In March 2015, an episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” perfectly captured the comedic essence of the Insular Cases doctrine. Americans in the five U.S. territories are “off-brand citizens,” the British satirist quipped. We laughed with him because it’s true.
One can’t miss the caricaturish humor in the arrogant tone of the 20th-century U.S. Supreme Court rulings that described the territorial residents as “alien races that may not be able to understand Anglo-Saxon principles that guide American law.”
Such attitude toward the territorial residents lingered as gleaned from a secret memo written on Nov. 21, 1945 by Vice Adm. G.D. Murray, then commander of the Marianas Navy Force, who described the island natives as “simple people, requiring few of our modern luxuries for their welfare and happiness.”
“The characteristics and nature of the majority of inhabitants on these islands are such that the artificial or forced raising of their standard of living to one approaching that of the United States would be detrimental to their best interest and would contribute little to the safety and welfare of the United States,” Murray wrote.
“The economic development and administration of relatively few native inhabitants should be subordinate to the real purpose for which those islands are held. Military control of these islands is essential as their military value far outweighs their economic value.”
More than a century later, the U.S. government’s attitude toward the islands’ “simple people” hasn’t evolved. The Insular Cases doctrine continues to be its d