Chalmers Johnson Interview (2007): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Last Days of the American Republic: Conversation with Chalmers Johnson, President, Japan Policy Research Institute; March 7, 2007, by Harry Kreisler

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737 Military Bases and Counting

The empire [military] bases, which you talked about in the second book, are the muscles of the empire which go out in the world and behave in the way you discovered they behaved in Okinawa, when you helped write that report. But the new element here -- it's not an idea that's necessarily original with you, but you apply it to this context -- is that when we add privatization to military Keynesianism, we get a whole new set of problems.

Yes. The thing really begins to get badly out of control. Let me stress here that there are still many Americans who have trouble with the idea that it's an empire, that we are imperialists. It's worth emphasizing that, of course, we recognize British, French, Dutch, Portuguese empires as places that rule through colonies around the world, and often involved a good deal of emigration from the home country. I'm contending that, yes, those were certainly empires, but that's not the only kind, that there was another good example of empire, and that was what the Soviet Union created in Eastern Europe at the end of World War II: satellites with foreign troops based either in the country or on the territory, integrated into the economy of the Soviet bloc and with leaders that were puppets of the Soviet regime. We do that.

Our unit of empire is the military base, of which, according to the most recent official count, the Base Structure Report, which is an unclassified Pentagon report, there are 737 around the world. Apologists for the Pentagon like to go around saying, "Oh, well, these are Marine guards in embassies." That simply isn't true. There aren't that many countries -- we certainly do not have 700 embassies around the world. These are genuine military bases with all of the problems of the local population having to live with healthy young Marines, most of whom have a good deal of racism built into them as Americans, believe that they are divinely appointed to hunt down evildoers, [and which] lead to endless bar brawls, sexually violent crimes, hit-and-run accidents, environmental pollution, noise pollution. Okinawa is a brilliant example, 37 American military bases on an island smaller than Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands; 1,300,000 Okinawans living there. The reason for it, of course, is that the Japanese government itself, the Japanese people, probably like the Japanese - American security treaty, but they assuredly do not like the thought of having any American troops living anywhere near them. So, they dump them in a Japanese equivalent of Puerto Rico, an island that was acquired late in the nineteenth century by the Japanese empire [and which] has always been discriminated against. They couldn't care less in Tokyo how the people of Okinawa feel about having 17,000 Marines of the Third Marine Division in the largest American military facility in East Asia, Kadena Air Force Base, plugged down in their midst.

There's quite an irony here, because earlier you talked about comparing the Clinton administration with the Bush administration. The liberal side of the debate in our country [suggests] the notion of humanitarian intervention, the notion that we will spread democracy and our ideals, but what you're suggesting is that the underside of these military [bases], the status of force agreements all over the world, create a situation where rules are in place that enable our soldiers to act outside of the law.

Absolutely.

And create, really, a kind of de-legitimizing of American power, so that even at the same time that the Japanese may want our security umbrella, the people and the mayors are up in arms about their young women being raped or American soldiers being outside the law when they commit a murder.

Yes. And these bases are expensive. It's an entirely separate budget from the defense appropriation. It's called the Defense Facilities appropriation. The two mother hens of this subcommittee on the Senate Armed Services Committee are Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Diane Feinstein of California, the states with the largest number of military bases, of which they're extremely protective, and they pay attention, also, to what is spent around the world on military bases. Our troops have privileges that are very similar to those of the former Soviet troops located in East Germany before the wall came down. They were living better in Germany, certainly, than they would have lived back in Russia. Our Marines are living better in Okinawa than they would live in a rather crummy stateside town, like Oceanside, California, next door to Camp Pendleton. I know, since I lived in northern San Diego County. The costs are very, very high, and Americans have no appreciation of it whatsoever, because we have no foreign military bases in the United States. You can also be absolutely certain Americans would not tolerate it one hour, the sorts of things that are simply routine in -- oh, Aviano Air Base in northern Italy, where if you've seen just this past month we've had major demonstrations against the enlargement of a base in Vicenza. Vicenza is the old Palladian city with the most famous architecture on earth. You could well imagine that people don't like the idea of enlarging the base, more of "That's one of the places they store cluster bombs," and things like that. None of it's attractive.

As I was taking notes on your book and thinking about it in preparation for the interview, it struck me that the way Americans deceive themselves about what they're doing is the extent to which these actions, especially abroad, are encapsulated, that if we think of the bases, we think protection of the peoples of the world, we think of the McDonalds and the Burger Kings which we've put there.

They're a great economic incentives for the people.

Right. But what you're suggesting is that in many ways the walls [have] burst among the local populations and now under President Bush, in examples like the renditions which have become more intense. What you're basically saying is, you can't keep these walls up, that what you have is a malignancy.

And it does grow.

It appears to be benign, but what you're saying when you add these up, and you're doing more and more of it, that it turns malignant and then it metastasizes.

Yes. It turns into deceit. We have huge dumpers of bases in Great Britain. They're mostly disguised as Royal Air Force bases. It's something that went back to the early Cold War, all done through administrative agreements between our ambassador and British authorities. There are no Englishmen on these bases. Englishmen know this. And they're all over the world, as well as the history of our interventions.

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