With President Trump visiting Puerto Rico next week, another long-ignored part of the United States will draw national attention. In the past three weeks, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have been hit by two powerful hurricanes, causing widespread devastation. Last month, Guam made headlines when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened to fire potentially nuclear-tipped missiles at the island.
The people of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam, as well as those in the little-mentioned Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa, are all too accustomed to being forgotten except in times of crisis. But being forgotten is not the worst of their problems. They are trapped in a state of third-class citizenship, unable to access full democratic rights because politicians have long favored the military’s freedom of operation over protecting the freedoms of certain U.S. citizens.
Residents of the American territories are ruled from the nation’s capital — a city whose people themselves are second-class citizens lacking representation in Congress — but barred from voting in presidential elections, denied Senate representation and limited to electing a nonvoting member of the House of Representatives. (People born in American Samoa actually have fourth-class citizenship because they don’t get U.S. citizenship automatically at birth.)
Which raises a pressing question: Why, in 2017, decades after the civil rights and decolonization eras, does the United States still have colonies and citizens who lack full democratic rights by law?
The answer is largely simple, but troubling: Because the desires and power of the United States military have overwhelmed the desires and rights of colonized peoples.
The tangled history of the military and…