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.