Guam: paradise threatened with fire and fury

All at sea: Guam, the westernmost US territory, is sometimes called “the tip of the spear”.

Guam has been dragged into the war of words between the USA and North Korea, after the latter threatened to attack the tiny American territory. Is military conflict about to break out?

The Pacific island of Guam is a land of lush jungle and clear beaches. Normally its relaxed way of life is only disturbed by the odd typhoon.

But this week is different. Yesterday the 160,000 islanders awoke to the news that North Korea wants to attack them with ballistic missiles.

The announcement capped a period of escalating tensions between North Korea and the USA. Last weekend the UN imposed new economic sanctions on Kim Jong-un’s regime; days later, US media reported that it is ready to fire nuclear missiles.

In response, President Trump warned that threats to the USA would be met “with fire and fury”. Then North Korea threatened to strike Guam.

Though small, Guam is no stranger to big conflicts. The US territory’s strategic position between East Asia and the Americas has put it in the firing line before. It played a key role in the second world war (when it was briefly occupied by Japan) and the Vietnam war.

Currently almost a third of the island is covered by US military bases, including an airfield and a naval station. It shelters nuclear submarines and bombers that carry out regular air drills near the Korean peninsula.

“Currently there is no threat to our island,” insists Eddie Calvo, the island’s governor. But he added: “We are prepared for any eventuality.”

What is the worst that could happen?

Guamageddon?

This is worrying, say some. If North Korea really has nuclear missiles, that is a game changer. Even worse, Trump’s very inflammatory words could push North Korea to act on its threat. The third world war may start in Guam.

Calm down, reply others. Trump’s team is still conducting diplomacy as usual. Last week, the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, told North Korea: “We are not your enemy.” Everyone, Kim included, knows that war would benefit no one.

You Decide

  1. How would you feel today if you were living in Guam?

Activities

  1. Read about Guam’s legends in Become An Expert. Choose one and rewrite it, setting it in your area in the modern day.

Some People Say...

“All wars start from a single point.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
North Korea has conducted five successful nuclear tests. It has also launched many missiles, including intercontinental ones. US spies believe that it can now load a nuclear bomb on a missile.
What do we not know?
How many nuclear bombs North Korea has (estimates go up to 60) and how far its missiles can travel, though experts fear they could reach the East Coast of the USA.

Word Watch

Ballistic missiles
Largely unguided missiles that follow a big arc through the sky before falling to earth and exploding.
Economic sanctions
The UN Security Council — including North Korea’s closest ally China — voted to ban certain imports from the country. The sanctions are supposed to cut its export revenue by a third.
Small
Guam’s surface is 209 square miles — a little smaller than Chicago.
US territory
Guam is now an “unincorporated territory” of the USA. It has a delegate in Congress, but its people cannot vote for the president.

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