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Hawaii, Alaska contemplate coming into North Korea latest intercontinental ballistic missile


Disused military
tunnels snake beneath the crater of Diamond Head, out of sight of the
tourists lounging near the volcano on Waikiki Beach but very much on the
mind of Gene Ward, a state representative from Honolulu.

Alarmed
by North Korea’s latest missile tests and claims that its newly
developed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) can carry a large
nuclear warhead, Ward believes it is time to refurbish the tunnels as
civilian shelters in case of a North Korean attack.

“We’ve
had wake-up calls before but what happened on July 3 is shaking us out
of bed,” said Ward, referring to Pyongyang’s latest missile test.

North
Korea’s state media said the missile reached an altitude of 2,802 km
(1,741 miles), and some Western experts said that meant it might have a
range of more than 8,000 km (4,970 miles), which would put Hawaii and
Alaska within striking distance.

Americans
from the Alaskan tundra to the tropics of Hawaii have had years to
contemplate North Korea’s accelerating missile program, which has
generated both angst and shrugs given that the reclusive government’s
true capabilities and intentions remain unknown.

Ward,
a Republican in a Democratic-majority state, said he supports reviving
state legislation that would reopen the bunkers built by the U.S.
military even before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that
prompted U.S. entry into World War Two.

The
tunnels are among many military bunkers and batteries carved into Oahu
as part of a buildup that began after Hawaii became a U.S. territory in
1898 and continued through World War Two.

If Hawaiians have a stronger sense of vulnerability stemming from Pearl Harbor, then some Alaskan seem largely unperturbed.

Doyle
Holmes, a retired U.S. Navy pilot and hardware store owner who lives
about 50 miles (80 km) north of Anchorage, sums up his advice to fellow
Alaskans this way: “Go back to sleep and don’t keep worrying about it.”

Holmes,
79, a Republican Party activist who retired in March from the Alaska
State Defense Force, said his attitude is rooted in his abiding faith in
the U.S. military’s ability to counter any attempt by North Korea to
strike American soil.

“It would be self-annihilation if they launch a missile at the United States,” Holmes said.
“I
think we are going to be OK. I went through the nuclear fallout classes
and the bomb shelter stuff in the 1950s and 1960s,” he said, referring
to U.S. preparations for a potential Cold War-era Soviet attack that
never came.

Some experts
on Northeast Asian political and security issues believe political
leaders and the media have been too quick to qualify North Korea as a
nuclear power, questioning whether it can genuinely delivery a
functional nuclear warhead with accuracy or whether North Korea would
risk certain U.S. retaliation.

But
Denny Roy, a senior fellow with the East-West Center think tank in
Honolulu, said the public discourse had definitely changed with the
latest episode.

“The milestone is that Americans
seem to believe that North Korea can hit the U.S. homeland, whereas up
until now it was all theoretical and potential,” Roy said.

Hawaiians
are mindful that the islands could make an enticing target given their
large concentration of U.S. military power, including the Pacific
Command responsible for U.S. forces in Asia.

“I’m
not building a bunker yet, but we definitely have to stay vigilant,”
said Reece Bonham, 24, a retail manager in the city of Kailua-Kona on
the Big Island of Hawaii.

Caelen
McHale, 21, a University of Hawaii business management major, was
skeptical of North Korea’s claims and confident in U.S. military power,
but still worried how the United States might respond.
“Our administration is scarier than North Korea’s,” she said.

                       
      Diamond Head crater on Oahu in Hawaii
can be seen in this August 8, 2013 
 

 
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