For IPS Next Leader Leilani Ganser, escalating tensions between the U.S. and North Korea hit a little too close to home. Her family’s homeland, the American colonial territory of Guam, is now well within striking distance of a North Korean missile.

But, as she told the Latino Media Collective, this threat is “nothing new.”

Back in 2013, North Korea issued similar threats. And throughout the Cold War, a Soviet Union missile strike was well within the realm of possibility. “The main difference this time,” Ganser said, “is that the North Korean threat was antagonized on Twitter.”

“For an island that’s been through so much, it’s alarming how much of its future is dependent on media,” Ganser said, “and surprisingly, social media.”

And the island has seen war, even if it hasn’t seen a Soviet or North Korean missile.

“As long as Guam has been a United States possession, it’s been a simulated war zone,” Ganser explained, describing the B-52 bombers and water-to-shore artillery blasts that make up Guamanian daily life.  

The base presence itself is an overbearing fact of life. About one-third of Guam land is exclusive to the military — enough that when plans were raised to expand the bases to take up to 40 percent of the area, a Georgia representative objected. He feared that “the entirety of Guam [would] capsize, tip over, and fall into the ocean.”

“I guarantee that’s not going to happen,” Ganser quipped, though a bigger build-up would still be a catastrophe.

Already, the area for exclusive military covers places of cultural significance that are on par with Arlington National Cemetery for the indigenous Chamorro people, Ganser explained. A build-up would take over more ancestral burial grounds, as well as require the dredging of surrounding coral reefs.

“Because of the threats that have been made,” Ganser said, returning to North Korea, “it’s likely they’ll be used to justify the build-up.”

Leilani Ganser is an indigenous rights organizer and political science major at Reed College. She’s a Next Leader at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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