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Chalmers Johnson on the Cost of Empire
Posted on May 15, 2009
Today the “abuses and usurpations” of American standing armies “include more than rape, murder, sexual harassment, robbery, other common crimes, seizure of people’s lands, destruction of property, and the cultural imperialism that have accompanied foreign armies since time immemorial. They now include terrorizing jet blasts of frequent low-altitude and night-landing exercises, helicopters and warplanes crashing into homes and schools and the poisoning of environments and communities with military toxins; and they transform ‘host’ communities into targets for genocidal nuclear as well as ‘conventional’ attacks.” When it comes to opportunism, Gerson notes that the Navy’s Indian Ocean tsunami relief operations of 2005 helped open the way for U.S. forces to return to Thailand and for greater cooperation with the Indonesian military.
John Lindsay-Poland’s essay “U.S. Military Bases in Latin America and the Caribbean” is informed by his extensive background in organizing and supporting struggles for the closure and environmental cleanup of U.S. military bases in Panama and Puerto Rico. His essay is comprehensive and historically detailed, although it appears to have been completed in late 2007 or early 2008 and some of the information has been overtaken by recent events. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has refused to renew our lease on Manta Air Base when it expires in November 2009; and the U.S. Army’s 2005 attempt to woo Paraguay flopped. After the Americans are expelled from the Manta base in November the only physical facilities of the U.S. military in South America will be in Colombia.
In 2005 and 2006, the United States tried to seduce Paraguay into giving the U.S. a permanent base by sending several hundred soldiers to provide medical assistance and dig wells. As it turned out, these ancient ploys did not work. Suspicions of the American military’s motives were aroused throughout the cone of South America, and the local population pronounced itself fully capable of digging wells unassisted by foreign troops. Lindsay-Poland notes that the “medical attention [in Paraguay] was one-time only, and … U.S. personnel handed out unlabeled medicines indiscriminately, regardless of the differences in medical conditions.”
David Heller and Hans Lammerant have contributed one of the most useful essays in the volume on “U.S. Nuclear Weapons Bases in Europe.” Information on this subject is scarce and the U.S. press is frightened of reporting what little is available for fear of raising a taboo topic. Heller has been actively involved with anti-nuclear and anti-militarist campaigns in Britain, Belgium and other European countries since the early 1990s. Lammerant has long supported the Belgian branch of War Resisters International.
They reveal that there are today still an estimated 350 to 480 free-fall B-61-type tactical nuclear weapons in the territories of the NATO allies, compared with a maximum of 7,300 land, air, and sea-based nuclear weapons based in Europe in 1971. The bombs are housed at eight air bases in six NATO countries, all of which enjoy Bechtel-installed Weapons Storage and Security Systems, type WS-3. These devices are vaults installed in the floors within a “protective aircraft shelter” and allow for the arming of bombs and aircraft inside hangars, offering high degrees of secrecy and (supposedly) security. Heller and Lammerant note that the weapons based in Europe are “secret, deadly, illegal, costly, militarily useless, politically motivated, and deeply, deeply unpopular.” Before they were all withdrawn, ground-launched nuclear missiles were based at Greenham Common and Molesworth in Britain, Comiso in Italy, Florennes in Belgium, and Wuescheim in the former West Germany. Pershing II missiles were based at Schwaebisch-Gmuend, Neu Ulm, and Waldheide-Neckarsulm in West Germany.
One of the themes stressed by Catherine Lutz as editor of this book is the prominent role played by women and women’s organizations in resisting American military imperialism over the years. All of the chapters offer details on the contributions of women to anti-base resistance activities, particularly in the case of the nuclear bases in Europe. Following the U.S. decision to station nuclear weapons at Greenham Common in the south of England, local women created “Women for Life on Earth” and maintained a constant presence in front of the base from 1981 to 2000 (even though the nuclear weapons were secretly removed in 1991).
Heller and Lammerant conclude their essay with details on the early-warning radars, anti-missile bases, military hubs to support operations in Africa, and facilities extant or being constructed at Thule in Greenland, Vardo in Denmark, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Vicenza in northern Italy. On March 17, 2009, the Czech government rejected a proposal by the Pentagon to install a U.S. military radar base in the Czech Republic because the lower house of the Czech parliament seemed certain to vote against it.
Tom Engelhardt’s contribution, “Iraq as a Pentagon Construction Site,” is a cobbled-together version of two essays first published on TomDispatch, of which Engelhardt is editor. All source citations have been removed from the Lutz version, but readers can consult the original essays—“A Basis for Enduring Relationships in Iraq,” Dec. 2, 2007, and “Baseless Considerations,” Nov. 4, 2007.
The essays are tours de force on the construction of probably permanent American military bases in occupied Iraq and of the massive fortress—- as large as the Vatican—in the Green Zone of Baghdad that is the “American Embassy.” Engelhardt’s work is a model of how to glean information from the public press on subjects that the American military is trying to keep secret. This is the best research we have to date on the bases in Iraq and the billions of dollars that flowed into the coffers of Halliburton Corp. to build them. (Truth in reporting: Engelhardt is the editor of all three of my books in the Blowback Trilogy.)
Roland G. Simbulan’s “People’s Movement Responses to Evolving U.S. Military Activities in the Philippines” is a detailed analysis of how the United States has tried to get back into its former colony after the Philippine Senate voted on Sept. 16, 1991, to close all American military facilities and ordered U.S. troops to withdraw. Simbulan is a professor at the University of the Philippines and he played an active role in the “people’s power” movement that overthrew the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and led to the 1991 rejection of the bases treaty.
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