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Bases of Empire - Book Review

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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, 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.

Empire 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 c 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"a cost born by host nations to maintain the U.S. military."

Much of the 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.

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Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and analyst who examines the world through a syncretic lens. His analysis of international and domestic geopolitical ideas and actions incorporates a lifetime of interest in current events, a desire to (more...)

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