Listening to the national news programs of late as they report on the intensifying threat from North Korea has raised my ire. Much is made about the future potential of North Korean weapons to hit major population centers of the USA such as Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angles as well as South Korea and its large contingent of American military personnel. Without question all Americans need to share this concern. But mention is rarely, if ever made, of the even greater and current threat to the Pacific regions of Hawaii, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas and American Samoa. Parts of Alaska also fall into this category. To me it seems that we value the lives of those Americans less than those of us living on the U.S. mainland. We have little sense as a nation of the apprehension currently felt over the North Korean threat by our fellow citizens in places such as Guam.
For me, this is but one example of the widespread ignorance of our citizens and media regarding the territories in particular. Virtually no education and reporting is done on the situations in the six flag territories (Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico. The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, and the District of Columbia). Lately, Puerto Rico has been a bit of an exception to this rule in light of its severe economic problems and recent referendum on statehood. But, for example, I saw little or no reporting on the tropical storm that did major damage in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas or the ongoing discussions about the possible creation of the State of New Columbia out of the current District of Columbia. Yet, people residing in these territories are full-fledged American citizens who often serve in the military at a higher percentage than the fifty states. They are also represented in Congress with delegates who, while limited in the voting, nonetheless can sponsor legislation, serve (and even chair) committees and subcommittees and legally could even be elected Speaker of the House. This situation is far from adequate in my judgment but their basic membership in the House is rarely acknowledged in the media.
At the current time we need to give greater attention to the fears of our fellow citizens in the Pacific territories as well as the State of Hawaii as well as the economic and political situation in Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. For all the territories we also need to consider fuller participation of our fellow citizens in national decision-making by Congress. The United Nations continues to monitor how we treat these citizens in the territories in terms of national inclusion. The situation is admittedly complex and there is no easy single solution for all the territories. Each is unique in its relationship to the federal government, but all deserve an enhanced political voice in Congress and greater access to federal grant programs. Giving all the territorial delegates a full vote might be a good first step.
The situation of the U.S. flag territories is a genuine test of our national commitment to democracy for all our citizens. We cannot continue to preach democratic values to other nations until we finally confront the issue of full participation of our sister and brother citizens in these areas. As we once said about the British, the sun never sets on the current American Empire.
In closing let me just note another special relationship we continue to have which is little known. I refer to the Compacts of Free Association with three Pacific counties, i.e. Palau (Belau), the Marshall Islands, and the Federation States of Micronesia. I had the privilege of working on the negotiations that brought these compacts into being as our responsible resolution of the Trust Territory obligation given the United States after World War II. While these three regions are independent countries with seats in the United Nations they continue to have special legal, economic and foreign policy ties with the federal government.
These compacts need ongoing monitoring and American citizens need to be apprised of these relationships far better than they have to date.