A year or two ago, I reviewed David Vine’s book on the history of US military bases around the world. That book, titled Base Nation, explored and explained the effects US military bases have on the people, ecology and politics of the places they are located. In a manner similar to that found in towns where state and federal prisons are built, US military bases mutate the previously existing economy to one that is primarily dependent on the military base. Like those prisons, the bases become major employers of the civilians in the region, while also creating a private economy of shops, car dealers, loan sharks, banks and rental agencies dependent on the continued presence (and hoped-for expansion) of said institutions. This, in turn, changes the politics and culture of the towns dependent on the base or prison.
Vine’s more recent book, titled The United States of War A Global History of America’s Endless Conflicts, from Columbus to the Islamic State, examines the role Pentagon bases around the world play in how and where the United States decides to go to war. In addiiton to providing a history of US wars, it is Vine’s well-supported contention that the plethora and the placement of these bases has not only made war more likely, they have made it easier for those who manage US wars. Furthermore, as Vine’s history makes clear, the placement of bases near potential profit-making resources provides a clear warning to other nations to leave those resources alone unless they want war.
Vine begins his history of the US warfare state before the US nation’s inception. In other words, he accurately defines what some historians euphemistically call the westward expansion as the beginning of US colonialism. Picking up from where the European settlers left off when the US war for independence ended, the US military began its own march westward, killing the indigenous folks they couldn’t chase off and stealing the land they lived on. Sometimes it was the military that came first, but more often it was the military that followed so-called settlers into those lands to fight off the people the settlers had displaced. Either way, the process ensured and enabled the ongoing theft of indigenous lands all the way to the Pacific Coast. That land which wasn’t stolen by US settlers was either taken by force or bought from another colonizer what had no right to sell it (Louisiana Purchase comes to mind).
What are colloquially known as the Indian wars continued for many decades. Not even the US civil war interrupted them. Nor did a US invasion of Mexico or a number of interventions in Latin America, the Caribbean, the shores of Tripoli and the Philippines. Instead, each of these conflicts convinced Washington of the righteousness of its pursuit of dominance. Once the world wars of the twentieth century had ended the United States found itself in a better position than ever to jump forward in fulfillment of that pursuit. Only the Soviet Union stood in its way, with China following soon thereafter. The Soviet Union is no more, but the nation of Russia remains a threat to US hegemony. So does China. One could argue quite reasonably that with both nations operating a version of a capitalist economy, that danger is greater than when both economies were attempting some version of socialism.
The Pentagon remains determined to take over the world and is willing to improvise to achieve that goal. Vine’s text provides numerous examples of such improvisation; perhaps the fundamental one began after World War Two, when many colonial nations demanded their independence. Naturally, the colonial nations of Europe were hesitant to make this change, fearing their loss of income, power and prestige. France went to war in Algeria and Vietnam to prevent the loss of those colonies. Meanwhile, Washington devised a more profitable means to maintain power over the former colonies. The Ghanaian revolutionary Kwame Nkrumah called this means neo-colonialism. In his book, Neocolonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, Nkrumah describes the objective of neocolonialism: “to achieve colonialism in fact while preaching independence.” He also calls out the US as the greatest practitioner of these politics.
Neocolonialism is different now and may not describe exactly the world situation like it did a few decades ago. However, imperialism remains and the US remains the world’s biggest and most dangerous imperial power. Furthermore, its never-ending war on the people of the world continues unabated. This is despite apparent defeats in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. With over nine hundred military installations spread around the globe and no seeming will to close those installations, one can’t help but wonder where the next big conflict will begin. Although The United States of War does not tell the reader that, it does make it quite clear that war on other peoples and nations is the defining element of the United States, its past, its present and probably it future. It’s a very tall order, but Vine makes it clear that preventing US wars overseas begins by closing US bases overseas.