Global Politics

On Guam, little apprehension from North Korea's threatened attack

US_Navy_030225_N_0000X_002_An_aerial_view_of_Apra_Harbor_on_U.S._Naval_Base_Guam_is_seen_during_a_fly_by__Feb._25__2003_216487285.jpg

Apra Harbor on Guam is home to a major U.S. Naval Base, as seen in February 2003. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy.)

North Korea has been sending worrisome signals to the world.

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It recently announced the withdrawal of all North Korean workers from an industrial zone jointly operated with South Korea. That’s after repeated threatening messages toward the South and the United States.

There’s speculation that the North could be planning to launch a missile this week — and it could even be aimed at an American installation.

To be sure, the experts don’t seem to think that’s likely. But the question remains: which American target could be within reach of a North Korean missile?

The West Coast is safely out of range of the missile's estimate 2,500 mile range. But Guam, the western-most U.S. territory, is home to a major American military base and is just 2,100 miles as the missile flies from North Korea.

Mark Ombrello teaches Korean history at the University of Guam. He says his students have heard that their island may be targeted by North Korea. But they’re not panicking.

“I suppose it’s sort of like preparing for a typhoon,” Ombrello said. “We get typhoons and we know how to respond to typhoons, but this is much more existential than a typhoon.”

More existential than a typhoon. But not as frightening.

“It’s obviously very disturbing, and it’s very scary if you think about it, the possibility of a missile being launched at us, and coming close to us, or even exploding on us,” he said. “That’s something that I don’t know how to get my own head around. But at the same time, while, in my case, having done work on Korean history, it’s really hard to say all of this isn’t just talk.”

But talk can have a chilling effect on a big source of income for Guam: tourism. So far, though, says Ombrello, talk of a missile strike hasn’t scared visitors away.

“This whole threat from North Korea hasn’t affected the visitor industry in any way,” he said. “In fact we had a marathon over the weekend, an international marathon, and there didn’t seem to be any real scare over what’s going on.”

Some on Guam, though, wonder whether they’re supposed to be more worried than they are.

“I had a discussion with one of my colleagues," Ombrello said. "She was hoping that more would be revealed, in terms of what we should be doing to get prepared. I mean, is it time that we act like a typhoon is coming and get canned goods and do all these other things that we normally do when we think a natural disaster is imminent? I guess we’ll just have to see how things sort of unfold.”

U.S. officials are deploying a missile defense system to Guam, just in case North Korea should go ahead and lob a missile in the island's direction.

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