This John Oliver clip has been going around. In it, he talks about the status of American island territories with regards to Presidential voting and Congressional representation. He points out that 98.4% of the population of those island territories are ethnic/racial minorities. And part of how he lambasts the situation where four million American citizens do not have congressional representation and cannot vote is by identifying the large numbers of (mostly) Guamanians and American Samoans who serve in the armed forces. He points this out as being especially egregious in the case of American Samoa where they are considered to be US nationals, not citizens.
While he jokes that perhaps the American flag should be an American Samoan waving a flag that shows a Guamanian waving an American flag, his argument still rests on the assumption that military service = citizenship and national belonging. This is part of the same logic that is used with regards to DREAM Act, that has the potential to provide citizenship to undocumented immigrants who immigrated as minors, and who either complete a four-year college degree or have served in the armed forces.
These same conversations have also happened historically with regards to Filipinos who served in US armed forces, where again, military service pays dividends in American citizenship. [Note too that citizens of the Republic of the Marshall Islands may also currently elect to serve in the US Armed Forces.]
Two things though become somewhat troubling, or at least bring up questions for me.
Yes. There is a massive issue at play with regards to voting rights (VRA, Selma, gerrymandering, American territories). But there is also an issue too about the values we place onto military service. As the military becomes a place for communities of color and poor communities to find national belonging, will it still offer that? Does it even currently offer that? And does the preponderance of bodies of color in the military facilitate the nation’s willingness to militarily engage overseas, taking more risks, and expanding its use of force when those bodies have historically not always even be seen as American?
Camacho, Keith L. and Laurel A. Monnig. “Uncomfortable Fatigues: Chamorro Soldiers, Gendered Identities, and the Question of Decolonization in Guam,” in Militarized Currents: Toward a Decolonized Future in Asia and the Pacific edited by Setsu Shigematsu and Keith L. Camacho. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.
Rusty Bartels, PhD teaches in Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition.