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The Bases of Empire


When I encourage people to throw away their televisions and newspapers in favor of reading books, I think a lot of times they imagine that what they’d get would be a different angle on the same topics. After all, the stories in the news are just the stories in the news, the only possible difference is what spin you put on them, right?

But I just read a great book, and not the first, on a topic that as far as I know has never made it onto U.S. television or into any substantive series in any U.S. newspaper, or been an issue in any presidential or congressional election campaign. And yet it deals with one of our largest government programs and one of the primary ways in which the rest of the world knows about or comes into contact with our country. It explains both the nouveau-nazi usage of the term ‘Homeland’ and those announcements you see during football games when they thank members of the U.S. military for watching from 177 nations. Of course I’m talking about the thousand military bases that the United States maintains in other people’s countries all over the world.

The Bases of Empire: The Global Struggle Against U.S. Military Posts,” a collection edited by Catherine Lutz, has the potential to open American eyes to both the empire they pay for and permit, and to the world’s responses to it. Included in this book is an overview of the empire of bases, and a detailed look at several parts of the world, starting with Latin America and the Caribbean, where the U.S. government’s driving mission is the maintenance and expansion of bases, and where communism has been replaced as an excuse by drugs as much as by terrorism.

Each chapter provides a history as well as the current state of affairs, and in the section on Europe we learn about successful struggles from decades past to oppose bases and the deployment of nuclear weapons. The section on Iraq could have been written about Afghanistan as well. A primary purpose of those wars has been and is the establishment of permanent U.S. military bases in those countries — a fact which makes the pretense by U.S. peace activists that those wars are ending and that all troops are leaving Iraq next year so painfully out of touch with reality.

Turning to the Philippines, we see another model of successful resistance, understanding that such successes are always incomplete and temporary. In fact, we read about the counter-attack by the empire which includes a massive program of assassination targeting activist leaders in our former, or current, colony. In the story of Diego Garcia, but also in a portion of the chapter on Hawaii, we see the colonialist attitudes of our government in sharp relief. We want islands. Those islands have people on them. We’ll just remove those people. And yet those people find a way to begin pushing back, and they share their strategies globally.

Puerto Rico kicked the U.S. military out of Vieques (communism was not replaced by a convincing enemy in this case) and helped advance the use of environmental concerns in the anti-bases movement, but the people of Puerto Rico still do not have the use of their land. The peace movement that we all imagine failed in 2003 not only persuaded the United Nations to deny the Iraq War legality, but in Turkey it denied the United States the use of its bases there. This was an anti-bases movement that became a successful anti-war movement, and yet the campaign to close the bases continues. The same can be said of the Czech Republic, which has successfully refused to accept a new U.S. base since this book was put together.

In the chapter on Okinawa and elsewhere in the book, and certainly in my own experience in Italy, we see the anti-bases movement being led by women. This book suggests that a woman’s perspective is more strongly opposed to militarism than a man’s. Sadly, this seems to be true only in nations that have been less militarized and where women have been more severely suppressed. Where militarism is fully accepted, and where women’s rights include the right to join in the killing, women seem to do so. Certainly women in the United States Congress are happy to fund the empire and its wars. These are my own observations, but they fit with the lesson of this book, which is that an anti-bases movement must oppose militarism and nothing less.

In fact, the empire in many cases wants the discussion to be about environmental impact, because a site that is deemed environmentally problematic can be replaced with a different site in the same country. For that matter, however, when bases are denied in Ecuador, the United States just builds more bases in Colombia. Just like the wars that expand the empire of bases, the empire itself is expanding under the peace-prize president. A truly global effort will be needed to shut it down, and that effort will need significant support within the Homeland. This can be done, can be done nonviolently, and can be done in a way that benefits us all. But Americans don’t even know it’s needed. Americans don’t even know that 9-11 was, in part, a response to bases in Saudi Arabia. And, unless they start reading books, Americans will not know that the next violent attack is responding to anything or that it could have been prevented.

DAVID SWANSON is the author of Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union by Seven Stories Press. He can be reached at:



David Swanson wants you to declare peace at  His new book isWar No More: The Case for Abolition.

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