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The Flag of the World

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This here blog is a glimpse or two or three at the condition of the 'fortress of our family' through the eyes Timothy Goddard, a Christian writer with an unhealthy interest in politics living in the Puget Sound area.

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Friday, October 03, 2003


American Samoa: Comfort at a cost
Flag of American SamoaThe population of American Samoa is 70,260, about two thirds the number of people in my hometown of Everett, Washington. (And yet they get a CIA World-Factbook page and all Everett gets is the largest building in the world and an aircraft carrier.) Meanwhile, the total area of the islands is 199 square kilometers, which, the CIA Wold Factbook tells me (in metric terms, of all things, the Europhillic commies!) is slightly larger than Washington D.C.--the population of which is 572,059, just about eight times the population of Samoa. All this to say that, American Samoa is small, but probably comfortable. And comfortable is a large part of the Samoan way of life, so that works out pretty nicely.

HISTORY: American Samoa includes the islands of Tutuila (the largest island) and nearby (and very small) Aunu'u, the Manu'a Islands of Ofu, Olosega and Ta'u, Rose Atoll to the east and Swains Island to the north. The island group of Samoa--now politically divided into Samoa and American Samoa--was settled by Samoans in about 1000 BC. No one is exactly sure where the Samoans came from--probably somewhere in southeast Asia. (If I were to guess, I'd say it was probably Indonesia, as that's where most of their flora and fauna hail from, but that is, of course, a guess). We have no clue about most things in Samoan prehistory, which is sad because it's probably fairly interesting.

Rainmaker Mountain in American Samoa--ain't it a beaut?In the later parts of prehistory, we know that the politics of western Samoa, now called simply Samoa, played a large part in the politics of Tutuila. Tutuila often fell under the juristiction of the western island of 'Upolu, and the chiefs there sometimes forced Tutuilans to fight in their wars. The inhabitants of the Manu'a Islands recount being visited by leaders from western Samoa and Fiji, sometimes in a decidedly unfriendly manner.

A plaque commemerating the 'A'asu Massacre.' Note that it's in French."The first "official" European visit to the Islands was by Dutch Explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who stopped in, named them something or other, then sailed off. Next to visit was French Captain Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, and then Comte de La Pérouse, also French. As typically happens when more than one Frenchman visits a place, things went poorly. Some Samoans tried stealing stuff off of their ship, the sailors reacted, and people got killed--at least 12 explorers and 39 Samoans died in what is now called "Massacre Bay."

Nonetheless, in the 1830's, Christian missionaries came to the islands. The first was John Williams of the London Missionary society, an Englishman who was very successful there until he was invited over for dinner by some cannibalistic Samoans. Missionaries in general were very successful in Samoa, and cannibalism, eventually, was not. In large part this was due to the fact that the head Samoan deity Nafanua had some striking similarities with the God of the Bible, and had even foretold the coming of a new, superior religion. Today, 98% of Samoans are Christian.

The HMS Calliope, surviving the stormIn 1872, America gained exclusive rights to use the deep water port of Pago Pago, now the capital. The Germans and the British also had interests in the island, and disputes arose over who, exactly, would be in charge there. Eventually tensions reached something of a peak and seven warships of three nationalities ended up facing off in Apia Harbor (now in plain ole' Samoa) in what Lonely Planet World Guide calls "something that resembled the first line of a bad joke--the British, the Americans and the Germans were in a Mexican standoff in Samoa." But God, presumably, had the last laugh, as "the Great Apia Hurricane" hit the harbor. 147 men died, four ships hit reefs and sank, two were beached, and the only ship to survive was the HMS Calliope.

A decade later, in 1889, the three powers instituted the Tripartite Agreememnt, in which America took that which is now American samoa, the Germans took the easter islands, and the Brits sailed away in return for Germany giving up their claims on a few other Pacific islands. America formally annexed the islands in 1900, when the Department of the Navy took stuff over, building a Navy base and a coaling station. Things stayed this way through WWII, until 1951 when control was handed over to the department of the interior.

Tuna--job producer and tasty tasty fishIt was not long after this that Van Camp Seafood Co. and then Starkist Inc. opened tuna canneries on Pago Bay, which to this day provide about 4,500 jobs to the islands. Through most of this time, and before, the islands recieved little attention from the mainland. In 1962, however, Reader's Digest published an article entitled "America's Shame on the South Seas," calling attention to the rather primitive conditions that the natives of the island lived in.

President Kennedy, in true 60's Democrat fashion, responded by throwing a lot of money at the problem. Today, this is termed bad by most people for being "cultural imperialism," as if roads, schools, hospitals and televisions were purely cultural phenomena. I term it as bad because it created something of a welfare state that American Samoa has yet to fully reform.

The Governor of American Samoa--now elected!Until 1977, the islands were governed by an appointed governor. Since then, the governor has been elected by universal suffrage, as has the house of representatives. The members of Senate are selected by the traditional councils of the various islands.

Samoans are good at football because they tend to be big, quick, and bigTODAY: Some of the biggest news to hit American Samoa recently includes the coming of the islands' first Pizza Hut, local crime, the financial struggles of the of the hospital in Pago Pago and corruption in various levels of the very large public sector (40% of the population is apparently on the government payroll). The Democratic non-voting congressman is none too happy about the one-way expansion of trade rights to various South American countries in exchange for cooperation in the war on drugs. He's concerned that allowing tuna from other nations duty-free will lead to losses for American Samoa's main export. Its other major export, however, is doing quite well: football players.

Democrats appear to be the controlling party in American Samoan politics--unsurprising, considering the nature of the economy there. It will be interesting to see whether the tension between this liberal economic philosophy and the social conservatism and patriotism of the islanders will ever lead to gains by the Republican party there.

ANALYSIS: A small island nation, especially when somewhat a part of the United States, is a lot like a small town. This has both good points and bad ones. The bad ones include the corruption that appears to permeate the government there. This is very often a problem in small towns, and the free wads of cash the US Government hands out can't help matters any.

All this stems from the modernisation project of the 1960's. It's no wonder that it's caused problems. I can't think of a worse time in US history for it to carry out a modernisation project than the 1960's, except maybe the 1970's. Or the 30's. Or any time when the power of the state was seen as an inescapably benevolent entity. (It's not.)

On the other hand, some sort of modernisation project was certainly needed. Most online sources for American Samoa are from travel guides, which unsurprisingly tow the standard leftist line about cultural imperialism and blah blah blah. I say unsurprising because the leftist take on these sorts of things is nearly indistinguishable from that of a tourist who expects to see natives in grass huts and grass shirts with grass medicine and grass roads, though they certainly would never want to live there themselves. American Samoa is decidedly more comfortable with roads, television and modern medicine than it was without.

On the other hand, all the modernisation process managed to do, thanks to the socialist-lite nature of it, was bring it to a progess plateau and leave it there. It would take a lot of work for it to change this, which is apparently beginning, but real change would be decidedly uncomfortable--and I don't think that's going to happen any time soon. It's hard to get to worked up about this, though, when there are only 65,000 people involved. But if this latent socialism is leading to more crime, which it may be, then perhaps its more urgent than I think.

But for all the pessimism I've brought up, American Samoa is still decidedly American, and proud to be so. And that simple truth carries a hope and a confidence that, whatever its problems, American Samoa will remain a wonderful, comfortable, place.

LINKS: No country report this time, but this is the first, and possibly only, country to be featured here with its own US Representative. As I mentioned, most of the information available about American Samoa is from travel sites such as Lonely Planet , Yahoo Travel and Frommer's. Lonely Planet's history section is the most thorough, but also the most blatantly slanted towards wealthy New England liberals. To keep up to date on Samoan news, Samoa News is the best bet, and the other Samoa's Samoan Observer has some American Samoa news as well. One of my favorite sites I found was that of the American Samoa Historic Preservation Office, which has a synopsis of the area's history slightly more archaeological, and generally better, than any of the travel sites'. The government site is fairly useful, especially the historical calendar, though I wish it were arranged by year rather than by day. SamoaNet has some great resources, especially a lot of photos. The national park in Samoa has a good page, and if you're interested in the ecology of the islands, they have a great book online about it. Here's a decidedly annoying, but possibly useful page, and lots of other stuff can be found in Google's directory.

Well, there's American Samoa for you. A lot of stuff on such a little place. I think this just emphasizes how decidedly incomplete anything I do on larger countries is. But the goal of each of these synopses is not to be an expert on any of these places, but to be able to converse intelligently about them--which I will hopefully soon be able to do about Andorra--also very small.
Agree, disagree, have more information on the topic? Please, feel free to leave a comment. No profanity!

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