And like anyplace else in the U.S., Guam’s residents have differing ideas about how to respond to North Korea. Some, like 26-year-old Devend Sablan, said they feel President Trump could have taken a “much softer approach” to North Korea’s threats, “rather than antagonize the enemy with fighting words.” Congresswoman Bordallo’s office, too, criticized Trump’s “fire and fury” line toward North Korea this week—a line he said on Thursday perhaps wasn’t tough enough. “Back in 2013, President Obama had a very level response to dealing with the regime and making sure that we didn’t do anything to further heighten the tensions,” Carbullido said. “Whereas President Trump’s comments [on Tuesday], they’re not helpful and they only escalate things.” (He added that the reassuring words from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who landed in Guam for a refuel this week, were “helpful.”)
Though 72 percent of Guam’s voters picked Hillary Clinton for president in a straw poll last November, Trump has his supporters on-island, too. Tim Ohno, a 54-year-old U.S. Army retiree from Guam, approved of President Trump’s decision to surround himself with generals and said he thinks Trump “will finally take action that will make a significant impact on ridding this world of this menace [of North Korea]” unlike previous presidents, who “have kicked this can down the road long enough.” Dave Hayner, a contractor who lives in Guam, felt similarly about Trump: “I appreciate that he will not let us be bullied and is sending the proper strong messages and warnings to our enemies.”
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There’s another important, though markedly different, type of reaction coming from Guam residents, particularly Chamorros, this week—and it’s one in which the bulk of the frustration about the region’s tensions is directed not at North Korea, but at the U.S. itself.
Craig Santos Perez, a Chamorro poet and activist who teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, told me about his initial reaction to the North Korea news. “Definitely concern was the first feeling, but then of course anger that Guam is put into the crosshairs of the situation,” he said. “My opinion is the American military presence ... has made Guam a target most of all. Really, the answer is not THAAD or more weapons, but demilitarization and thinking about how we can create peace in the region and have the de-proliferation of nuclear weapons, both in Korea and in the United States.”
Activists have seen this kind of critical view of the U.S. and its military gain traction on the island in recent years, as efforts have ramped up to educate residents and native Chamorros about determining their own political status, whether that’s statehood, independence, or something else (plans for a long-delayed self-determination plebiscite were again held up this year). Activists like Perez who are advocating for decolonization are worried about what the U.S. will use the latest development with North Korea to justify next.