One of the most read articles on Occasional Planet is Gloria Bilchik’s “Military Mystery: How Many Bases Does the US Have, Anyway?” Since it was posted in January of 2011, tens of thousands have found it through Google. We’ve wondered what motivates people to search Google for the answer. I take it as a hopeful sign that at least some Americans are questioning our 865 military facilities in 46 countries and territories around the world, and the jaw dropping price we pay for supporting them—about $250 billion a year.
The late Chalmers Johnson wrote in 2010 that it’s time to pull the plug on our pathetic military empire—pathetic because we are a nation in economic decline, and the world knows it. It was true in 2010 and even more true in 2013. We can no longer afford to let billionaires use the military to control and dominate as many nations as possible for economic gain.
Johnson warns that:
The failure to begin to deal with our bloated military establishment and the profligate use of it in missions for which it is hopelessly inappropriate will, sooner rather than later, condemn the United States to a devastating trio of consequences: imperial overstretch, perpetual war, and insolvency, leading to a likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union.
Johnson claims that our massive military power (which dwarfs that of the rest of the world) is not needed for our defense, and if anything, it incites conflicts with other nations. In other words, being the biggest bully in the world, as well as the biggest arms dealer, is not keeping us safe. At home, our bloated military budget siphons off resources needed for infrastructure, education, jobs, healthcare, housing, and increasing social security, Medicaid and Medicare—things the majority need, but the 1% don’t want to pay for.
As our infrastructure crumbles, and our public resources are sold to the highest bidder, it’s time to kill the military cash cow. Perhaps contractors like Halliburton, Boeing and Raytheon can find something to do that actually contributes to the wellbeing of humanity.
Johnson offered three good reasons to liquidate our empire:
We can no longer afford our postwar expansionism.
According to a growing consensus of economists and political scientists around the world, it is impossible for the United States to continue in that role [of a global hegemon] while emerging into full view as a crippled economic power. No such configuration has ever persisted in the history of imperialism.
Johnson quotes Robert Pape of the University of Chicago:
“America is in unprecedented decline. The self-inflicted wounds of the Iraq war, growing government debt, increasingly negative current-account balances and other internal economic weaknesses have cost the United States real power in today’s world of rapidly spreading knowledge and technology. If present trends continue, we will look back on the Bush years as the death knell of American hegemony.”
Yet we the people and our elected officials refuse to admit our growing insolvency. Our immense budget deficit, at least 13% of GDP, is a direct consequence of our bloated military budget and our billionaire serving imperial adventures.
We are going to lose the War in Afghanistan and It Will Help Bankrupt Us
Johnson quotes Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, co-authors of Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story:
“If Washington’s bureaucrats don’t remember the history of the region, the Afghans do. The British used air power to bomb these same Pashtun villages after World War I and were condemned for it. When the Soviets used MiGs and the dreaded Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships to do it during the 1980s, they were called criminals. For America to use its overwhelming firepower in the same reckless and indiscriminate manner defies the world’s sense of justice and morality while turning the Afghan people and the Islamic world even further against the United States.”
In 1932, in a series of Guernica-like atrocities, the British used poison gas in Waziristan. The disarmament convention of the same year sought a ban against the aerial bombardment of civilians, but Lloyd George, who had been British prime minister during World War I, gloated: “We insisted on reserving the right to bomb niggers” (Fitzgerald and Gould, p. 65). His view prevailed.
The U.S. continues to act similarly, but with the new excuse that our killing of noncombatants is a result of “collateral damage,” or human error. Using pilotless drones guided with only minimal accuracy from computers at military bases in the Arizona and Nevada deserts, among other places, we have killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unarmed bystanders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Pakistani and Afghan governments have repeatedly warned that we are alienating precisely the people we claim to be saving for democracy.
We need to end the secret shame of our empire of bases.
Johnson’s third reason for dismantling our military empire is the least talked about: that our military personnel and contractors are allowed to rape and sexually assault women around the world with impunity. He uses Okinawa as an example, where sexual violence against women and girls by American GIs has been “out of control.”
The problem of rape has been ubiquitous around all of our bases on every continent and has probably contributed as much to our being loathed abroad as the policies of the Bush administration or our economic exploitation of poverty-stricken countries whose raw materials we covet.
Johnson explains the U.S. Status of Forces Ageements or SOFAs, which protect Americans from prosecution for crimes in host countries. He notes that in Japan, of 3,184 U.S. military personnel who committed crimes between 2001 and 2008, 83% were not prosecuted. SOFA agreements allow military personnel and military contractors accused of off-duty crimes to remain in U.S. custody while the country in question investigates. The U.S., then, moves them out the country before they can be charged.
Rape of American women within the military adds to the shame. Military women who have been raped have had tremendously difficulty bringing their attackers to justice.
The British voluntarily dismantled their empire when it became clear they simply could not afford it. Politicians in the United States, compromised by large campaign donations from military contractors, refuse to reduce our bloated military budget in any meaningful way. The real “Military Mystery” is how long it will take for the American people to question the economic viability and morality of our military empire and demand that it be dismantled.