The tropical island of Guam, a US territory in the western Pacific, is a keystone of American military strategy in the region.
Tourism and the growing military presence on the island are the bedrock of its economy.
Guam is an important staging post, allowing rapid access to potential flashpoints in the Koreas and in the Taiwan Strait.
The largest military installation, Andersen Air Force Base, was used by B-52 bombers during the Vietnam War in the early 1970s. Nuclear attack submarines are based on the island.
The waters off Guam are the scene of major US navy war games.
The US plans to move thousands of Marines and their dependents from the southern Japanese island of Okinawa to Guam as part of its global realignment of US forces.
Visitors from Japan are the mainstay of the tourist industry. Away from the resorts and shopping malls, coral reefs and waterfalls are among the natural attractions. But Guam’s birdlife has been decimated by the brown tree snake, accidentally introduced in the 1940s.
Guam’s diverse population includes Japanese, Chinese, and incomers from other Pacific islands. The indigenous Chamorro are a people of mixed Micronesian, Spanish and Filipino descent.
The island was settled in the second century BC. A Spanish expedition led by Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan arrived in 1521; under Spanish rule the native population was decimated by disease and the suppression of rebellions.
Guam was ceded to the US in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. The island was occupied by Japan during World War II. Many Guamanians died under the occupation before the territory was wrested from Japanese control in 1944.
After more than a century of change and development, Spain’s mark is still apparent in the Chamorro language, the cuisine, and in annual fiestas.
Guam is vulnerable to storms. Typhoons swept across the island in 2002, leaving around 35,000 people homeless.
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