Chalmers Johnson on the Cost of Empire

Book Review
Truthdig.com, May 15, 2009
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book cover

By Chalmers Johnson

In her foreword to “The Bases of Empire: The Global Struggle Against U.S. Military Posts,” an important collection of articles on United States militarism and imperialism, edited by Catherine Lutz, the prominent feminist writer Cynthia Enloe notes one of our most abject failures as a government and a democracy: “There is virtually no news coverage—no journalists’ or editors’ curiosity—about the pressures or lures at work when the U.S. government seeks to persuade officials of Romania, Aruba or Ecuador that providing U.S. military-basing access would be good for their countries.” The American public, if not the residents of the territories in question, is almost totally innocent of the huge costs involved, the crimes committed by our soldiers against women and children in the occupied territories, the environmental pollution, and the deep and abiding suspicions generated among people forced to live close to thousands of heavily armed, culturally myopic and dangerously indoctrinated American soldiers. This book is an antidote to such parochialism.

Catherine Lutz is an anthropologist at Brown University and the author of an ethnography of an American city that is indubitably part of the American military complex: Fayetteville, N.C., adjacent to Fort Bragg, home of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School (see “Homefront, A Military City and the American Twentieth Century,” Beacon Press, 2002). On the opening page of her introduction to the current volume, Lutz makes a real contribution to the study of the American empire of bases. She writes, “Officially, over 190,000 troops and 115,000 civilian employees are massed in 909 military facilities in 46 countries and territories.” She cites as her source the Department of Defense’s Base Structure Report for fiscal year 2007. This is the Defense Department’s annual inventory of real estate that it owns or leases in the United States and in foreign countries. Oddly, however, the total of 909 foreign bases does not appear in the 2007 BSR. Instead, it gives the numbers of 823 bases located in other people’s countries and 86 sites located in U.S. territories. So Lutz has combined the foreign and territorial bases—which include American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, Johnston Atoll, the Northern Marianas Islands, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Wake Island. Guam is host to at least 30 military sites and Puerto Rico to 41 bases.

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