While most of the United States is still out of reach of a missile launched by North Korea, the U.S. territory of Guam, a key military hub in the Pacific, could be within range.
That realization, coming after a missile launch over the weekend, had residents of the island casting a wary eye amid rising nuclear tensions between Pyongyang and Washington. Some worried they might find war at their doorstep, while others say they are more concerned about the potential loss of vital tourism dollars than they are a nuclear attack.
“I think it is scary since North Korea is just insane, to echo the general consensus about North Korea,” said Farron Taijeron, a 29-year-old scuba instructor in Guam.
Patricia Anna Cruz, a 62-year-old substitute teacher, noted that even if you don’t go to war, “war may be right next to you.”
U.S. experts said the missile launched over the weekend could have a range of 4,500 kilometers (about 2,800 miles), putting Guam easily within range.
Guam is armed with the U.S. Army’s missile defense system known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, the same system recently installed in South Korea.
“Whether or not they truly have that capability (of reaching Guam), I’ll leave that up to our DoD partners to worry about that threat,” said Charles Esteves, Guam’s Office of Civil Defense administrator. “But with all the layers of defense … basically we provide that sense of assurance to the public.”
Some locals are more concerned about the perception of tourists than any actual threat.
“Guam’s primary industries are tourism and of course the military,” Esteves said. “So if we start seeing a significant change in our tourist numbers then maybe there’s a need for concern.”
Gelica Sablan, a 25-year-old Guam resident and college student, echoed those concerns: “Other people from neighboring Asian counties or any country in general might not want to come here because they might think it’s a threat that their safety might be compromised.”
Some analysts believe the missile, if proven in further tests, could possibly reach Alaska and Hawaii. Others doubt it has that range.
Tasha Rine, a registered nurse from Kenai, Alaska, said the threat from North Korea was a “little too close for comfort.
“I think it should be causing all of us concern at this point,” she said while sitting on the steps of a federal building in downtown Anchorage, just after eating her first-ever reindeer dog, purchased from a street vendor. “We live in a very unstable world, and I think that’s deeply concerning, and it should be.”