If You Think America And The United States Are The Same Thing ... No

The creator of this video has one goal that your education probably didn’t: to make sure you know just how much America is in your America, and how much America ISN’T in your America*.

If it sounds complicated now, it won’t after you press play.

*Also keep in mind as you're changing your views about what "America" is — a lot of our neighbors in Latin America are *ALSO* part of "America"!

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Narrator: The United States is shockingly a bunch of states that are united. It was just 13 to start with, but as time marched on, the border marked west bringing us to today and the 48 contiguous states plus Alaska and Hawaii. Usually drawn in these little boxes, not to scale, because Hawaii is in the middle of a vast ocean of deadly nothingness and Alaska is monstrous. Unlike other unions where members can leave if they so choose, statehood is eternal even for you, Texas. Now, how the federal government works is a story for another time. But at the moment, all you need know is that Congress, where our national laws are written is, made of representatives sent from the states.

Now, there are some non-state gaps not visible on this map. The first is Washington D.C., the nation's capital, which is a state-less limbo land between Maryland and Virginia. As D.C. is a city without a state, it puts her under the control of Congress, meaning that all the other states get the final say on how D.C. is run while she doesn't get a vote in anything. It didn't matter when this District of Columbia was basically uninhabited, but since more people live in D.C. now than due in a couple of states, it's an uncomfortable arrangement.

The other gaps on this map are the American-Indian reservations, which are numerous. The United States kind of administers them, while sort of treating them as foreign nations, which means you could draw the state boundaries to look like this because the reservations are kind of apart from those states. But the American-Indian reservations are such a full of asterisks oh-so-sensitive situation, it's also better as a story for another time.

Gaps aside, the continent and Hawaii is mostly straight-forward. But there's more than just these united states. When the US ran out of lands, to manifest destiny, she learned from the best and territorified a whole bunch of islands. First up, Puerto Rico, an organized, unincorporated territory of the US. This means she is self-governing to some extent and that all of the US constitution doesn't automatically apply on the island. Now, 3.7 million people live in Puerto Rico, which is 91% of the people living on US territorial islands and more people than live in 21 of the states. And the US treats Puerto Rico as a state in almost all but name, which possibly soon, she will be anyway bringing the number of stars to a nice even 51.

But Puerto Rico isn't the only organized, unincorporated territory. There's also Guam, which was acquired in the Spanish-American war along with Puerto Rico. There's the Northern Mariana Islands taken for Japan during World War II, and the US Virgin Islands taken from nobody. Denmark sold her. The people in these territories are American citizens. In most ways, the territories are just like D.C. Congress can override their local governments, and they don't have representation because no state-tation. Otherwise, it's America. Actually, the territories and D.C. do get to elect Congressional Representatives who attend all of the meetings, but just can't vote in any of them, which is either the worst job in the world or the best job in the world depending on the kind of person who gets it. Also, since votes for a President are based on state population, citizens in the territories can't vote, which as mentioned in a previous video, leads to the weird situation that Americans who live in foreign countries can vote for President in the state where they last lived, while Americans who live in America, just in a territory, cannot.

Along with these unincorporated, organized territories, there are also unincorporated, unorganized territories. Actually, quite a few. They are Howland Island, Navassa Island, Wake Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Reef, Serranilla Bank, and Baji Nuevo Bank. Most of these were acquired under the delightfully-named Guano Islands Act when the US decided she wanted a bunch of islands filled with bird poop. No really, the US just straight-up ordered law to declare that those islands were now hers. Unorganized in this system means there's no local government on these islands because no one lives in these places. Some of them are barely above the water line.

Now, the weird category is unorganized, incorporated territories of which there is one, the Palmyra Atoll claimed by the US after the totally peaceful annexation of Hawaii. They're currently an uninhabited nature reserve, but incorporated means the US constitution applies here to who? The Palmyra Atoll is like that question about a tree falling in the forest. If there are no people for the constitution to apply to, does the constitution still apply? Yes. This means if a foreigner gives birth on this uninhabited strip and doesn't die from the nature, their child would be an American citizen.

Now, this category is empty. It's where territories go before they become states when basically the constitution fully applies and it was last occupied by Hawaii.

We've gone full circle, but there is one territory we've left out, American Samoa, home to 55,000 people. Uniquely, American Samoans don't get to be citizens, but instead are American nationals. They can live in the states, but can't vote in presidential elections unless they go through the immigration process like any foreigner. Even though, in all other ways, they are indistinguishable from citizens. This is unique to American Samoa and there seems to be no reason for it other than that Congress hasn't gotten around to updating the system. American Samoa is in the no-government category, like it's lord of the flies over there, which it obviously isn't. So, American Samoa with its organized government, needs to go over here and Puerto Rico, essentially a state, needs to go over here. And the empty Palmyra Atoll needs to go over here. But don't hold your breath for the paperwork to make its way through Congress anytime soon.

So, that's all the territory of the United States, but there is one final thing to talk about. Three tiny nations: Palau, the Marshal Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia. This last is the convenient domain name, .FM, first choice of quality podcasts everywhere. Hint, hint, click, click. These are separate countries with UN seats and everything, but they have a quote "Compact of Free Association" with the United States. The deal is that the US provides economic support and military defense to the compact nations in return for being allowed to build military bases there. Also, compact citizens can live and work in the United States and vice-versa. The Americans wanting to live abroad, you have three easy options. So, that's America: 50 states, many reservations, one district, lots of island territories, some even with people, and three tiny associated countries.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

CGP Grey, who made this video "American Empire," seems to be on a mission to explain everything! Check out his YouTube channel. So much good stuff there.

To think that I found this video in one of those “Facebook recommends...” sections after I watched a different video on my timeline!

Jul 31, 2014

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