The United States spends about five times what China does on its military. And it spends more just on its military bases in other people’s countries than any country other than itself or China spends on its entire military. The United States keeps troops in almost every country on earth, including in 800 to 1,000 major military bases outside the United States. The rest of the world’s nations combined (most of them U.S. allies and weapons customers) keep a couple of dozen foreign bases total. Imperialism is a uniquely U.S. illness, although everybody suffers the damage.
Ireland is a nation legally bound to maintain neutrality but actively assisting in the crimes of U.S. wars. This coming 11/11 is Armistice Day 100, and while Trump has been dissuaded from holding a weapons parade in Washington, he’s apparently headed for France and Ireland. Come on, France, put the weapons away! Don’t welcome fascists! Come on, Ireland! You can scare him off! Threaten to arrest him!
“We Serve Neither King nor Kaiser, But Ireland,” it said 100 years ago on the facade of Liberty Hall in Dublin as the Irish successfully refused to be drafted into a British war. “We Welcome Neither President Nor Imperial Buffoon” might be a good new banner to promote a Trump-free Ireland.
Within days of Trump’s possible visit, and of worldwide celebrations of peace and the movement to abolish all war on Armistice Day 100, I’ll be taking part, along with people from all over the globe, in a conference at Liberty Hall on November 16-18 to discuss efforts to close down U.S. and NATO military bases.
If you’re like most people in the United States, you have a vague awareness that the U.S. military keeps lots of troops permanently stationed on foreign bases around the world. But have you ever wondered and really investigated to find out how many, and where exactly, and at what cost, and to what purpose, and in terms of what relationship with the host nations?
Some 800 bases with hundreds of thousands of troops in some 70 nations, plus all kinds of other “trainers” and “non-permanent” exercises that last indefinitely, maintain an ongoing U.S. military presence around the world for a price tag of at least $100 billion a year.
Why they do this is a harder question to answer, but when Trump, of all people, vaguely gestured toward the remote possibility of allowing peace and reunification in Korea, the United States Congress immediately and indignantly jumped in to save us all from such a calamity, forbidding the removal of U.S. troops from Korea.
U.S. media consumers learn about the removal of the entire population of the island of Diego Garcia to facilitate the construction of a U.S. military base on their home through reports that overwhelmingly stress the “strategic” necessity of the base. (This is a case before the International Court of Justice this week.)
Even if you think there is some reason to be able to quickly deploy thousands of U.S. troops to any spot on earth, airplanes now make that as easily done from the United States as from Korea or Japan or Germany or Italy or Diego Garcia. That’s clearly not a complete explanation of the motives behind U.S. base world.
It costs dramatically more to keep troops in other countries, and while some base defenders make a case for economic philanthropy, the evidence is that local economies actually benefit little — and suffer little when a base leaves. Neither does the U.S. economy benefit, of course. Rather, certain privileged contractors benefit, along with those politicians whose campaigns they fund. And if you think military spending is unaccountable at home, you should check out bases abroad where it’s none too rare to have security guards employed purely to guard cooks whose sole job is to feed the security guards. The military has a term for any common SNAFU, and the term for this one is “self-licking ice cream.”
The bases, in many cases, generate an enormous amount of popular resentment and hatred, serving as motivations for attacks on the bases themselves or elsewhere — famously including the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Bases around the borders of Russia and China are generating new hostility and arms races, and even proposals by Russia and China to open foreign bases of their own. Currently all non-U.S. foreign bases in the world total no more than 30, with most of those belonging to close U.S. allies, and not a single one of them being in or anywhere near the United States, which would of course be considered an outrage.
Many U.S. bases are hosted by brutal dictatorships. An academic study has identified a strong U.S. tendency to defend dictatorships where the United States has bases. A glance at a newspaper will tell you the same. Crimes in Bahrain are not equal to crimes in Iran. In fact, when brutal and undemocratic governments currently hosting U.S. bases (in, for example, Honduras, Aruba, Curaçao, Mauritania, Liberia, Niger, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Mozambique, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Qatar, Oman, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Georgia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Thailand, Cambodia, or Singapore) are protested, there is a pattern of increased U.S. support for the government, which makes eviction of the U.S. bases all the more likely should the government fall, which fuels a vicious cycle that increases popular resentment of the U.S. government. The U.S. began building new bases in Honduras shortly after the 2009 coup.
The smaller bases that don’t house tens of thousands of troops, but secretive death squads or drones, also have a tendency to make wars more likely. The drone war on Yemen that was labeled a success by President Obama has helped fuel a larger war.
The U.S. government’s pursuit of domination and conquest once built bases in Native Americans’ lands, and now in many other places referred to as “Indian territory.” In the 20th century, U.S. imperialism went global. When FDR visited Pearl Harbor (not actually part of the United States) on July 28, 1934, the Japanese military expressed apprehension. General Kunishiga Tanaka wrote in the Japan Advertiser, objecting to the build-up of the American fleet and the creation of additional bases in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands (also not part of the United States): “Such insolent behavior makes us most suspicious. It makes us think a major disturbance is purposely being encouraged in the Pacific. This is greatly regretted.”
Then, in March 1935, Roosevelt bestowed Wake Island on the U.S. Navy and gave Pan Am Airways a permit to build runways on Wake Island, Midway Island, and Guam. Japanese military commanders announced that they were disturbed and viewed these runways as a threat. So did peace activists in the United States. By the next month, Roosevelt had planned war games and maneuvers near the Aleutian Islands and Midway Island. By the following month, peace activists were marching in New York advocating friendship with Japan. Norman Thomas wrote in 1935: “The Man from Mars who saw how men suffered in the last war and how frantically they are preparing for the next war, which they know will be worse, would come to the conclusion that he was looking at the denizens of a lunatic asylum.” The Japanese attacked Wake Island four days after attacking Pearl Harbor.
Supposedly World War II has ended. Why have the troops never come home? Why have they continued to spread their forts into “Indian Territory,” until the U.S. has more foreign bases than any other empire in history, even as the era of conquering territory has largely ended, even as a significant segment of the population has ceased thinking of “Indians” and other foreigners as subhuman beasts without rights worthy of respecting?
One reason, well-documented by David Vine in his book Base Nation, is the same reason that the huge U.S. base at Guantanamo, Cuba, is used to imprison people without trials. By preparing for wars in foreign locations, the U.S. is often able to evade all kinds of legal restrictions — including on labor and the environment, not to mention prostitution. GIs occupying Germany referred to rape as “liberating a blonde,” and the sexual disaster area surrounding U.S. bases has continued to this day, despite the decision in 1945 to start sending families to live with soldiers — a policy that now includes shipping each soldier’s entire worldly possessions including automobiles around the world with them, not to mention providing single-payer healthcare and twice the spending on schooling as the national average back home. Prostitutes serving U.S. bases in South Korea and elsewhere are often virtually slaves. The Philippines, which has had U.S. “help” as long as anyone, provides the most contractor staff for U.S. bases, cooking , cleaning, and everything else — as well as likely the most prostitutes imported into other countries, such as South Korea.
The most isolated and lawless base sites include locations from which the U.S. military evicted the local population. These include bases in Diego Garcia, Greenland, Alaska, Hawaii, Panama, Puerto Rico, the Marshall Islands, Guam, the Philippines, Okinawa, and South Korea — with people evicted as recently as 2006 in South Korea.
During World War II the U.S. Navy seized the small Hawaiian island of Koho’alawe for a weapons testing range and ordered its inhabitants to leave. The island has been devastated. In 1942, the U.S. Navy displaced Aleutian Islanders. President Harry Truman made up his mind that the 170 native inhabitants of Bikini Atoll had no right to their island in 1946. He had them evicted in February and March of 1946, and dumped as refugees on other islands without means of support or a social structure in place. In the coming years, the United States would remove 147 people from Enewetak Atoll and all the people on Lib Island. U.S. atomic and hydrogen bomb testing rendered various depopulated and still-populated islands uninhabitable, leading to further displacements. Up through the 1960s, the U.S. military displaced hundreds of people from Kwajalein Atoll. A super-densely populated ghetto was created on Ebeye.
On Vieques, off Puerto Rico, the U.S. Navy displaced thousands of inhabitants between 1941 and 1947, announced plans to evict the remaining 8,000 in 1961, but was forced to back off and — in 2003 — to stop bombing the island. On nearby Culebra, the Navy displaced thousands between 1948 and 1950 and attempted to remove those remaining up through the 1970s. The Navy is right now looking at the island of Pagan as a possible replacement for Vieques, the population already having been removed by a volcanic eruption. Of course, any possibility of return would be greatly diminished.
Beginning during World War II but continuing right through the 1950s, the U.S. military displaced a quarter million Okinawans, or half the population, from their land, forcing people into refugee camps and shipping thousands of them off to Bolivia — where land and money were promised but not delivered.
In 1953, the United States made a deal with Denmark to remove 150 Inughuit people from Thule, Greenland, giving them four days to get out or face bulldozers. They are being denied the right to return.
Between 1968 and 1973, the United States and Great Britain exiled all 1,500 to 2,000 inhabitants of Diego Garcia, rounding people up and forcing them onto boats while killing their dogs in a gas chamber and seizing possession of their entire homeland for the use of the U.S. military.
The eviction of the people of Palestine through the creation and constant militarization of Israel is in many ways parallel to these other instances of U.S. military base construction.
The South Korean government, which evicted people for U.S. base expansion on the mainland in 2006, has, at the behest of the U.S. Navy, in recent years been devastating a village, its coast, and 130 acres of farmland on Jeju Island in order to provide the United States with another massive military base.
In hundreds of other sites where the population was not evicted, it might wish it had been. Foreign bases have been environmentally disastrous. Open-air burns, unexploded weaponry, poisons leaked into the ground water — these are all commonplace. A jet fuel leak at Kirkland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M., started in 1953 and was discovered in 1999, and was more than twice the size of the Exxon Valdez spill. U.S. bases within the United States have been environmentally devastating, but not on the scale of those in some foreign lands. A plane taking off from Diego Garcia to bomb Afghanistan in 2001 crashed and sank to the bottom of the ocean with some 85 hundred-pound munitions. Even ordinary base life takes a toll; U.S. troops produce over three times the garbage each as local residents in, for example, Okinawa.
Disregard for people and the land and the sea is built into the very idea of foreign bases. The United States would never tolerate another nation’s base within its borders, yet imposes them on Okinawans, South Koreans, Italians, Filipinos, Iraqis, and others despite huge protest.
Countries have rid themselves of U.S. bases in the past. Many desperately need to do so now, and we in the United States need them to. The U.S. government’s mania for world domination hurts us as well as those whose lands are occupied. The upcoming gathering in Dublin will be an effort to unite people across borders in resistance to a rogue state that needs to be brought into the world of law and nonviolent community.