There are easy answers on both sides here, I know--but I wanted to know more than just a snide yes or a naive (or even more snide) no.
Regular readers of my blog know that I’ve been going back to school for a while now, trying to get a different degree than I did the first time around. It’s all for two reasons, really: first, I’m finally brave enough to pursue the science degree I’ve wanted since I was a child (but didn’t get because I was too afraid to take the math required), and second, I really love learning. I was one of those dorks who LOVED school, loved reading, loved writing. I still am one of those dorks.
But as much as I love school and I love learning, I realized a while back that my first time around the rodeo, I was really a very naive and ignorant student. Oh, I learned all the names and dates in history, the laws and the Constitution in government, and so forth; I had a good GPA in high school and college. But, other than in English classes (my major the first time around), I just never thought to question or challenge any of the things I learned in lecture or read in my textbooks. If I wasn’t in English class (where I learned and enjoyed the fact that you could question and argue any interpretation of a literary work if you had the textual evidence to back you up), I made no connections, assigned no blame, and never questioned the motives of our government (or the textbooks, or the teachers). Wars were always the result of some other country’s aggression, plain and simple, and--thank God!--the US was always there to step in and fight the good fight!
Yeah--I was that naive.
(I wasn’t stupid enough, however, to ever vote republican. Thank God again!)
Anyway, I’m not that naive anymore, but I still have a lot to learn, and what I’ve learned lately is what I want to share with you. In my quest to find out if everything we do really is just about oil, I’ve just finished reading Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (published 2000, updated with a 9/11-focused preface in 2002) and The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2004), the first two books in Chalmers Johnson’s American Empire Project trilogy, which ends with the ominously titled Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006). In these books, Johnson outlines the past and present of the US’s aggressive pursuit of a global empire of military bases--from Okinawa, to Latin America, to Europe, to the Middle East, and western Asia--and what this pursuit has cost us as a nation and as a society.
Johnson claims that the American empire has five “missions” in this post-Cold War world:
1. “maintaining absolute military preponderance over the rest of the world”
2. “eavesdropping on ... citizens, allies, and enemies alike” just because we can
3. “attempting to control as many sources of petroleum as possible”
4. “providing work and income for the military-industrial complex”
5. “ensuring that members of the military and their families live comfortably and are well entertained while serving abroad” (if not so well tended when they come back, because then they’ve pretty much become useless to the empire) (Sorrows, p. 153).
If you think about it, does our president really do anything other than those five things? Has any president? Whether it was taking continental land from the Native Americans or the Mexicans, or occupying Okinawa forever despite the locals’ opposition, or occupying Iraq and killing whoever gets in their way, America has always been about empire. The sad thing is that so few people realize it for what it is. There are plenty of Americans who, once the empire and all the damage it’s done were pointed out to them, would say, “So what? It SHOULD be America first, and fuck the rest of the world!” I see people like this every day, and I shake my head and wonder: if the thievery and injustice were being performed right in front of them--if they had to walk around in the cities where our empire shits on the locals and our corporations set up their sweatshops--would they really say this to the people they saw? I can only hope they wouldn't.
But there I'm talking about your every-day person--someone with no control over the empire that dominates the world in our name. What about the people in government? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked myself, Why would anyone do the things that our government officials have done—starve people, let them die, blow them up, screw them over, steal their resources—is it all just to make money? Are those billions that Cheney and Bush and all the other elite benefactors of empire have stolen—are those billions really worth selling your soul, your existence, your very humanity? Under all that devil-ness, doesn’t Dick Cheney EVER feel bad or guilty?
I read a quote the other day by someone, can’t remember who, who said when men do evil things, they have to believe they’re doing them for a good reason. Is that the answer? Or is it what Chalmers Johnson says—that in addition to the five “missions” above, our elected officials grab at every stinkin’ dollar they can and completely disregard us, our obvious wishes to get the hell out of Iraq, to end the endless wars, etc., because of “the post-Cold War discovery of our immense power, rationalized by the self-glorifying conclusion that because we have it we deserve to have it” (Sorrows, pp. 151-152)? Do they really do what they do because they think they deserve it?
So I guess I found my answer: it's not just oil. It's also all the accompanying billions, not to mention the feeling that they're winning the worldwide "who has the biggest dick?" contest. And because, Johnson says, “Wars and imperialism are Siamese twins, joined at the hip,” (Sorrows, p. 187), we never will get out of Iraq or Afghanistan, and we’ll soon be declaring war on Iran--which happens to be the only country in that entire Middle Eastern oil-rich region that we don’t have our talons into. Yet.
The worst part is that the wars are not about "winning;" I doubt that was ever in the plans. All we have to do is go in, blow up some shit, install whatever puppet “government” we choose, and then make them sign a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to protect all our troops and mercenaries and Halliburtons from any legal action by the once-sovereign nation they’re now raping and pillaging. And then BushCo sits back while certain elite people get to make (or increase) their fortunes to the tune of billions of our tax dollars. And us little folks? Well, you all know what we get.
Dr. Monkey von Monkerstein has been reading and blogging about Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, which is as good a source as any for a list of places where we’ve worked our imperial magic--all under the guise of stopping communism, containing communism, preventing the “domino theory” of communism, the “war on drugs,” “globalization,” “humanitarian aid,” “peacekeeping missions,” preemptively stopping countries with “weapons of mass destruction,” fighting the “war on terror,” or whatever other bullshit excuse the government has fed us for the last century. I read John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hitman. It's also worth a read.
So armed with this knowledge, of course I had to know more, learn more about this "empire of bases." I did a little more research, based on the sources Johnson used for Sorrows, and found the 2007 Base Stucture Report. This DoD document lists all Pentagon property--whether actually owned or just leased or rented--broken down into separate facilities, consisting of military bases plus other various airstrip areas, housing projects, dependents’ schools, support sites, and so forth. Did you know that Germany, a country roughly the size of Montana, has 287 US military facility areas within its borders? Montana has 257.
The countries with the most facilities are Germany (287), Japan (130), and South Korea (106). Johnson wrote, “It was not until World War II that our empire of bases achieved its global reach, and the United States still seems to regard its continuing occupation of the territory of its former axis foes as something akin to a natural birthright” (Sorrows, p. 189). Germany and Japan fit that bill, as does Italy, tallying 76 separate bases and facilities, the fourth most of any overseas country. South Korea earned their 100+ bases when we decided we needed to fight the communist menace of the northern half of Korea.
Note that we don’t have any bases in Vietnam.
...which reminds me: the Base Structure Report, Johnson points out, only details those facilities that the DoD acknowledges. The list of countries with military bases/facilities from the report:
United Arab Emirates
British Indian Ocean Territories (Diego Garcia)
Saint Helena (Ascension Island)
There are some obvious omissions, wouldn’t you say? Iraq is the most obvious, with known bases in Tikrit, Basra, and Baghdad. (Remember, this is supposed to be the report for 2007.) But nothing in Saudi Arabia? Nothing in, oh, say, Guam? How many other places can you think of that aren’t on that list?
- - -
If present trends continue, four sorrows, it seems to me, are certain to be visited on the United States. Their cumulative impact guarantees that the United States will cease to bear any resemblance to the country once outlined in our Constitution. First, there will be a state of perpetual war, leading to more terrorism against Americans wherever they may be and a growing reliance on weapons of mass destruction among smaller nations as they try to ward off the imperial juggernaut. Second, there will be a loss of democracy and constitutional rights as the presidency fully eclipses Congress.... Third, an already well-shredded principle of truthfulness will increasingly be replaced by a system of propaganda, disinformation, and glorification of war, power, and the military legions. Lastly, there will be bankruptcy, as we pour our economic resources into ever more grandiose military projects and shortchange the education, health, and safety of our fellow citizens....The future does not look bright.
Empires do not last, and their ends are usually unpleasant. (Sorrows, last page the number of which I don't have right now!)