February 1, 2007
â€˜YANKEE GO HOMEâ€™
Every now and then someone asks the question why, with the Cold War over, the United States
continues to expand its ring of eight hundred military bases around the world and camouflages these
extensions with the threadbare excuse: â€˜For security and protection.â€™
Cynics (and the number is growing) might then ask: Since the U.S. seems to have trouble
protecting its own country who or what is it protecting abroad?
People tend to come up with different answers: The bases are launching pads or
observation and missile guidance posts for U.S. military operations against those nations perceived to be
the enemies of the United States. They are a reminder to host countries the U.S. is on their territory to
protect them against enemies inside and outside their national borders, enemies U.S. intelligence will
inevitably identify for them. They are a psychological asset to remind host governments and their citizen
it is in their interest to maintain â€˜friendly relations and cooperationâ€™ with Washington and
preferably vote for those politicos who favor such friendly ties.
The truth is these bases are a modern form of colonization, a new version of the military
garrisons the ancient Romans left behind after conquering or intimidating other nations. Today the Israeli
settlements scattered all over the West Bank are examples of the same strategy: They serve Jewish
colonization of Arab territory.
Every now and then somewhere in the world an indignant part of the population rises in
protest against this American pseudo-occupation.
Such is the case in Italy at the moment where a new base (disguised as an â€˜extensionâ
€™ to an already existing base) in northern Vicenza has become a national rally cry against the 13 U.S.
bases scattered across Italy, a country with the dubious distinction of being the principal launching pad
for U.S. military action in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
The Italian protests have re-ignited anti-base movements in other European countries.
Delegations from nations hosting U.S. bases have joined the Vicenza demonstrations. Pacifists,
environmentalists and socialists are working on a joint European-wide anti-base protest movement.
In May last year the citizen of Vicenza literally woke up one morning to be told a large chunk
of the northern part of their stately city had been secretly signed away to the Pentagon three years
earlier by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and their complacent city fathers. The deal was kept under
Vicenza is no bastion of dissent, quite the contrary. One of Italyâ€™s most affluent cities it
is in the clutches of jewelers, clothing boutiques and goldsmiths all solidly rightwing and super-
conservative. Many of these already affluent business people saw the extended U.S. base as an
additional source of revenue, a consideration far more attractive then the prospect of environmental
damage, an increased crime rate and the noise factor of a new military airport near the city center, an
airport that was part of the deal for the new base.
Yet the bulk of the population, less interested in revenue and more in a better
environment, rose up in anger. And low and behold the most unlikely political allies, from neo-fascists to
northern separatists, joined their campaign. Within months populations at other U.S. bases in Italy
became active on their own or sent delegations to protest marches, not just in Vicenza but also to Rome.
In spite of this popular reaction Italyâ€™s center-left Prime Minister Romano Prodi, a
former Christian Democrat and a shrewd political juggler, decided he was more interested in U.S.
goodwill then popularity around U.S. military bases. Last month he sanctioned the base extension
offering the lame excuse he had no choice since his predecessor, the pro-American Berlusconi, had
signed the extension agreement under a still existing 1951 base accord with Washington.
Prodiâ€™s nine-party coalition government, already hanging on a wafer-thin majority, now
risks falling apart as environmentalist and leftwing parties support the â€˜stop-the-baseâ€™ clamor and
call for an end to base agreements still valid although most were signed with Washington at the end of
World War II.
In the wake of the anti-base campaign some startling facts were presented to Italians: The
U.S. 31st Munition Squadron based at camp Darby (between Livorno and Pisa) has in custody 21,000
tons of conventional weapons for air war, the biggest U.S. bomb and missile arsenal in Europe. Camp
Darby, so the Italian media reported, also supplied the â€˜special weaponsâ€™ Israel used against
Lebanon last year.
At Maddalena Navy base in Sardinia radioactive waters from U.S. nuclear submarines
contaminated the international marine park â€˜Bocche di Bonifacioâ€™ in 2005. The Berlusconi
government staunchly denied nuclear weapons were stored at Maddalena but the U.S. Congress
confirmed it. Nuclear warheads are also stored at Signorella in Sicily, now another focus of protests.
Then medical records surfaced pointing to an unnaturally high rate of cancer and malformation in newly-
born babies around U.S. bases where, so it was alleged, weapons of depleted uranium had been stored.
What galvanized the protesters even more was the statistic that each year an average
14,000 cases of sexual violence are blamed on U.S. troops stationed abroad. But under a world-wide
agreement that Washington imposes on all its â€˜alliesâ€™ American soldiers committing an offense
abroad can not be tried by foreign courts, only U.S. military courts. The example often cited is the
shocking case of a 12-year old girl raped by three soldiers on Okinawa Island in 1994. Japanese police
identified the culprits but could not arrest or try them. The three offenders went free.
Okinawa, the main U.S. military concentration in the Pacific, has 38 bases and Japanese
statistics found between 1972 and 1995 alone U.S. soldiers stationed on the island committed 4716 acts
of sexual violence. This, so police claim, is only the tip of the iceberg since the majority of molested or
assaulted Japanese women do not report attacks, too ashamed and too worried about disgracing the
honor of their family.
One recent survey by a school teacher on Okinawa found a third of his female high school
students had been sexually molested by U.S. soldiers, a violation U.S. base officers have often dismissed
as â€˜flirting, because boys will be boys.â€™
The people of Vicenza (a city already home to 2,500 U.S. servicemen at Camp Ederle)
may be fighting a losing battle against the new base (which is labeled an extension to Camp Ederle). The
new base would bring another 1,600 GIs, mainly paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, a rapid
reaction force, to their city.
The government in Italy apparently figures the protest is not worth risking bad blood with
Washington and hides now behind antiquated and anachronistic bilateral pacts whose duration has
never been quite clear.
Perhaps the campaigners can take courage from the Philippines where street protests
and a courageous Senate a decade ago refused to renew a bases treaty with the U.S. that left the
Pentagon suddenly without its major air base at Clarke and its major deep-sea port at Subic Bay in the
Needless to say a peeved Washington turned off loan taps and aid to the Philippine elite
which had benefited from U.S. handouts for generations while on the other end of the social scale
impoverished Filipino families sent daughters to work as hostesses, bar girls and masseuses for
American servicemen who often referred to these â€˜good-time girlsâ€™ as â€˜our little brown fâ€¦.
Fortunately Europe may be in a better economic position if popular indignation ever raises
enough courage to close down U.S. bases on â€˜the old continent.â€™
For the moment however the protesters may have to be content with neutralizing
Pentagon plans to extend American bases in Italy, part of a major Pentagon stratagem to station more U.
S troops in Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Pakistan, Singapore, Malaysia, India and Australia.
What for, you may well ask: To fight the elusive specter of terrorism, of course, a new type
of Cold War (this time â€˜permanentâ€™ according to Donald Rumsfeld) which requires a U.S. military
presence in all conceivable corners of the world.
Good luck, Vicenza.