U.S. Military Bases, a Force for War

By Joe Lombardo,

UNAC co-coordinator

Historians usually point to Guantanamo as the first U.S. foreign military base.  However, technically, the historians are not correct; the U.S. had bases outside its territory many years before.  There were bases built in the western area of U.S. territory before it became part of the U.S.  These were for the sole purpose of stealing land occupied by Native Americans and eventually, these bases were used to steal as much as 1/3 of Mexico’s territory.  There were also foreign military bases in Alaska, Hawaii, and Samoa prior to these areas being acquired by the U.S.

However, although there were some U.S. foreign military bases in the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century, the real expansion of U.S. foreign bases took place after World War II.  As the European and Asian countries were trying to rebuild after the war, the U.S. took on the role of the leading Imperialist power and proclaimed this period as the “American Century.”

During this time, the U.S. saw the possibility of tremendous economic growth as the former imperial powers were weakened by the war. 

After World War I, the U.S. closed bases that were used during the war and brought its troops home.  However, after World War II many of the U.S. bases in Europe, Asia and Africa remained, and so did the U.S. troops.  In fact, after World War II the soldiers who expected to be brought home but were not started a GI movement known as the “Going Home Movement.”  They organized demonstrations, demanding to be brought home. This idea of keeping the military mobilized and retaining foreign military bases after the end of WWII was due to what the U.S. capitalist system identified as the Communist threat.  The foreign military presence, along with the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were the opening salvos of the new cold war.

When the Soviet Union fell, most of its foreign bases were closed, but the number of U.S. bases, while declining slightly in the 1990’s, increased and has continued to increase to this day.

Most countries have no foreign military bases.  Around 10 countries have a few.  Russia claims 2 foreign bases in former Soviet countries.  They recently sent forces to combat terrorism in Syria and may now have addition bases there.  The UK admits to 17 foreign bases and the U.S. claims 662.  However most non-US government sources place the number of U.S. military bases at between 800 – 900, with U.S. military stationed in around 130 countries.  Today, the U.S. has 10 to 20 times the number of foreign military bases as all other countries combined.

The question is, why does any country need any foreign military bases?  Is not the military supposed to defend its own country in case of attack?  If so, then why have foreign military bases?  Although the U.S. claims their purpose is for defense, it is clear that they are, instead, intended for aggression. History bears this out.  Since the Korean War in the 1950’s, the U.S. has invaded or bombed countries 21 times.  This does not include numerous U.S. orchestrated coups or economic sanctions, which themselves have been responsible for millions of deaths. 

In the U.S. the idea of foreign military bases has become so normalized that it is accepted without question.  The question of whether or which other countries have foreign bases is never considered, nor is the question of why we need foreign military bases at all.

The cost of maintaining US bases and military abroad is estimated at $250 billion annually.  During this period of austerity in the U.S., this money could better be used for education, healthcare and other urgent human needs.  Or perhaps some of that $250 billion could be used to support the refugees flooding Europe and the Middle East as they flee U.S.-supported wars in the region.  Or perhaps the money could be given to Cuba to make up for the damage the U.S. has done by the blockade.

The presence of military bases in foreign countries has come with a cost to the host countries.  Although in some cases rent is paid and some jobs have been created, the bases themselves are often considered sovereign U.S. territory.  At some naval bases, ships bearing nuclear weapons have been docked.  Besides the possibility of a nuclear accident, the presence of the U.S. military makes the host country a potential target for enemies of the U.S. government.  Many of the U.S. bases have been environmental disasters for the host countries.  In 1992, for example, at Subic Naval Station and Clark Air Base in the Philippines, the Filipinos discovered that toxic chemicals had been dumped on the ground and into the water, or buried in landfills.  In Germany toxic waste from military bases have destroyed local ecosystems.  In Okinawa, there continues to be a movement against the expansion of the U.S. military, in part because of the rape of a 12 year old girl by three U.S. Marines.  In all there have been around 6,000 arrests of members of the U.S. military in Okinawa for rape and other offenses.  The military base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean was created by removing the entire population of that Island to another location.  Many more such examples can be cited from around the world.

Foreign military bases have also been used as black sites for holding and torturing prisoners.  At this conference we have some participants who have been involved in some of the student protests against Dean Gerald Koocher of DePaul University in Chicago who as a psychologist, assisted with the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo.

During the past several decades, the U.S. economy has become more globalized as agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA have been implemented, with others still in the pipeline.  This, in combination with ever increasing neo-liberal economic practices including privatization of government and public services, has allowed U.S. investment capital to flow throughout the world to an extent never seen before.  This has required the U.S. to seek to defend these foreign economic interests and is responsible for much of the U.S. military presence on foreign soil.   Imperialism today means economic control, and any government unwilling to go along with the program becomes an enemy of the U.S.

There are additional reasons why the U.S. military sees the need for foreign expansion.  As the ailing capitalist system struggles to survive and expand, it requires natural resources that are found throughout the world, such as gas, oil, and minerals.  Obtaining these requires cooperative governments who are willing to submit to the will of the U.S. and the desires of Wall Street.  The U.S. military is there to see that this happens.

The recent U.S. wars have been conducted under the false premise of a “war on terror.”  Since terror can not be defeated like an army can be defeated, this leads to perpetual war.  And, there are billions to be made off of war.

But, it must be said that this war on terror is basically a war against Muslim countries and Muslim people.  It is Muslims who are imprisoned at Guantanamo.  In the U.S., there are little Guantanamo prisons called CMUs or Communication Management Units.  These are special Muslim prisons where the prisoners are kept in very harsh conditions.  Hundreds of Muslims in the U.S., who have not been involved in any crime, have been rounded up and put in these prisons.  This has created an atmosphere of fear in the Muslim communities and the racist sentiment created against Muslims has been used to create support for war in the U.S.

At this conference is Maha Hilal who is the executive director of the National Coalition to Protest Civil Freedoms (NCPCF), which fights against these racist attacks against Muslims and in so doing is fighting for Peace.

The U.S. military bases and the U.S. wars and racist attacks are neither in the interest of the people of the U.S. or the people in the countries that “host” the U.S. bases.  They certainly are not in the interest of peace.  So the possibility exists for a mass international movement against them.  This conference is an important step in that direction.

Close all foreign U.S. military bases!

Close the U.S. base at Guantanamo and Return the land to the Cuban people!