May 22, 2013
Chalmers Johnson on the Cost of Empire
Posted on May 15, 2009
The essay by Ayse Gul Altinay and Amy Holmes, “Opposition to the U.S. Military Presence in Turkey in the Context of the Iraq War,” is important for three reasons. First, there is very little published on the bases in Turkey; second, Incirlik Air Base on the outskirts of Adana, Turkey, is the largest U.S. military facility in a strategically vital NATO ally; and third, the decision on March 1, 2003, of the Turkish National Assembly not to deploy Turkish forces in Iraq nor to allow the United States to use Turkey as an invasion route into Iraq was one of the Bush administration’s greatest setbacks. Public opinion polls in January 2003 revealed that 90 percent of Turks opposed U.S. imperialism against Iraq and 83 percent opposed Turkey’s cooperating with the United States. Nonetheless, major U.S. newspapers either ignored or trivialized Turkey’s opposition to U.S. war plans.
Altinay is a professor of anthropology at Sabanci University, Turkey, and the author of “The Myth of the Military Nation: Militarism, Gender, and Education in Turkey” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). Holmes is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the Johns Hopkins University and has written extensively on American bases in Germany and Turkey.
Turkey is not an easy place to do research on American bases. Some 41 percent of bilateral agreements between the U.S. and Turkey between 1947 and 1965 were secret. It was not known that the U.S. had stationed missiles on Turkish territory until the U.S. promised to remove them in return for the USSR’s withdrawing its missiles from Cuba. Incirlik became even more central to U.S. strategy after 1974. In that year, Turkey invaded Cyprus and the United States imposed an arms embargo on its ally. As a result, Turkey closed all 27 U.S. bases in the country except for one, Incirlik. As Altinay and Holmes write, “It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of the Incirlik Air Base for U.S. power projection in the Middle East, particularly since the early 1990s; for more than a decade, the entire Iraq policy of the United States hinged on Incirlik.”
My choice of the best article in the Lutz volume is Kozue Akibayashi’s and Suzuyo Takazato‘s “Okinawa: Women’s Struggle for Demilitarization.” The persecution of the native population of the island of Okinawa, Japan’s most southerly and poorest prefecture, by the American occupiers and the Japanese government since at least the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 has been told often and is reasonably well known in mainland Japan and among the U.S. armed forces. Akibayashi and Takazato expertly retell the essence of the story here, but what makes the article a standout is their emphasis on the mistreatment of Okinawan women and girls and their theoretically sophisticated conclusions.
Akibayashi is a researcher at the Institute for Gender Studies of Ochanomizu University in Tokyo. Takazato is one of the best-known activists in the struggle of Okinawan women to escape the threat of sexual violence by American military personnel. She is an elected member of the City Council in Naha, the capital of Okinawa, and one of the founders of Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, which was created in the wake of the gang rape on Sept. 4, 1995 of a 12-year-old Okinawa schoolgirl by two U.S. Marines and a sailor. The purpose of Takazato’s organization was to prevent a recurrence of attacks by the U.S. military on Okinawan women and to protect the young victim of Sept. 4 from unwanted publicity. The organization subsequently created the Rape Emergency Intervention Counseling Center in Okinawa, and has worked to end the U.S. military occupation of the island chain. Unfortunately, despite heroic efforts to get American military commanders to enforce discipline among their troops and strong representations to the Japanese government to take an interest in the plight of the Okinawans, little has changed. This has led Akibayashi and Takazato to two significant conclusions.
(1) “Integral elements of misogyny infect military training. …The military is a violence-producing institution to which sexual and gender violence are intrinsic. … The essence of military forces is their pervasive, deep-rooted contempt for women, which can be seen in military training that completely denies femininity and praises hegemonic masculinity.”
(2) “The OWAAMV [Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence] movement illustrates from a gender perspective that ‘the protected,’ who are structurally deprived of political power, are in fact not protected by the militarized security policies; rather their livelihoods are made insecure by these very policies. The movement has also illuminated the fact that ‘gated’ bases do not confine military violence to within the bases. Those hundred-of-miles-long fences around the bases are there only to assure the readiness of the military and military operations by excluding and even oppressing the people living outside the gated bases.”
These two propositions—misogyny in the official education of American troops and hypocrisy in describing the benefits to locals of foreign military bases—are significant. I believe that they should inform future research on the American empire around the world to see if they can be verified in many different contexts and to further develop their various implications. Meanwhile, these erudite essays should cause Americans to reflect on the nature of U.S. imperialism just at the point where it is most probably starting to decline due to economic constraints and popular exhaustion with the wars and deaths it has caused.
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