Alaskans Greet North Korean Missile Test With A Shrug "We have the assurance that no matter what happens to us here in Alaska we'll be able to take care of ourselves," Anchorage's mayor said.
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Alaskans Greet North Korean Missile Test With A Shrug

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Alaskans Greet North Korean Missile Test With A Shrug

Alaskans Greet North Korean Missile Test With A Shrug

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

This week delivered some unsettling news for Alaska. The news is that North Korea successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that appeared capable of hitting Alaska, also of hitting Hawaii. And the fear is that one day, North Korea might be capable of strapping a nuclear warhead onto that missile. Alaska Public Media's Zachariah Hughes has been monitoring the response in the 49th state.

ZACHARIAH HUGHES, BYLINE: Fairbanks, Alaska, seems safe enough, nearly 400 miles into the state's vast interior. But resident Henry Cole still feels unsettled.

HENRY COLE: They can now get me. And so that's what makes me angry.

HUGHES: Cole believes the Fairbanks area could make a decent target if North Korea's successful missile test ever turned into an attack on the 49th state. The city of some 32,000 people has the Trans-Alaska Pipeline running through it and supports two military bases. Cole doesn't think the North Korean regime is very likely to start shooting toward the area, but he says he's frustrated by mischances at a diplomatic solution.

COLE: There have been opportunities to either act directly or to work with China, work with Japan, work with South Korea. And now, you know, they're sitting there with a big enough stick to reach out and hit us.

HUGHES: But Cole isn't hitting the panic button. In fact, when we spoke on the Fourth of July, he was headed outside to grill bacon-wrapped sausages. Statewide, there were no runs on stores or major signs of panic. Military and police spokespeople say they have not been swamped by frantic calls from the public, and there are no changes to emergency response plans that are already on the books. To Alaskans, North Korea's missile developments in recent years can seem pretty turn-of-the-screw. Ethan Berkowitz is the mayor of Anchorage, the state's largest city, which would presumably be a main target for any hostile missile strike.

ETHAN BERKOWITZ: I mean, the reason why Alaskans are responding the way we have is because there's no appreciable change in the threat level.

HUGHES: Military threats are not new for Alaska. During the Cold War, the possibility of a missile attack from the Soviet Union was close by. Just this spring, Air Force fighter jets were scrambled five times to intercept Russian military planes flying toward the coastline. Timing may also have muted the response. Charles Wohlforth is a newspaper columnist who hosts a public radio show about exploring the outdoors. He says on a national holiday when weather was beautiful, few Alaskans would be focused on the news. He himself was at a small town parade in Kachemak Bay.

CHARLES WOHLFORTH: Somebody said, hey, I heard that Korea tested this ICBM. And conversation didn't really go any further because everybody's out in the sunshine and watching the fish toss.

HUGHES: He says in general, political life in Alaska takes a back seat during the height of summer.

WOHLFORTH: You know, once the fish start running, politics kind of - all the air goes out of it and (laughter) people stop paying attention.

HUGHES: Many people stay in Alaska in order to live a certain way, Wohlforth says. And in the summer, for a lot of residents that means being outdoors, away from the worries of a turbulent world. For NPR News, I'm Zachariah Hughes in Anchorage.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SHANGHAI RESTORATION PROJECT'S "SPRING IN A SMALL TOWN")

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