Last week, videos from the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the coronavirus-infected aircraft carrier docked at the Pacific island of Guam, made rounds on Twitter and Facebook. In the videos, a mass of sailors cheer for the carrier’s commander—who had been fired after demanding that his superiors take action to stem the ship’s COVID-19 outbreak—as he leaves the vessel.
Most social media users and news outlets that shared the videos described the scene as a heartwarming moment—a hero’s sendoff for a leader who sacrificed his career for his rank and file. “Wrongfully relieved of command but did right by the sailors,” read the caption accompanying one of the Twitter videos. But on Guam, many people saw something different—a careless crowd compromising their shores with a deadly illness.
“There’s an entire sea of people,” exclaimed Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero, co-chair of the political advocacy organisation Independent Guahan, referring to those who cheered on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt as the relieved captain disembarked. “Hardly any of them are wearing masks. Nobody is social distancing. The captain himself exits the ship without a mask and shakes hands with [someone who was] picking him up … And now we’re hearing that this captain is positive for COVID.”
The videos’ divergent interpretations highlight what many on Guam – a US territory with a hefty permanent military presence—see as an all-too-common phenomena: their community’s erasure and subjugation at the hands of the armed forces. They claim that, since the USS Theodore Roosevelt arrived in mid-March, the US Navy has made unilateral, opaque decisions that have put their communities at risk. And, as US media continue to closely cover the ship’s coronavirus outbreak, local residents question why their concerns are not addressed.