This review was originally published in the Palestine Chronicle on March 22, 2010. It has been republished here with permission from the author.
The Bases of Empire – The Global Struggle against U.S. Military Posts. Ed. Catherine Lutz. New York University Press, 2009.
A book that detailed all the military posts around the world would be encyclopaedic in size and nature, for in order to be comprehensive to cover all the bases and all the impacts and affects on human culture and demographics would require a vast array of information. Thankfully that information can be obtained from choosing prime examples of military exploitation as found in The Bases of Empire edited by Catherine Lutz. Lutz’s intention is “to describe both the worldwide network of U.S military bases and the vigorous campaigns to hold the United States accountable for that damage and to reorient their countries’ security policies in other, more human, and truly secure directions.”
The truly secure position from those whose lives have been so occupied with the invasive bases would be to eliminate the bases altogether, limiting them to the U.S. ‘homeland’ – but even that has problems as Puerto Rico and Hawaii, as both are contested territories (as many sites within the ‘homeland’ probably are). The conditions presented and argued in this book provide excellent examples of the overbearing presence of U.S. military might around the world. The various authors hold mainly academic positions, but regardless all are actively involved in illuminating and clarifying the intents and purposes of military occupation.
Up until the Bush II administration the denial machine still actively denied the U.S. its rightful position among the empires of global history. Those that did accept empire usually did so with the qualifier of it being an “accidental” empire, with its main purpose being to save the people, spread democracy, and civilize/Christianize the natives. Empire is denied for various reasons, the main factor argued in is that the U.S. has no colonies and does not have an empirical land base with which to operate within. Lutz provides a very clear definition of empire as when a countries “policies aim to assert and maintain dominance of other regions. Those policies succeed when wealth is extracted from peripheral areas and redistributed to the imperial center.”
This highlights two features of the U.S. empire. First, that while it does not have colonies it does have many – hundreds, eight or nine, approaching or exceeding a thousand depending on sources – bases that dominate most of the world. The wealth extracted is not so much redistributed to a physical center as Rome, Paris, London as in older empires, but is redistributed to a more amorphous corporate base encompassing the U.S. and the European Union.
It can be argued as well that both the U.S. and EU have their own internal arrangements of ‘heartland’ and ‘hinterland’.
One of the underlying themes arising from Lutz’s introduction and inclusive within the various essays is that “corporations and the military itself as an organization have profited from bases’ continued existence, regardless of their strategic value.” Military liaisons with other countries usually are “linked with trade and other kinds of agreements, such as access to oil and other raw materials and investment opportunities.”
The idea of corporate ‘investment’ via the military is reiterated throughout the essays. The introduction by John Lindsay-Poland to “U.S. Military Bases in Latin America and the Caribbean” says the bases there “have served explicitly to project and protect U.S. government and commercial interests in the region,” and are “tangible commitments to U.S. policy priorities such as ensuring access to strategic resources, especially oil and natural gas.” Further , the bases serve “to control Latin populations and resources.” In “Iraq as a Construction Site” Tom Engelhardt argues that “American [U.S.] officials are girding for an open-ended commitment to protect the country’s oil industry.”
The obverse of this is recognized in Roland Simbulan’s essay on “…U.S. Military Activities in the Philippines” where opposition to the bases “articulate…the possibility and desire for human security and genuine development through their common opposition to neoliberal globalization.” He notes that those opposed to the U.S. military bases also “consider themselves part of the anti-corporate globalization movement as well.”
More specifically, David Vine and Laura Jeffery highlight the power of trade in conjunction with the military in their essay “Give us Back Diego Garcia.” The Chagossians exiled from Diego Garcia ended up in Mauritius, where the U.S. and the U.K have used corporate-government threats “against Mauritian sugar and textile export quotas” to sideline the Mauritian agenda at the UN. They add more generally that former colonies are constrained by political and economic power that must “confront the power of governments like the [U.S.] and the [U.K.]” The smaller the nation the more constraints apply “given their deep dependence on economic agreements with the major powers for their economic survival.” And again, the powerful can change laws to their liking and buy off opposition “with what for them are relatively small trade benefits.”
Larger nations are affected as well. Turkey’s decision to not participate in the invasion of Iraq brought forth concerns that the “price of non-cooperation was regarded as an impossible political and economic bargain for a country that relied heavily on IMF funding.” While debating the issue one of the main reference points was the “science of economics” showing that “acting alongside the USA would certainly be in the benefit of Turkey in regard to the wealth of its population.” Economics is of course far from being a science, more in the realm of mythology, and the significant factor that most arguments for the military miss have little if anything to do with global/national economics as presented by the Washington consensus. And as exemplified in the case of “Okinawa,” by Kozue Akibayashi and Suzuyo Takazato, the situation becomes one in which the occupied territory provides “a considerable amount of financial aid”, which is “a cost born by host nations to maintain the U.S. military.”
Much of it devolves from the involvement of a local elite who would lose much of their power and personal wealth if the trade arrangements were abrogated. As argued within the text as a whole, a return to the indigenous populations’ original patterns of economy would benefit the population in areas much broader than just in monetary terms. Another example of this is Hawaii. Kyle Kajihiro writes that “the militarization of [Hawaii] involved collaboration by different sets of local elites.” The “haole elite, the descendents of missionaries and business owners, leveraged the [U.S.] desire for a navel base in [Hawaii] to their advantage.”
Corporations are an underlying theme, not the main theme, yet it is an issue that arises in each of the essays examining a particular base or set of bases in a country. There can be little doubt that U.S. “free trade capitalism” operates from the strength not of U.S. economic might, but that the economic might has been gained through the use of a militarized empire to promote corporate interests.
Having made my connections to the work above, the subtitle of the text defines the greater thrust of the essayists in the book. The military bases around the world are not welcomed by the indigenous populations except for a few select elite who benefit with the financial and political power that arises from liaising with the U.S. For the majority, there is a resistance to the ongoing utilization of their land by the U.S. military. Apart from the globalization/economic arguments of the larger scale, there are many other common causes between the different protesting groups.
The losses are many in regions occupied by the U.S. military. Democracy, freedom, and equality, the main rhetorical features of U.S. arguments are all denied by the occupation forces and by the local elites that benefit from their association with them. In all cases presented, democracy has been limited, from the desires of the Okinawan people, the native Hawaiians, the citizens of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Latin America, Diego Garcia, to Turkey.
For one thing, the bases themselves create artificial divisions that would not exist if they were not there in the first place. Certainly small elements of the native population may do well, but the wealth generally stays with the elites. As in the case of Hawaii, Okinawa, and Diego Garcia, racism becomes a factor as the indigenous population is denied any credence in the face of the corporate power of the military and the local power structures.
There are other damages to people, societal structures, and the cultural and natural environments of the occupied areas. In all of the cases, the presence of the U.S. military has created social problems ranging from the abuse of women and children, through the denial of social services and a true legal system, to the overall restructuring or destruction of a society. The environment, the native lands and oceans so important to indigenous survival anywhere, suffers from toxic pollutants ranging from standard industrial and agricultural chemicals to the unique chemicals and biological weapons of the military. The focus in these essays is on ‘traditional’ weapons used in firing ranges on land and sea but also includes nuclear weapons in storage or transit and the use of depleted uranium.
The people who protest against these bases suffer from the lack of legal rights, the tendency for frontier justice in many places in Latin America and the Philippines, and the verbal and physical attacks perpetrated by the occupying forces. Since 2001, the role of terrorism has had a great impact on many of the protesters as terrorism becomes the new communism – the overall threat that is used to justify many new laws of control and the creation of outlaws – extra-judicial murder by declaring anyone opposed to the government as a terrorist. The Philippines is proposing to enact a National Identification System and an Anti Terrorism Bill “in which draconian measures are to be introduced to clamp down on critical and dissenting voices and curtail civil liberties and democratic rights.” In Hawaii, terrorism in the form of “Homeland security” names an amorphous threat and simultaneously unleashes fantasies about assault and vulnerability. Within its terms, opposition is rendered unintelligible; to oppose the security of the homeland is unthinkable….Hawaii pays a high price.”
International law obviously takes a definite hit under these conditions. Occupation of territory, environmental laws, laws about humane treatment of prisoners of war (Diego Garcia is considered to be a particular spot to which people are ‘rendered’), laws and actions of the International Criminal Court are all abrogated or avoided by the U.S. For the indigenous peoples of the Philippines, Hawaii, Diego Garcia, Latin America – for that matter all areas with U.S. military bases including the current occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan – all are subject to the U.N. declaration of indigenous rights, and are “aware of the rights to self-determination accorded to indigenous peoples under international law.” Except for the U.S. who have not signed the declaration, for obvious reasons.
One of the first steps in protesting and resisting U.S. occupation – at least for those not directly in the line of fire, literally or figuratively – is to become educated about the nature and principles that rule the world of the U.S. military occupations of foreign lands. The Bases of Empire is a well crafted study and an important contribution to the general understanding of the militarization of the globe and to specific problems as faced by individual groups. Collectively they represent a majority of the people within their regions and will need the support of as many outside voices as can understand their problems and concerns. This book contains a powerful set of ideas and well referenced information to help inform the world of the reality of U.S. militarization of the global community.