamanians anymore as that was an American idea to give them a new name to differentiate themselves from Chamorros who were considered a thing of the past!) are a minority in their own home due to US immigration policies which they have no control over. We are nowhere near getting a new political status.

There is a cool group of Chamorro graduate students who are trying to raise awareness and wake people up at

Also the PDN is not owned by foreigners but by Gannett Corp. But if the point is that it is not locally owned you got it! There is another paper and two TV news stations that are locally owned though. But the PDN is the big news organization.

Thanks, Shannon, for the informative, brief history. Care to fact-check this anecdote too?

  1. borrowed title from the New Yorker I think, always wanted to use it []

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