War in the Pacific
Administrative History
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Chapter 3:
AMERICA ON GUAM — 1898-1950


The presence of a foreign sovereign was not new to residents of Guam, but the role of colonizer was certainly new to the United States. The Treaty of Paris, ending the Spanish-American War, stipulated that Spain would free Cuba, withdraw from the Philippines (whose future would be determined later), and cede to the United States Puerto Rico and other islands in the West Indies, along with the island of Guam. During the next fifty years the island served as an American naval colony. Guam's residents assimilated a new set of customs and habits while it continued to play an important geopolitical role in support of imperial interests in the western Pacific.

The morning of June 20, 1898, Spanish Governor of Guam Juan Marina learned with great astonishment that four unidentified foreign vessels were steaming passed Hagatna on their way to Apra Harbor. One of the four was a warship. Marina soon found out that these were hostile American ships, and that the United States had been at war with Spain (in the Spanish-American War) for two months, since April 25. The four American vessels had come to capture Guam on their way to the battlefront in Manila, Philippines. The year 1898 marked a dramatic, abrupt end to nearly four hundred years of Spanish contact and influence. The next fifty years witnessed the dominance of America on Guam. As an American naval colony between 1898 and 1950, Guam's residents assimilated a new set of customs and habits even while remaining peripheral to American development of the island. Guam also continued to play an important geopolitical role in support of imperial interests in the western Pacific.

U.S. Initiation as Colonialists

Guam had nothing to do with the causes of the Spanish-American War, a conflict that marked a great turning point in the history of the western Pacific and the United States. In the 1880s and 1890s, the United States turned away from its anti-imperialist tradition, dominant after Civil War years (1860-1865), and emerged as an ambitious, aggressive, even covetous nation. A strong sense of national mission to bring civil liberty and Christianity to other cultures and to open markets for American trade around the world merged with the influential voices of a few foreign polity elite in the national government to fuel the growing popular belief that the United States had a manifest destiny to fulfill as a major power. In the 1890s, a series of imperialist outbursts brought the United States to the brink of war with Germany over a dispute involving Samoa (in 1889 and 1890); encouraged the annexation of Hawaii after a rebellion of local Americans against the Hawaiian queen (in 1893); prompted serious discussions of war with Italy and Chile over miner crises; and threatened Great Britain with war over a controversy in Venezuela (in 1895). The U.S. also teetered on the brink of war with Spain over American aid to rebels resisting Spanish rule in Cuba (in 1896). Influential naval strategist and author of The Influence of Sea Power Upon History (1890) Alfred Thayer Mahan believed that the United States could only become a great powerful nation if it extended its sea power beyond North America to strategic locations in the Pacific and Caribbean. [49]

In a frenzy of national excitement instigated by the New York Journal's sensational headlines, "The Whole Country Thrills with War Fever," accompanied by a front-page story about a terrific mysterious explosion that sunk the American armored cruiser Maine in Havana Harbor, Cuba, on February 15, 1898, heightened the nationalist urges of America's imperialist foreign policy elite, including then Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt. Newspapers around the country shouted for revenge over the loss of the Maine and its 250 officers and crew. In April 1898, Congress declared Cuba free from Spanish rule, demanded that Spain withdraw from Cuba, and directed the use of armed force to achieve these ends. With this declaration of war on Spain, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt sent Commodore George Dewey to Manila Bay, where, on May 1, he defeated the aged Spanish fleet in seven hours.

United States Marines soon left San Francisco on the cruiser USS Charleston to assist Dewey with the capture of Manila. After being joined by three troop transports in Honolulu, fifty-four-year-old navy Captain Henry Glass put the four-ship convoy to sea. As soon as he was clear of land, he opened his sealed orders from the secretary of the Navy and learned that his immediate destination was not Manila. Instead, he had been ordered to capture Guam and to imprison the Spanish governor, other government officials, and any armed forces–all in a day or two–before continuing on to Manila. Guam, argued the U.S. Naval War Board, was an important coaling station and its capture would help support the campaign in the Philippines. [50]

Early on the morning of June 20, 1898, the Charleston entered Apra Harbor in dense tropical squalls. With no prior knowledge of the war between Spain and the United States, the shocked Spanish Governor Juan Marina was asked to surrender the defenses of the island. He and military officers were all taken prisoners of war. On June 21, 1898, Captain Glass had the American flag raised at Fort Santa Cruz on Apra Harbor; and a twenty-one-gun salute was fired as military bands boomed the "Star Spangled Banner." The next morning, Captain Glass's convoy left Apra for Manila, leaving no United States' officers or enlisted men behind to oversee activities on the U.S.'s new imperial possession. On August 12, the Spanish-American War ended just three months after it had begun.

The Treaty of Paris, signed by the United States and Spain on December 10, 1898, (and ratified on April 11, 1899) stipulated that Spain would free Cuba, leave the Philippines (whose future would be determined later), and cede to the United States Puerto Rico and other islands in the West Indies, along with the island of Guam. The rationale presented at the peace conference for giving Guam to the United States focused primarily on the concept of Guam as a stepping stone in the Pacific, between Hawaii and the Philippines. Guam, it was argued, was a convenient stopping place and useful as a coaling station in an era when naval ships were fueled with coal. (American expansionism in the 1880s and early 1890s was explicitly aimed towards obtaining naval coaling stations in places like Samoa, Midway, and Guam in the Pacific. The Treaty of Paris further specified that Congress would determine the civil rights and political status of Guam's inhabitants. The local residents were never consulted on this matter. The Treaty of Paris made the United States a major colonial power in the Pacific. [51]

A fourteen-month period of confusion prevailed between the departure of Spanish Governor Juan Marina and the arrival of the first U.S. naval governor. In December 1898, President William McKinley had issued Executive Order 108-A, which placed Guam under the control of the United States Navy. In 1899, the entire island of Guam was designated a naval station. In reality, the U.S. Navy acquired all Spanish crown lands when Guam came under American rule, which amounted to roughly one-quarter of the 214-square-mile island. For the next forty-two years, all of the American governors of Guam were naval officers, who were serving at the same time as the naval station commandant. [52]

On August 7, 1899, Captain Richard Phillips Leary, chosen by the secretary of the navy as the first U.S. governor of Guam, arrived in Hagatna with instructions to fulfill the mission of the U.S. by maintaining the "strong arm of authority, to repress disturbance, and to overcome all obstacles to the bestowal of the blessings of good government upon the people of the Island of Guam." [53] Captain Richard Leary's interpretation of this mandate became, in part, embodied in a series of orders and proclamations he issued during the next year. Reflecting the rather stern, Victorian tendencies of the historical era and his own outlook, Leary immediately proclaimed that all activities related to church and state must be separated and that Guam residents must submit to the new American authority. He then issued executive general orders to prohibit the sale of liquor and its importation without a license. Leary also ordered that all land sales be halted until a new land registry system was established. In an attempt to do away with certain existing cultural practices, Leary prohibited celebrations and processions in Chamorro villages, on patron-saint feast days, he sent many Catholic priests away from Guam, and he declared unlawful the common practice of couples co-habitating and raising children together outside marriage. In addition, Leary issued proclamations and executive orders that: abolished peonage; [54] implemented agricultural and labor reforms; revised the land tax system; and established a new tariff for imports. Governor Captain Leary also instituted a public health program with navy doctors and corpsmen providing free medical treatment to the island residents, and he set up a public education system under naval control, with instruction in English, which replaced the Spanish Catholic church school system. [55]

Finally, Governor Leary ordered the completion of several public works. The U.S. Marines made improvements to the governor's residence (including the installation of typhoon shutters and the first corrugated tin roof on the island), cleaned up the main plaza in Hagatna for a military parade ground, repaired roads and bridges, dug sewers, improved water drainage and distillation systems, and constructed the first water storage tanks on Guam. Leary also instituted garbage collection, required outhouses in the main villages, and installed the first telephone system in Hagatna and Piti. When Captain Richard Leary and Lieutenant William Edwin Safford stepped down from their posts in mid-July 1900 and left Guam after only one year's residence, the cultural landscape, especially in and around Hagatna and Piti, had changed noticeably. The refurbished governor's residence, roads, bridges, tidier streets, water tanks, and outhouses collectively began to convey the physical image of United States occupation and the extension of the "strong arm of naval authority" over America's first colonial conquest. [56]

American Commander Seaton Schroeder relieved Captain Leary as governor and as naval station commandant on July 19, 1900; Ensign A. W. Pressey took Safford's place as lieutenant governor. Unlike Leary, Governor Schroeder spoke Spanish as well as French and seemed more accepting of the Spanish cultural traditions that had become integrated into the daily lives of island residents. Schroeder immediately reversed Leary's interpretation of the separation of church and state and once again permitted patron-saints feast days celebrations in the villages. Within a few months, the new governor allowed Catholic priests, sent away by Leary, to return to Guam.

The charitable and humanitarian volunteer efforts of Maria Schroeder, the commandant's wife, continued to improve public health conditions among residents. Maria Schroeder raised funds in the United States to build a new hospital. Although the native residents were suspicious at first, they eventually agreed to subject themselves to new foreign medical procedures. Common afflictions (ring worms, hook worms, and tape worms) began to be treated. The mortality rate of local residents began to drop. When Governor Schroeder conducted the first American census in August 1901, he learned there was a total of 9,676 non-Americans on Guam: 9,630 "citizens" of Guam and 32 mostly Spanish "aliens." Schroeder's census showed that the population of Guam had increased nearly twenty percent since 1886, when the last official count of residents had been made. [57]

During Schroeder's command, the Guam residents became increasingly restless and dissatisfied with the United States Navy's rule of the island, described by islanders as a "military government of occupation." Residents presented a petition to Schroeder, stating that "fewer permanent guarantees of liberty and property rights exist now than under Spanish domain" and asking that a special commission be sent from Washington, D.C. to study and recommend ways to create a permanent civilian government on Guam. Schroeder endorsed the petition. This effort marked the first in a long series of proposals that sought civil liberties and representative government for Guam residents.

In the early 1900s and for the next fifty years, the United States Navy rejected each and every such proposal. In 1901, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the navy's absolute authority over Guam in a series of cases, collectively known as the Insular Cases, holding that the U.S. Constitution does not apply to insular territories (also called "flag territories" or "possessions)." In the key case, Downes v. Bidwell, Justice Henry B. Brown captured the racist view especially prevalent at the turn of the nineteenth century. In his opinion: "if these possessions are inhabited by alien races, differing from us in religion, customs, laws, methods of taxation and modes of thoughts, the administration of government and justice, according to Anglo-Saxon principles, may for a time be impossible." [59] Justice Edward D. White concurred with Brown and made a distinction between "incorporated" and "unincorporated" U.S. territories. Guam, designated an "unincorporated" territory, according to Justice White, was not intended to become a U.S. state and, thus, should not be treated as an integral part of the United States. As a result of the Insular Cases, in 1904, the U.S. attorney general informed the secretary of the navy that "the political status of these islands is anomalous. Neither the Constitution nor the laws of the United States have been extended to them." [60] By the end of Governor Schroeder's two-and-one-half-year tenure, the structure and legal basis for U.S. naval authority on Guam had been firmly established. [61] The island was to be administered as a ship, "the 'USS Guam,' the governor as captain, U.S. military personnel as crew, and the Chamorro as mess attendants. [62]

Ordered Tranquility

Over the next fifteen years, U.S. naval governors (or acting governors/ commandants) came and went on Guam. Between 1903 and 1918, fourteen men served in this dual position for an average tenure of just over one year. These American governors, although often hardworking and capable, rarely became knowledgeable about local conditions and the Guam residents. Although considered more socially benevolent, the American administration of Guam differed little from that of the previous Spanish military rule, except for the separation of religious and governmental affairs and the imposition of the English language. Life for Americans on Guam settled into a placid colonial tedium of a small tropical outpost.

Each American naval officer serving as governor of Guam pursued a slightly different administrative agenda. Commander William E. Sewell (February 6, 1903-January 11, 1904) formalized Guam's judicial system and procedures. Commander George L. Dyer (May 16, 1904-November 2, 1905) initiated a detailed cadastral survey of the island and its waters, which was worked on sporadically over several years (and still incomplete by the early 1990s). Dyer also expanded the Maria Schroeder Hospital, and created a local civil service for islanders. Captain Edward J. Dorn (December 28, 1907-November 5, 1910) stressed the Americanization of Guam during his gubernatorial tenure by instituting the official observance of U.S. federal holidays, eliminating all but U.S. currency on the island, initiating the first island newspaper, the Guam News Letter, in May 1909 in both English and Spanish, and by creating the island's first public prosecutor, known as "Island Attorney." Captain Robert E. Coontz (April 30, 1912-September 23, 1913) energetically, although unsuccessfully, pushed Congress for the military fortification of Guam. Commander Alfred W. Hinds and the Navy Department invited American business firms, such as Atkins, Kroll & Company of San Francisco, to import and export goods to and from Guam. Captain William J. Maxwell, governor from March 28, 1914 to May 30, 1916, created the first local retirement fund for the Guam civil service. In 1914, he also attempted to gain citizenship for the people of Guam, however, was rebuffed by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt. [63]

During this same fifteen years, the lives of island residents improved in some respects, even though civil liberties and equality under the law were withheld from the island residents. Health care provided to Chamorro by naval doctors and dentists helped improve residents' quality of life by eradicating certain diseases (such as gangosa, a form of tertiary yaws) and aiding in the treatment of still deadly measles and whooping cough. Public education expanded, and students received free periodic medical exams. Chamorro enjoyed certain new amenities on the island, including electric lights in downtown Hagatna, a few paved roads, and the recreational diversion of baseball, all the rage in the United States. Nothing, however, substantially changed laws, practices, and attitudes that relegated Chamorro society to unequal status as inferior, second-class members of American society on Guam. The so-called "Jim Crow laws" in the United States that affirmed racial segregation in schools, housing, and nearly every aspect of social and civil life in the early 1900s, permeated American-dominated Chamorro society. Racial inequality was especially virulent in navy hiring and wage scales, where one rate existed for American citizens and a much lower one for Chamorro. During the early 1900s, the United States Navy did not permit the enlistment of Chamorro men except as mess attendants. [64]

Guam Naval Militia
Figure 3-1. Guam Naval Militia parading in Agana. Photograph dates from the 1920s or 1930s. Courtesy of Gordon S. Chappell.

Although political and social conditions remained much the same on Guam during U.S. naval administration between 1903 and 1918, the world around Guam and the island's place in it changed dramatically. At first, seemingly small but increasingly larger events drew Guam into a new global reality. The completion of the first undersea commercial telegraph cable linking Guam, Manila, Midway, Honolulu, and San Francisco in 1903, followed by the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914 brought Guam into a direct avenue of modern communication and transportation linking the island with the rest of the world. Guam began to be seen as a vital stepping stone in the Pacific–a secure way station and a relay point–in the communication and transportation channel between the West Coast of the United States and the Philippines. [65]

Neutrality Broken by World War I

Increasingly, during the early period of U.S. administration, the navy began to appreciate Guam's militarily strategic geographic location and relationship with the islands and resources scattered around Micronesia. Japan had been interested and active in the South Sea Islands since the 1880s. Both Japan and Germany had commercial interests in the western Pacific; Guam was at the geopolitical center of these overlapping spheres of interest. Early on, the United States took measures to protect Guam's harbors and provisioning capabilities against potentially unfriendly countries with commercial interests around the Pacific, particularly in Asia. As early as 1906, the U.S. Navy began to formulate a series of secret contingency war plans, each one known as "War Plan Orange," that cast Japan (orange) as the enemy in a future war. The initial and subsequent revised War Plans Orange emphasized the importance of defending the Philippines, Guam, and Hawaii with combined U.S. Army and Navy forces. When war broke out in Europe in early August 1914 and Japan declared war on Germany two weeks later, the United States assumed a passive stance as Japan seized control of all German Micronesia (including the Northern Mariana, Caroline, and Marshall islands). [66]

As the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungry, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire) fought tenaciously against the Allies (Great Britain, France, Russian, Italy, and Japan) in the Great War (renamed World War I after the Second World War began), the United States remained uninvolved militarily. Guam's status as an oasis of neutrality in the western Pacific did not prevent it from engaging in certain wartime activities. For example, War Plan Orange was revised twice between 1914 and 1917, a detailed plan of the defense of Guam was completed in 1915, new artillery was placed on Orote Peninsula, and an "Insular Force" consisting of Chamorro men was formed to assist navy personnel at the port. In March 1917, Governor Captain Roy C. Smith decreed universal, unpaid military service for all Chamorro men between the age of sixteen and twenty-three. United States neutrality in the mid-1910s, did not keep Guam detached from the war and the complexities of wartime activities in the western Pacific. Guam businesses sold over two million pounds of copra [67] to Japan annually, after war had increased the demand for coconut oil. [68] Additionally, the United State manufactured and exported munitions and goods of all kinds to the Allies for the war effort, and America loaned the Allies money to buy those goods. By 1917, the United States had loaned the Allies about $2.2 billion; the Central Powers had received far less from the U.S., about $30 million.

On December 14, 1914, the German navy cruiser S.M.S. Cormoran, with its 373-man crew, entered Apra Harbor seeking a re-supply of coal. Guam Governor William J. Maxwell, Captain of the U.S. Navy, interned the ship in harbor, where it remained for two years. On April 7, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, shortly after German U-boats attacked American ships and the U.S. learned that Germany was trying to persuade Mexico to attack the United States. When Guam Governor Captain Roy C. Smith sent two officers to demand surrender of the Cormoran and the request was evaded, a U.S. Marine Corporal Michael B. Chockie fired a shot across the bow of the Cormoran's supply launch in an attempt to stop the fleeing launch. Chockie's shot was the first one fired by an American in the Great War–later known as "World War I." Only minutes later, the commander of the Cormoran blew up the ship to keep it from being seized by the American Navy and he and his men swam toward shore. The Cormoran remains at the bottom of Apra Harbor, 120 feet down. [69]

Ordered tranquility characterized life on Guam after the dramatic scuttling of the Cormoran. The U.S. Navy on Guam had no further involvement in the Great War other than installing two 400-hundred-foot-high towers on Libugon Hill for a high-powered radio station. The cultural and social life of the Chamorro remained unaffected by the war. Local customs continued to mix Chamorro and Spanish traditions. The Chamorro language continued to be the dominant language on Guam, even after two decades of U.S. occupation. Land and family lineage continued to be, as always, the basis of wealth and prestige in the subtle caste system that existed in Chamorro society. Natural disasters not wartime activities interrupted this tranquility in 1918. A mammoth typhoon slammed into Guam in July, severing miles of telephone and electric wires and, from late October to December that year, a devastating influenza pandemic, which raged worldwide, swept across Guam, leaving 858 dead (nearly 6 percent of the population). In the midst of the world's struggle against this deadly disease, World War I ended without fanfare or public celebration with the signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918. [70]

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Last Updated: 08-May-2005