AGANA, Guam -- When the people of Guam say their island is 'the largest nuclear target in the world,' it almost sounds like they're bragging.
This tiny North Pacific island is every general's dream.
The mothers of Guam have never protested the presence of nuclear weapons by chaining themselves to the fences surrounding Anderson Air Force Base or the Guam Naval Station.
There have been only two anti-nuclear demonstrations that anyone can remember. Ten people showed up at the first, 50 at the second.
With strong local opposition to the stockpiling of nuclear weapons in both Japan and the Philippines, many people believe the United States is putting most of its Pacific-based nuclear eggs in the basket called Guam.
When asked about the presence of nuclear weapons, Rear Adm. Bruce DeMars, commander of U.S. Naval Forces in the Marianas, gives the standard Pentagon reply: 'I can neither confirm nor deny that there are nuclear weapons here.'
The people of Guam say they do not need confirmation -- several times a month they can watch convoys carrying nuclear weapons move across the island.
'They stop all the traffic but that's about all they do -- no big fuss,' said one resident.
The presence of the nuclear arsenal creates little stir because, for the people of Guam, the military is their bread and butter.
'We're not as vocal on the nuclear issue as people in other parts of the United States because we have a lot of faith in the U.S.A.,' said Sen. Carl Gutierrez, Speaker of the 17th Guam legislature.
'We still remember how U.S. troops liberated us from the terrible days of the Japanese occupation. We don't think the U.S. would put us in grave danger needlessly.
'My feeling has always been -- if Admiral DeMars is willing to sit right on top of it then I won't worry,' Gutierrez said with a grin. 'But of course he gets hazardous duty pay and I don't.'
There are at least 19 military stations on the 215-square-mile island -- the westernmost outpost of the United States -- including support facilities for the U.S. 7th Fleet, service stations for nuclear-equipped Trident submarines and missile tracking stations.
'Guam is the most essential satellite and missile tracking station between the West Coast and the U.S.S.R. and China,' said Don Farrell, a Gutierrez aide. He said the island also boasts one of the world's largest concentrations of nuclear-equipped B-52 bombers.
'This may be the largest nuclear target in the world but no one loses any sleep worrying about getting dusted in a nuclear attack,' said Farrell.
'People here think: if it happens, it happens.'
Gutierrez said the question of the dumping of nuclear wastes in the Pacific 'made us more aware of the nuclear issue.'
'But most people don't think about it or worry about it.'
DeMars has a more practical explanation -- Guam needs the military to keep its economy going.
'About $300 million a year is spent by the Air Force and Navy in Guam,' he said. 'That includes the salaries of civilian and uniformed employees, construction, what we buy locally for the messes.
'After the military, the island's biggest source of income is tourism -- and that amounts to about one-fourth of what the military puts in.'
DeMars pointed to Guam's 'strong military tradition and the genuine feeling of patriotism here -- more so than in a comparable small town in America.'
'Lots of people in authority now have served in the military,' he said. 'The economy boomed during the Vietnam War (when Guam was a forward base for B-52 bombers). The path to upward mobility here is the military.'
Of the 106,000 people counted in Guam's 1980 census, 11,500 were active duty military personnel and another 10,000 were military dependents -- about 22 percent of the population.
Guam has been a territory of the United States since 1898 and the people of Guam were granted U.S. citizenship in 1950.
Farrell believes Washington 'takes Guam for granted because Guam never squawks.'
One citizen who does squawk is David Rosario, 30, a government health educator and chairman of the 'Chamorros Grass Roots Movement,' the only organized group on Guam opposing the presence of nuclear weapons.
'This is the biggest nuclear arsenal in the Pacific,' said Rosario. 'We're a sitting duck here. We want them to move all the nuclear stuff out.'
Rosario thinks Washington views Guam as a sacrificial lamb.
'Washington says Guam is important to the defense of the United States,' Rosario said. 'But they never say it is important to the defense of the people of Guam.
'When the Japanese came in 1941, they didn't try to defend Guam. They can't defend Guam because it's too far away.'
Rosario said World War II underlines his contention that, in the case of war, Guam would be 'one of the first places to go.'
On Dec. 8, 1941, Japanese planes bombed Guam -- an attack launched simultaneously with that on Pearl Harbor on the other side of the International Dateline where it was still Dec. 7.
Two days later, 5,500 Japanese troops invaded and occupied the island.
While most are not pushing for the military to get out, the people of Guam would like a few concessions from Washington for being so nice about it.
One is the easing of immigration restrictions to allow 'Guam only' visas that would help boost tourism on the tropical island - already a favorite honeymoon spot for Japanese.
They would also like the military to pay rent.
'One third of the island has been taken over by the military without any compensation at all,' Farrell said. 'Washington, D.C., is compensated for the space government buildings occupy by property taxes paid by the federal government.'
DeMars said the question of nuclear weapons in Guam never comes up in his regular meetings with community leaders.
'When I meet with the village commissioners, they want to talk about water and road repair,' he said.
'These people trust the military, they depend on us for their economy and we depend on them for the friendly atmosphere. I know of no other place so apolitical. I would be astounded if they tried to make this a nuclear-free area. They are a very polite, accommodating people.
'In relation to the rest of Micronesia, this is a 'have' society - because the military decided it was a strategic place and pumped money into it,' DeMars said.
'The people here are not dumb. They are not going to kill the goose that lays the golden egg -- and they are Americans.'