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On Guam, Resistance Grows to US Military Presence as N. Korea Threatens Missiles Off Island’s Coast

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The front page of Guam’s Pacific Daily News reads “14 Minutes!” That’s how long it would take missiles fired from North Korea to reach the U.S. territory in the western Pacific if there is an escalation of the threat of nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea. On Thursday, Trump again threatened North Korea, saying if it were to carry out an attack on Guam, the U.S. would retaliate with military action. The Pentagon controls about a third of all the land on Guam, which is home to 163,000 people and a sprawling complex of U.S. military bases, including the Air Force base where many of the United States’ B-2 bombers take off from before flying over the Korean Peninsula. For decades, residents of Guam have resisted the militarization and colonization of their homeland by the United States, which has now put them in the crosshairs of a possible nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea. We go to Guam to speak with LisaLinda Natividad, president of the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice and a member of the Guam Commission on Decolonization, and with David Vine, author of “Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show on Guam, where the front page of the country’s Pacific Daily News paper reads “14 Minutes!” That’s how long it would take missiles fired from North Korea to reach the U.S. territory in the western Pacific if there’s an escalation of the threat of nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea.

In the last hour, President Donald Trump tweeted, quote, “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!” unquote. On Thursday, Trump again threatened North Korea, saying if it were to carry out an attack on Guam, the U.S. would retaliate with military action, quote, “the likes of which nobody has seen before.” This is Trump sparring with a reporter while speaking inside his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Let’s see what he does with Guam. He does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody’s seen before, what will happen in North Korea.

REPORTER: And when you say that, what do you mean?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You’ll see. You’ll see. And he’ll see.

REPORTER: Is that a dare?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He will see. It’s not a dare, it’s a statement.

AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, President Trump also said that maybe his threats earlier this week to attack North Korea with “fire and fury” weren’t tough enough. This is Trump being questioned by a reporter at a news conference at his golf resort in Bedminster.

REPORTER: Mr. President, the North Koreans said yesterday that your statement on Tuesday was “nonsense.” That’s the word that they used. Do you have any response to that?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I don’t think they mean that. And I think they—it’s the first time they’ve heard it like they heard it. And frankly, the people that were questioning that statement—was it too tough? Maybe it wasn’t tough enough.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump’s threats of nuclear war drew condemnation from a number of U.S. lawmakers. More than 60 House Democrats urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to de-escalate tensions, calling Trump’s words “belligerent” and “reckless.” A group of Korean-American elected officials sent Trump a letter calling for diplomacy and dialogue. On Thursday, North Korea responded to Trump’s latest threats in a statement aired on state media.

KCTV NEWSREADER: [translated] The U.S. commander-in-chief, who is at a golf course again, let out a load of nonsense about “fire and fury,” failing to realize the ongoing grave situation. We cannot have a sound dialogue with a senile man who can’t think rationally, and only absolute force can work on him.

AMY GOODMAN: North Korea also detailed its threat to strike Guam, saying it would launch four intermediate-range missiles in the waters off the U.S. territory.

KCTV NEWSREADER: [translated] The Hwasong-12 rockets to be launched by the Korean People’s Army will cross the sky above Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi prefectures of Japan, flying 3,356.7 kilometers for 1,065 seconds before hitting the waters 30 to 40 kilometers away from Guam.

AMY GOODMAN: The Pentagon controls about a third of all the land on Guam, which is home to 163,000 people and a sprawling complex of U.S. military bases, including the Air Force base where many of the United States’ B-2 bombers take off from before flying over the Korean Peninsula. For decades, residents of Guam have resisted the militarization and colonization of their homeland by the United States, which has now put them in the crosshairs of a possible nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea.

For more, we go to Guam via Democracy Now! video stream to speak with LisaLinda Natividad, president of the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice and a member of the Guam Commission on Decolonization. She’s also a professor at the University of Guam. In 2015, she visited North Korea as part of an international women’s delegation called Women Cross DMZ.

And here in the United States, in Chicopee, Massachusetts, we’re joined by David Vine, author of Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World. He’s an associate professor of anthropology at American University.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! LisaLinda Natividad, let’s begin with you. What is the atmosphere on Guam right now? How are people responding to this escalation between President Trump and North Korea?

LISALINDA NATIVIDAD: I think there’s two primary responses that our people are having. On the one hand, because of our hypermilitarized existence, particularly with the U.S. Department of Defense’s presence for—since 1898, there is, on the one hand, a sort of desensitization to the threat, and the buying into what we’re being told in terms of the island being safe. You know, our governor issued an announcement saying that there isn’t any imminent threat.

On the other hand, I’d say there’s just about an equal amount of people that are really growing increasingly angry as to how we’re being used as these pawns in this situation. Now, what most people don’t understand is that Guam during World War II was an active war zone for three years, occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army. And so, the experience of active war is something that’s very much a part of our being. And so, the second half of our population, I think, is very angry about how our colonial status puts us at this level of grave, grave risk.

AMY GOODMAN: David Vine, you’re the author of Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World. Can you talk about how the U.S. bases on Guam were established?

DAVID VINE: Sure. Guam was initially colonized by the Spanish Empire, and the United States acquired the island and occupied the island in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and almost immediately began to build up the island as a military base. The island was itself treated as a single military base. And the presence was relatively small until World War II. As LisaLinda mentioned, Guam was one of the few parts of the United States to suffer Japanese occupation for three long and painful years—and the violence of a U.S. attack to evict the Japanese, which led to widespread displacement. And what we saw after the war was the massive buildup of Guam into a major U.S. military force deployment center in the western Pacific, a base from which the United States could deploy forces throughout East Asia. And many in the U.S. military consider Guam, to this day, to be the most important base in the world, certainly one of the most important U.S. military bases in the world in the minds of U.S. military personnel and some outsiders.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about how many bases there are in the region in East Asia and then overall around the world?

DAVID VINE: Sure. The United States today possesses somewhere around 800 U.S. military bases outside the 50 states and Washington, D.C. And that’s a number that comes from a list that the Pentagon puts together periodically. Their total runs to around 700, but I’ve been able to detail scores of bases that are simply left off the list, many well-known bases, secretive bases. And the total is somewhere around 800 bases worldwide, in about 80 countries. This is an unprecedented collection of military bases on other people’s soil.

Now, it is incredibly important to point out that, of course, that Guam is U.S. soil; however, the U.S. military and others treat it as, effectively, a foreign country. One major general, speaking to reporters, said, “We can do what we want here.” And essentially, the military has treated Guam and the people of Guam that way for decades now. Guam is a colony. People weren’t embarrassed in—people in Washington and in the 50 states weren’t embarrassed in past decades to call Guam a colony. Today it’s referred to as a territory, but it is a colonized territory. There’s a colonial relationship, and the people of Guam effectively have a kind of third-class citizenship. They can’t vote for president. They don’t have meaningful representation in Congress. People in D.C., where I live, have a kind of second-class citizenship, but at least we can vote for president. But the people of Guam have been left and maintained in this status of a colonial relationship with the rest of the United States and not given independence at the same time as—or incorporated into the United States as a state that would grant them the full democratic rights that other U.S. citizens enjoy.

AMY GOODMAN: LisaLinda Natividad, can you talk about how widespread the resistance is among people on Guam? Now, presumably, many are involved in the U.S. military, in the bases that are there, the naval base, the Andersen Air Force Base, etc.

LISALINDA NATIVIDAD: The widespread resistance on the island has been growing exponentially in the past decade, because in—I mean, while we have a long history, even for multiple decades, of resistance against the military’s presence on the island, in 2006, the U.S. entered into an accord with the government of Japan, agreeing to transfer 8,000 marines from Okinawa, as well as from South Korea, to our island. And so, as a result of that, it led to a major groundswell of resistance, largely because our current situation is already hypermilitarized, with about one-third of our island occupied by DOD. And so, what they were looking to do was to increase their land holdings to roughly 45 percent. And that expansionism continues to this day, not just with the original projections of that military buildup plan, but also with the acquisition of a lot of our sea space, and not just contained to Guam, but to our neighboring islands in the Marianas, such as the island of Tinian, as well as the island of Pagan, to be used for these live firing range complexes.

AMY GOODMAN: So, right now, as your newspaper headline says “14 Minutes!” how are people responding, in the peace community on Guam, those who are part of military bases? And how many who work at these bases—you know, the economy is so intertwined with the U.S. military—actually also feel very critical of the U.S. military presence there? And how does it compare, for example, to the resistance in Japan, in Okinawa, and places like that, or in the Philippines, that—where people actually threw out the U.S. military bases?

LISALINDA NATIVIDAD: Well, it’s—you know, Japan and Okinawa are sort of the gold standard in terms of resistance to U.S. militarism. They really are the front-line foot soldiers, if you will, of the peace movement, largely because they have huge population bases.

So, I’ll give you an example. In 2009, the Department of Defense released what was called a draft environmental impact statement of this planned military buildup for the island, and really, you know, it’s an expansion of their existing footprint. And in response to that, as part of the—not just the scoping process, but their collections of testimonies and what have you from our community, we responded with 10,000 testimonies in a population base of 160,000 people. That was unprecedented in U.S. DOD history. And they actually reported that number, and they also reported that that was unprecedented in their history for that kind of a community response. What’s very disheartening, however, is that regardless of this kind of mobilization, which ultimately resulted in our suing the Department of Defense on their plan to take a ancient, sacred village of ours called Pagat—and so, as a result of that, it delayed the buildup, because we were able to win that lawsuit. Unfortunately, since then, they have released new plans, and they, just in the last few weeks, have gotten the green light to go ahead and clear an additional 1,000 acres of land for purposes of this military expansion in the ancient village of Litekyan. So there’s this whole—I mean, these atrocities, it’s like one assault after the other.

You know, in terms of our ocean space, let me give you an example. In 2014, the Marianas Island training and testing range was also established. We outpoured. We resisted. It did make a difference. And ultimately, what has been the consequence of that is the establishment of a training range in the ocean and the sea and the skies of nearly a million square nautical miles. That’s larger than the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Montana and New Mexico, all combined, for this purpose. And just in the last month, they’ve announced an expansion even more so of this range. So, you know, the just insane, magnanimous nature of this expansionism has really just evoked a lot of heavy response in terms of anger, in terms of resurgence of the knowledge of our colonization and how this really has been what we’re—the price we’re paying because of our colonization by the U.S. government.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the difference, of course, between the bases—U.S. bases in Japan and U.S. bases on Guam, where you are, LisaLinda, are that the—Guam, whether you like it or not, is a part of the United States, although you don’t get to vote for president of the United States. Talk about your political representation in Washington and what kind of voice you have as a U.S. territory.

LISALINDA NATIVIDAD: As a U.S. territory, we have one elected delegate locally who is a representative in U.S. Congress, in the House of Representatives. However, her—she has very limited participation in terms of the voting process. As a matter of fact, if her vote is a tiebreaker, her vote then becomes null and void. So, it really—this congressional delegate seat is really an illusion of inclusion in the political process of the—you know, of democracy. So there really isn’t—I mean, as much as there’s that one seat, it really doesn’t have very much bang in terms of representing us and our interests.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, LisaLinda, you went to North Korea. You crossed the Demilitarized Zone, is that right? The DMZ. Can you explain the significance of that, given what you’re in the midst of right now?

LISALINDA NATIVIDAD: You know, it was very significant. As a matter of fact, the whole process of the Women Cross DMZ really was a large statement. It was intended to be a large statement to the global community that we really need to engage North Korea with a different approach. And the different approach is exactly what the Korean group you were quoting earlier was talking about: deploying the use of diplomacy and discussions to be able to merge this gap of misunderstanding that seems to be happening at a global scale. So, the delegation was comprised of 30 women, two of whom were Nobel Peace Prize laureates. And our delegation was led by Ms. Gloria Steinem, who, as you know, is legendary. And so, it really was a stance that we were trying to make in terms of looking at the U.S.’s engagement with North Korea as—yes, with North Korea, as well as with the whole entire Asia-Pacific region, where—since its announcement of its strategy with the pivot, has really just—you know, with the intention to contain China, has cost so much, not only in terms of money, but in terms of lives, in terms of resources. And we just wanted to take a stand against that.

AMY GOODMAN: And how are people preparing right now on Guam for, well, what your newspaper has across the front page, “14 Minutes!”?

LISALINDA NATIVIDAD: You know, it’s a very mixed kind of response to these—to these latest claims, because, on the one hand, we’re being told we’re safe; we have the maximum amount of military preparation; with the THAAD in place, this is not going to be an issue; anything that comes flying our way will be taken down. But on the other hand, we know the realities of militarism and that THAAD systems are not—the technology has not evolved enough. And more importantly, again, it just creates this very flagrant example of our colonization and how our people, our Native people, the Chamorro people of Guam, are caught again, as you described earlier, in the crossfires of these geopolitical games.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to David Vine, author of Base Nation. David, speaking on Thursday, Japan said it’s ready to evacuate its citizens in the event of an attack by North Korea. The chief Cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, also said his country supports Trump’s position.

YOSHIHIDE SUGA: [translated] President Trump has said all options are on the table. We, as a government, welcome this stance. We believe it is extremely important for the Japan-U.S. alliance to strengthen its deterrent power and ability to respond.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman said North Korea would face a “firm response” if it launched an attack. This is Roh Jae-cheon, speaking Thursday.

ROH JAE-CHEON: [translated] Our military gives a stern warning to this. If North Korea conducts provocations in defiance of our military’s grave warning, it will confront the strong and firm response of our military and the U.S.-South Korea alliance.

AMY GOODMAN: You heard from people in Japan and in South Korea. Talk about the role of these—of U.S. bases in both of these places and, overall, your point, the subtitle of your book, How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World.

DAVID VINE: Sure, I think the words coming out of Seoul and Tokyo, like the words coming out of Washington and North Korea, for that matter, are a lot of macho posturing. I think gender is one of the underanalyzed dimensions of this escalating and profoundly scary moment.

But Guam is part of a constellation of U.S. military bases in the Pacific region. There are more than 200 bases between South Korea and Japan alone hosting U.S. forces. And there are yet more in Thailand, the Philippines and elsewhere in the region. And I think it’s worth listeners and others considering how the United States would feel if there was a single Chinese or North Korean or Russian base anywhere near U.S. borders. These U.S. bases are clearly meant to threaten.

The claim about U.S. bases overseas, for years, and the conventional wisdom in mainstream foreign policy discourse is that these are absolutely necessary to the defense and security of the United States and the world. Rarely has anyone provided evidence to show that these bases are keeping the peace and deterring allies. Quite to the contrary, I think this scary moment is an example of how bases can increase military tensions. Again, if the United States was faced with a foreign enemy with a base anywhere near U.S. borders, you’d see citizens, members of the government calling for a massive buildup of military force in response. The scariest moment of the Cold War, of course, was the Cuban missile crisis, when the Soviet Union installed a missile base in Cuba, only 90 miles from Florida.

So, I think this is, sadly, a good example of the folly of what is effectively a Cold War-era strategy to build up military bases and forces around the world, a strategy that has not been questioned since the end of the Cold War. These bases have been in place for decades, for going on 70 or more years in the bases that were built up and occupied during World War II. Of course, the base—and bases—in Guam have been occupied for more than a hundred years.

And we have not questioned the damage that these bases are doing to people who live near the bases, environmental damage, cultural damage, the displacement that’s taken place, as well as the damage that’s suffered by the rest of the United States as a result of this massive overspending on bases abroad. This is money running into the tens of billions of dollars we’re spending to maintain bases and troops abroad every year. We spend more money on bases and troops abroad than the entire budget of the State Department. This is money that could be used, of course, to better defend the United States in a variety of ways. It could be used better by the military, could be used better to defend U.S. military personnel, could be used to improve the security of U.S. citizens, education, healthcare, housing, a whole range of ways in which we could far better protect the security of the United States and not ramp up military tensions with other nations.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s a sad comment, LisaLinda Natividad, that it’s because of Guam and the bomb that people in the U.S., maybe some are first learning about the fact that there is this U.S. territory in the Pacific that is so central here. Your thoughts about how Guam is viewed, and what you’d like to see your island represent?

LISALINDA NATIVIDAD: You know, I often refer to Guam as America’s best-kept secret. And I say that because while the U.S. and its military’s justification for its massive military presence in—all over the world, as David has just described, it really claims to do so in the name of democracy, whereas, on Guahan, which is our Native name for our island, on our own island, democracy does not exist. You know, as a U.S. colony, it does not exist. We don’t have the right to vote for the president. We have limited representation in U.S. Congress. We have, I mean, a whole host of other slews of federal territorial policies that inhibit our ability to become self-sufficient. We don’t have standard U.S. social programs, for example, like unemployment insurance or Social Security Disability Insurance. And we only get about one-seventh of the funding that’s afforded to states. So, when you look at that, clearly there’s no democracy that exists here on these islands. And, you know, we really—the Native people here are kind of caught in this reality. And so, there’s also—just as there’s a growing resistance movement to the military presence here, there also is a count—an additional growing movement in terms of addressing our issue of colonization and resolving our political status issues.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both very much for being with us. LisaLinda Natividad is speaking to us from the island of Guam, a U.S. territory. The U.S. occupied Guam in 1898. She is a professor at the University of Guam, president of the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice, as well as a member of the Guam Commission for Decolonization, author of several articles. We’ll link to her article, “Fortress Guam: Resistance to US Military Mega-Buildup.” And thanks so much to David Vine, joining us from Massachusetts, a professor at American University in Washington, D.C. His book, Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. Stay with us.

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