On Guam, The Mood Is Calm Despite Being In North Korea's Crosshairs | KUOW News and Information

On Guam, The Mood Is Calm Despite Being In North Korea's Crosshairs

Aug 10, 2017
Originally published on August 10, 2017 8:51 pm

The escalating threats between the U.S. and North Korea have thrown the tiny U.S. territory of Guam into the headlines. North Korea this week threatened to create an "enveloping fire" around the strategically important Pacific island, located about 2,100 miles to its southeast.

But life here seems to go on as usual.

At Mosa's Joint, in Guam's capital Hagatna, Thursday happy hour lasts until 8 p.m. The place fills up fast with locals and military personnel, "kind of a little bit of everything," says Monique Genereux, who opened the bar and restaurant a few years ago.

Despite North Korea's threat against Guam this week, she says folks are keeping their cool.

"It's a very serious topic for sure, and it can be scary, but you know, if it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen," she says.

One of the regulars is Gary Hartz. He plays in a psychedelic blues band every week and is a dean at the local community college.

"There are many moods on Guam right now," Hartz says. "Some people [say], 'We just want our peace, our island groove that we've always have.' There are other people who are just sick and tired of the threats from North Korea because there sure have been many over the years. And then there are people who feel like our president has been exacerbating things too."

But Hartz says the latest North Korea scare feels more serious than previous ones.

"On the North Korean side," he says, "there are differences of specificity."

He is right: This time, North Korea has detailed plans for a missile test that would land in the waters near Guam. It noted which weapons it would use (intermediate range ballistic missiles), how many of them (four) — and the timing: sometime before the end of this month.

"Those are things that were not known in the past," Hartz says. "Beyond that, we also have a president who has got a more aggressive tenor than other presidents in the past."

Locals here remember 2013, when North Korea threatened the Andersen Air Force Base, which hosts the U.S. Pacific Command's bomber fleet. That base and a U.S. naval base are home to about 13,000 American military personnel.

Guam, with a 2016 population of almost 163,000, has been fought over for centuries.

"Japan invaded us, the Spanish invaded us," Genereux says. "The U.S. came here because I think they wanted the land and they helped us out with the Japanese, because I think they wanted the land. Strategically, it's a perfect spot."

But, she concedes, "It definitely makes us a target."

Still, a certain island calm prevails amid the tensions between Washington and Pyongyang. Sold-out hotels are full of tourists, and the beaches are full of runners and sunbathers.

"I've had a couple customers say that if it happens and we find out we have 10 minutes left, we're gonna come down here and have some drinks with you guys!" says Genereux.

There is no sense fretting, she says, about a situation way beyond their control.

Chris Hartig of Guam Public Radio contributed to this story.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The most specific threat from North Korea at the moment is directed at the U.S. territory of Guam, a tiny island in the Pacific. The North Koreans say they're developing plans to fire four intermediate-range missiles headed for the waters about 20 miles off of Guam's coast. They say those plans will be ready within days and presented to leader Kim Jong Un to await his order.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Guam is about 2,000 miles to North Korea's southeast, about the distance from Los Angeles to Chicago. It's home to fewer than 200,000 people, but it is of great strategic importance. There is a U.S. air base there, a Navy installation and a Coast Guard group. NPR's Elise Hu is there now, and she sent us this report of life for the time being continuing as usual.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: At Mosa's Joint in Guam, Thursday happy hour lasts until 8. Combine drink specials and a view of the sun setting on the Pacific, and this place fills up fast.

MONIQUE GENEREUX: And there's locals, there's military, kind of a little bit of everything.

HU: Monique Genereux opened Mosa's Joint a few years ago. She still works behind the bar. And this week, even after North Korea threatened Guam, she says folks are keeping their cool.

GENEREUX: It's a very serious topic, for sure, and it can be scary. But at the same time it's like if it's going to happen, it's going to happen.

HU: One of the regulars is Gary Hartz. He plays in a psychedelic blues band here every week and is a dean at the local community college.

GARY HARTZ: There are many moods on Guam right now. Some people are just - we just want our place. We want our island-style groove just like we always have. There are other people that are just sick and tired of the threats from North Korea because there sure have been many over the years. And then there are other people that feel like our president is exacerbating things, too.

HU: Hartz says something feels more serious about the latest North Korea scare.

HARTZ: Well, and on the North Korean side, there are differences of specificity.

HU: He's right. North Korea detailed plans for a missile test that would land in the waters near Guam. It noted which weapons it would use - intermediate-range ballistic missiles; how many of them - four; and the timing - sometime before the end of this month.

HARTZ: Those are things that we have not known in the past. Beyond that, we also have a president who's got a more aggressive tenor than other presidents in the past.

HU: Locals here remember 2013, when North Korea threatened the Andersen Air Force Base, which hosts the U.S. Pacific Command's bomber fleet. That base and U.S. Naval Base Guam are home to about 13,000 American military personnel. Guamanians like bar owner Genereux know the location of their home has been fought over for centuries.

GENEREUX: Japan invaded us. The Spanish invaded us. The U.S., they came here because I think they wanted the land. And they helped us out with the Japanese because they wanted this land. Strategically, it's a perfect spot, you know?

HU: But that makes you a target, too.

GENEREUX: Oh, definitely. It definitely makes us a target.

HU: But judging by the sold-out hotels full of tourists, the runners and sunners on the beach and the approach of locals like Tasi Petticord...

TASI PETTICORD: We are at a bar enjoying our drinks and taking in the sunset. That's what we're doing.

HU: ...There's a certain island calm about the war of words between Washington and Pyongyang. Bar owner Genereux.

GENEREUX: I've had a couple customers say that, like, if it happens and we find out we got 10 minutes left, we're going to come down here and have some drinks with you guys.

HU: (Laughter).

She says there's no sense fretting about a situation way beyond their control. Elise Hu, NPR News, Guam. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.