America’s Overseas Military Bases: The 51st State

The true American Flag?
The true American Flag?

W.J. Astore

As David Vine reports for TomDispatch.com, the U.S. has roughly 800 military bases in foreign countries. Maintaining these bases costs upwards of $100 billion each year, more than the federal government spends on U.S. education.

The sheer extent and cost of these bases got me to thinking.  Each base is basically a “little America,” with a few of those bases being large enough to constitute an American city. If we can envision them collectively, would they not constitute America’s 51st state?  But instead of adding one more star to the American flag, we’d have to add a white Pentagon to the field of blue to represent the controlling interest of “base world,” our 51st state.

Fifty stars and one Pentagon: Or, if you prefer, 51 stars arranged in the shape of a Pentagon.

Sound crazy?  Not when you consider “base world’s” population, its corporate interests, its influence on American politics, and its leading role in American foreign policy. “Base world” is at least as significant to U.S. interests as real states like Wyoming. We really should have two U.S. senators elected from “base world.”  Then again, they’re not really needed, since all 100 of our current U.S. senators represent the Pentagon (as long as the Pentagon keeps funneling money to their respective states, of course).

We have all these foreign bases because America needs them to protect our far-flung national interests against evil-doers.  Right? Let’s think about these bases for a moment, the influence they wield, and the image they present of America.  After all, for many foreigners, the USA = base world.  What they know of America is represented by our military facilities and our troops.  Most of our troops are decent individuals; believe me, I’ve known a lot of them.  But there’s a reason why the Third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids the quartering of troops in American households.

Ever been around a major military base in the USA?  Often it’s easy to find them. Look for pawn shops, strip clubs, tattoo parlors, payday loan shops, and predatory car dealers. And if you think such “attractions” are a little sordid, perhaps you best not go overseas. This may surprise a few people, but young troops overseas are not always chaste and sage ambassadors of democracy.  America’s “base world” is often not pretty, as young troops look for cheap suits and cheaper women, among other “bennies” (benefits) of an overseas deployment.

Statement of the obvious: Young troops of any nationality misbehave, especially when abroad.  And that’s how many foreigners come to know America: through the misbehavior of our young troops from “base world.”

And here’s another point about “base world” that’s as obvious as it’s rarely made: How many Americans would like it if foreign troops had major military facilities near or within our cities?  Perhaps some Russians or Saudis or Iranians in LA and Chicago and NYC.  Because those “allies” would be “protecting” us with their bases on American soil.  Right?  Let’s add some foreign fighter jets into the mix, and perhaps some aerial drones as well.  Surely we can trust our allies and their jets armed with bombs above our heads — right?

Incredibly expensive, often counterproductive, and sometimes disruptive, America’s “base world” needs to be downsized dramatically.  If you truly want to shrink government, don’t start with your local post office.  Start with America’s mega military bases overseas.

9 thoughts on “America’s Overseas Military Bases: The 51st State

  1. I’m confident that as a brilliant financier/businessman (cough! cough!) President ‘The Donald’ will see the wisdom of downsizing the US military. Probably will be one of his first priorities! 🙂

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  2. The benefit from closing almost all of the 800 odd empire forts — oops, I do not know who typed that business about empire, because all I meant to say is US military bases on foreign soil — is substantial. The world would be a better place, and plutocrats and their paid Congressional lackeys would have to be creative for a change in their methods of fleecing American taxpayers. That said, I’m not sure there is anything I would trade for the three years I spent home ported in Gaeta, Italy, aboard the 6th Fleet flagship.

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  3. To illustrate the absurdity briefly of my shipment overseas back in 74-75 in USAFE Azores, Portugal ” Lajes Vegas” Field, MAC, Military Airlift Command The Army (Coast Guard) had the only assigned Base Boat, the Navy the only permanently based Aircraft a Squadron of P-3 Orion Sub-chasers, and us in the Air Force the only Ground Troops. I guess we were the Army, or Marines take your pick…At the time we in the Air Police were armed to the teeth due to paranoia that the local Portuguese populace would attack/ take over one of our ammo dumps, or JP- 4 Tank farms due to their upcoming elections on whether they were going to become a Socialist, or Democratic form of Gov’t…Still it was my best assignment when I was in.In regard to the seedier part of society, or more sketchy elements brought in by said Bases the only thing missing in my Hometown of Brockton, Ma. is the Base!!

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    1. My deployment period was Aug ’76 – Aug ’79. 6Flt USN personnel were prohibited from wearing civvies while on liberty, but the only hostile force we were briefed about (Red Brigade and other terrorist groups were considered an equal threat to CONUS terrorist outfits who phoned in bomb threats before we left Norfolk and received the same attention — i.e. nearly nil) and structured our ops around were the Soviets.

      My life was two weeks of at sea ops with TF 6.0 every summer, and an average of two weeks a month the rest of the year cruising from Med port to Med port for multiple days of liberty call while the Admiral ambassadored for nation and NATO.

      A few sailors did not adapt well to years of long distance from home and family. Two, burdened with divorce notices and other separation issues, jumped overboard. One of them was recovered. I saw him on my way back to the States in a base chow hall in Rota eatin dinner with his hard labor cohort. The rest of us knew we had a damned good thing going, a highly favorable amount of exotic locale vacation time per duty ratio.

      Then there were the sailors on the sub tender ported in Naples who worked six 10’s and often more. Luck of the draw.

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      1. I am lsnrchrd.1 who replied to philastore, signature Anonymous

        I must have been logged off yesterday when my iPad updated the OS. I’ll take some time to figure out where to log back in here in a bit. This note is just to clarify it is I who responded to Phil.

        I noticed I didn’t explain the reason we wore civvies ashore and were discouraged from going in uniform, which relates somewhat to the mission Phil’s unit was briefed on. We were informed that political factions within many Med littoral countries where 6th Flt historically made routine port calls were plenty riled up about US SE Asian policy, kidnapping to achieve political goals was a frequently used tactic at the time, and the idea was to minimize target opportunity for radical actors who would kidnap or incite mob violence against highly visible targets, etc. Crewmembers used to say that yeah, makes some sense, but we still debark on liberty call in rough port areas in large cities where criminal activity is high, and drift back to the ship in darkness at all hours of the night when the bad guys are out in force plying their criminal trade, so …

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    2. Interesting! In that time period, Portugal’s last colonies on African continent (Angola and Mozambique) had risen up to claim independence, with domestic repercussions of a near-revolutionary situation in the “mother” country. Doubtless the US stance on this was to prefer the “stability” of the fascistic regime that had long ruled Portugal at that point.

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  4. Another thought: When American troops are deployed overseas, they typically get a skewed view of foreigners. If these foreigners are “the enemy,” they are often depersonalized and lumped together, which isn’t surprising. But even at peace and when interacting with allies, U.S. troops can get a jaded view of foreigners. Troops are warned not to trust foreigners, who are out to get them or rob them or cheat them and so on. Young American troops often stay almost entirely on base or close to it, never really interacting with local people in a “normal” or unregulated way.

    True story: a friend of mine assigned to Europe met a guy who’d rarely ventured off base throughout his assignment. My friend took him to several sites in his final month or so of deployment — the guy said to my friend, “Why haven’t I done more of this in the time I’ve been here?”

    In a strange way, a foreign assignment or two might isolate American troops even more, or convince them the American way is the only way because they’ve never truly encountered, and come to understand, other ways — how could they, when they inhabited the “Little Americas” formed by and around our overseas bases?

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