The Not-Quite States Of America: Dispatches From The Territories And Other Far-Flung Outposts Of the USA, by Doug Mack
One of the things that one finds out quickly when one has a tendency to read books about empires in the common world is that few people seem to be aware of the imperial outposts of different nations. From my own travels I have seen quite a few imperial outposts, from Puerto Rico (the first overseas area I ever visited as a child, on my way to Trinidad & Tobago), to Aruba and Curaçao, to Martinique and Guadaloupe. In general there are a few things that can be said about such regions, and that is that there is frequently a disconnect between the interests of the area and of its colonial master, and that there is frequently a lot of concern about corruption in the political order. That is certainly true for all of America’s unincorporated territories, none of which are on a path to statehood at present and all of whom are largely neglected and forgotten by Americans at large, even those in Congress who have ultimate oversight over the territories of the United States and whose neglect has led to some serious and sad situations in many of those areas, discussed by one brave and intrepid tourist in this intriguing and melancholy book.
The book is a little under 300 pages and is divided into five large chapters that show the author’s travel experiences in the various inhabited territories of the United States. The author begins with an introduction and a very brief note on the territories and their designation. The author begins with a trip to the US Virgin Islands, with a look at its economic disaster, the fact that it is popular with Danes but obscure to most Americans, and concerns of crime and a lack of political progress (1). After that the author’s wife joins him for a trip to American Samoa, which provides the opportunity for lots of hiking as well as a discussion of the insular cases and how American Samoa is foreign in a domestic sense (2). The author then looks at Guam and its combination of business and government and the off-shoring of the American experience to Asian and Russian tourists (3). After that the author goes to the Northern Mariana Islands and a discussion of a land of opportunity that seems to depress the author with a great deal of sadness (4). After that the author goes to Puerto Rico and looks at the wearisome nature of endless repetitive political arguments (5) before closing the book with a discussion of the future of America’s empire in the eyes of the author.
What is to be done? This book certainly laments the state of America’s territories, but practically speaking, what can be done about it? Is our dysfunctional Congress capable of exercising the sort of oversight that would allow the territories to rise above their current malaise? That is unlikely. Are the territories themselves able to rise above their own corruption and crony politics so as to take full advantage of the opportunities that exist as part of the United States, if they are somewhat anomalous and forgotten? That does not appear likely either. At present it appears as if both Congress and the American political establishment in general and the territories themselves are unwilling to undertake any sort of changes to the current dysfunctional relationship that exists between them and unwilling to accept the status quo as legitimate. The territories struggle economically, have entrenched corrupt territorial elites, and have an ambivalent relationship with America that does not know whether it wants to be closer or further away, always looking for a handout and grousing about a lack of responsible self-government. It is easy to complain, but hard to face up to one’s responsibility for dealing with unpleasant realities.