I live on Guam; here’s how we are cop­ing with the North Korea stand­off

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Shannon J. Murphy Robert Teno­rio, AFP

We wake up to col­or­ful sun­rises, drive to work next to the deep blue ocean, see bril­liant rain­bows and spec­tac­u­lar cloud for­ma­tions ev­ery day. The reef life, wa­ter­falls, beaches and sun­sets are awe­some all the time. The liv­ing is easy, and we love it in­tensely. Some 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple visit Guam each year to en­joy it with us. Mostly Asian, the vis­i­tors come to en­joy the beauty of Guam and the warm hospi­tal­ity of the Chamorro peo­ple. Tourists are the be­drock of our econ­omy.

But we also see uni­formed sol­diers, war­ships, sub­marines that we know are heav­ily armed and huge mil­i­tary planes and he­li­copters around daily. There are in­ter­na­tional mil­i­tary ex­er­cises here reg­u­larly. Nearly ev­ery­one on is­land has at least one rel­a­tive serv­ing in the mil­i­tary. It’s just a small is­land; we know one an­other, in­clud­ing the U.S. Armed Forces per­son­nel sta­tioned here. We shop and eat and drink to­gether.

This has been Guam’s fate. The is­land is large enough to host a good num­ber of peo­ple, has plenty of fresh wa­ter and a nice­size, deep har­bor. And we’re used to be­ing treated as a pawn in other pow­ers’ strate­gic games: In 1941, the United States gave up Guam with­out much of a de­fense against Ja­panese at­tack in World War II. Amer­i­can forces sent their de­pen­dents home just be­fore Ja­pan at­tacked, leav­ing a small con­tin­gent of sol­diers here ill-equipped to pro­tect the is­land. Chamor­ros suf­fered greatly at the hands of the Ja­panese for 2½ years. More than 1,000 Chamor­ros were killed.

Mem­o­ries of that dev­as­tat­ing time were brought back this week as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and North Korean Pres­i­dent Kim Jong Un threat­ened each other, mak­ing the peo­ple of Guam feel as though we all have tar­gets on our backs. On Wed­nes­day, North Korea an­nounced that it might fire mis­siles to within 25 miles of Guam.

We try to shrug it off, make some jokes about these two lead­ers, and get on with our lives. As we watch hour af­ter hour of the news, peo­ple say brave things like, “We are strong. We are resilient. Our faith will sus­tain us. The U.S. mil­i­tary will pro­tect us this time, be­cause now we are U.S. cit­i­zens.”

Just about ev­ery­one on Guam is get­ting tear­ful, pan­icky calls from friends and fam­ily off is­land, beg­ging them to leave and go some­where safer. So­cial me­dia is heavy with these con­ver­sa­tions, and peo­ple are an­gry that this is hap­pen­ing here once again.

One woman told me her son called wor­ried sick. His whole fam­ily is on Guam, ex­cept him. If Guam is bombed, he will be all alone in the world. She spoke with him for quite a while and said he’s OK now. She asked him to pray for peace and is con­fi­dent the U.S. mil­i­tary will in­ter­cept any mis­siles fired at us.

An­other friend has a grand­daugh­ter in the mil­i­tary sta­tioned at the Korean DMZ and fears for her safety. The young woman told her by phone this week that they have been im­mu­nized for poi­sons and wear pro­tec­tive cloth­ing. They will have only two min­utes to act if at­tacked, she said. But “don’t worry, Gram­mie, we’re go­ing to be all right. You raised a tough Santa Rita girl.” Af­ter she hung up, my friend cried, be­cause she knew her grand­daugh­ter was ter­ri­bly scared and just try­ing to put on a brave

Liv­ing on Guam is a di­chotomy — a beau­ti­ful is­land in the mid­dle of the Western Pacif ic that plays an im­por­tant strate­gic role in scary world events, the home­land of the Chamorro peo­ple for 3,500 years or more. We who call Guam our home are re­minded of this re­al­ity ev­ery day.


A neigh­bor looks at it this way: We’ve all been given one life to live, and she is choos­ing to be the best per­son she can, to live fear­lessly and coura­geously.

An­other neigh­bor said she will not let this ruin her life. She will con­tinue her ev­ery­day life.

A vet­eran told me he knows the sce­nar­ios of en­gage­ment and is aware of the as­sets and ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the U.S. and its al­lies. He also knows that no one wants a nu­clear war, be­cause ev­ery­body loses. He said it’s time for a regime change in North Korea.

Many here have been an­gry about a Fox News graphic show­ing that Guam has a to­tal of 3,831 Amer­i­cans af­fected by the threat — which ex­cludes the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion of 160,000 peo­ple, all of whom are Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, too. That anger comes even though, as an un­in­cor­po­rated ter­ri­tory of the United States, we don’t vote for pres­i­dent and have no vot­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Congress. It’s a never-end­ing dilemma for us, leav­ing us with a sense of dis­em­pow­er­ment. We’ve worked for years on de­col­o­niza­tion and self-de­ter­mi­na­tion but haven’t made much progress.

We are all watch­ing, though, to see if the mil­i­tary starts send­ing their de­pen­dents off Guam again. We are fer­vently hop­ing that cooler heads will pre­vail.

Tourists walk along a shop­ping area Wed­nes­day in Ta­muning, Guam.

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