Guamanians Take Missile Threat Seriously — But Think We Should All Calm Down

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Most call themselves Guamanians, while the indigenous peoples prefer “Chamorros.” Some jokingly use the moniker “Guamy Bears.” Lately, the governor of Guam has been reminding the world of another identity: American citizens.

Roughly 160,000 people live on Guam, a South Pacific island that’s considered sovereign U.S. territory, and they’re all U.S. citizens. Guam Governor Eddie Calvo reminded Fox News of that on Wednesday (the network evidently needed a lesson), hours after North Korea threatened to fire four missiles at the island.

Erik de Castro / Reuters

Tourists stroll along a road on the island of Guam on August 10, 2017. 

While the prospect of a newly emboldened North Korea has made many Americans anxious, Guam, located 2,200 miles southeast of the rogue state, has lived with the possibility of an attack for far longer. And for the most part, its residents think everyone needs to take a deep breath and calm down.

“North Korea has a history of saber rattling,” Eric Tydingco, a lifelong resident of Guam and the CEO and president of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Guam & CNMI, told HuffPost in an email. “I’m not changing anything about my daily routine, and I believe most folks here feel the same.” 

I’m not changing anything about my daily routine, and I believe most folks here feel the same.

Tydingco said he’s confident that the American military, which has a large presence on the island, is capable of minimizing the threat, should it come to that. Guam is equipped with a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system designed to shoot down incoming missiles. 

Erik de Castro / Reuters

Tourists relax along Tumon beach. 

 “We’ve got two military bases here (which is the obvious reason we’re even considered a target),” he said, “and I’m certain that the US military installations have already planned to deter any missile launch directed here.” 

Karly O’Neal, a mechanical engineer who has lived in Guam for 10 years, said the threat posed to Guam by North Korea has probably been overhyped.

“I don’t feel like North Korea has the targeting capabilities to hit Guam,” she said in an email. “And even if they could successfully target us, the U.S. military installations here have defense capabilities which I feel pretty confident would keep anything from actually hitting us.”

Erik de Castro / Reuters

Guam Governor Eddie Calvo speaks during an interview with Reuters at the government complex on the island .

 Calvo, for his part, struck a similarly levelheaded tone in his interview with Fox.

“These bellicose statements, this is something that is no different than [what North Korea] has been doing since 2013,” the governor said Wednesday.

“There is concern and worry but there’s no panic,” he added. “We encourage everyone to go through their lives and live them like you would do any other day.”

Even if they could successfully target us, the U.S. military installations here have defense capabilities which I feel pretty confident would keep anything from actually hitting us.

Not everyone is sanguine. Chamorro poet and activist Craig Santos Perez told The Atlantic he’s both concerned and angry that Guam is in this position to begin with.

“Definitely concern was the first feeling, but then of course anger that Guam is put into the crosshairs of the situation,” he said. “My opinion is the American military presence… has made Guam a target most of all. Really, the answer is not THAAD or more weapons, but demilitarization and thinking about how we can create peace in the region and have the de-proliferation of nuclear weapons, both in Korea and in the United States.”

Erik de Castro / Reuters

Children sit on the World War II remnants of a torpedo at Asan Memorial Park. 

 More so than an actual attack, O’Neal said she’s concerned about the political rhetoric surrounding North Korea’s capabilities. She fears that even a failed attempt on that country’s part could spiral into something much more damaging to many more people beyond Guam.

“They could TRY to hit us… and that in itself might just start WWIII,” she said. “So I feel like the threat is as real to everyone else as it is to Guam.”

Beyond having commonsense discussions and drafting emergency plans, O’Neal’s daily routine hasn’t changed. She suspects the same is true of many other Guamanians.

Should Trump and Kim continue to issue belligerent statements, however, she does worry about what it might do to tourism, which brings in 60 percent of Guam’s yearly business revenue.

“I feel like we are on the brink of another possible Cuban Missile Crisis type of situation, where one wrong move could lead to a disastrous outcome,” O’Neal said. “We need someone with a cool head in charge. But since we don’t have that, we need Trump to do his best to act like one.”

“If I could tell Trump one thing,” she said, “it would be… when dealing with an unstable powder keg, don’t be a match.”

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