By David Swanson, Executive Director of World BEYOND War, January 15, 2020
South Korea cannot choose to make peace with North Korea without the consent of a foreign power that keeps thirty thousand troops in South Korea, makes South Korea pay much of the cost of housing them, commands the South Korean military in war, holds veto power at the United Nations, and is not accountable to the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice.
The same foreign power has troops in almost every nation on earth, significant bases in about half the nations on earth, and the earth itself divided up into command zones for control and domination. It dominates outerspace for military purposes, and global finances for the purpose of extracting wealth from places with high levels of poverty. It builds bases where it wants, and installs weapons where it wants — including illegally placing nuclear weapons in various countries. For that matter, it violates laws when and where it wants.
Supposedly neutral nations like Ireland, nonetheless, allow the U.S. military to use their airports, and — for that matter — allow U.S. police to search everyone in Dublin airport before they fly to the United States. Many things can be questioned and condemned in Irish corporate media, but not the U.S. military and its use of Ireland. Some of the relevant corporations, such as those controlling billboards near Shannon Airport, are actually based in the United States.
This contemporary reality is a seamless part of a history to the earlier parts of which we’re supposed to apply the term “colonial.” Prior to “settling” the United States, some of the early settlers had previously “settled” Ireland, where the British had paid rewards for Irish heads and body parts, just as they later would for Native American scalps. The United States for many years sought out immigrants who could “settle” on native land. Genocide in North America was a part of U.S. culture from before the United States up through the 1890s. Colonists fought a war, still very much glorified, in which the French defeated the British, but in which the colonists did not cease to be colonists. Rather, they gained the opportunity to attack the nations to their west.
The United States wasted no time in attacking Canada to its north, the Spanish to its south, nations across the western expanse, and eventually Mexico as well. The exhaustion of North American land altered U.S. colonization, but hardly slowed it down. Colonization moved on to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii, Alaska, the Philippines, Latin America, and ever farther afield. “Indian Country,” in the dialect of the U.S. military today, refers to distant lands to be attacked with dozens of weapons named for Native American nations.
The banning of military conquest also altered U.S. colonization, but actually sped it up rather than impeding it. The Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 ended the practice of treating the conquest of territory as legal. This meant that colonized nations could break free and not be immediately conquered by a different aggressor. The United Nations General Assembly building was designed with 20 extra seats beyond the 51 for existing nations. By the time it was built, there were 75 nations, by 1960 there were 107. The total shot upward from there to quickly reach 200 and fill the seats that had been intended for a public audience.
Nations became formally independent, but they did not cease being colonized. The conquest of territory was still permitted for certain exceptional cases, such as Israel, and in particular for U.S. military bases, which would exist within supposedly independent states.
During World War II the U.S. Navy seized the small Hawaiian island of Koho’alawe for a weapons testing range and ordered its inhabitants to leave. The island has been devastated. In 1942, the U.S. Navy displaced Aleutian Islanders. Those practices did not end in 1928 or in 1945 for the United States, as for most others. President Harry Truman made up his mind that the 170 native inhabitants of Bikini Atoll had no right to their island in 1946. He had them evicted in February and March of 1946, and dumped as refugees on other islands without means of support or a social structure in place. In the coming years, the United States would remove 147 people from Enewetak Atoll and all the people on Lib Island. U.S. atomic and hydrogen bomb testing rendered various depopulated and still-populated islands uninhabitable, leading to further displacements. Up through the 1960s, the U.S. military displaced hundreds of people from Kwajalein Atoll. A super-densely populated ghetto was created on Ebeye.
On Vieques, off Puerto Rico, the U.S. Navy displaced thousands of inhabitants between 1941 and 1947, announced plans to evict the remaining 8,000 in 1961, but was forced to back off and — in 2003 — to stop bombing the island. On nearby Culebra, the Navy displaced thousands between 1948 and 1950 and attempted to remove those remaining up through the 1970s. The Navy is right now looking at the island of Pagan as a possible replacement for Vieques, the population already having been removed by a volcanic eruption. Of course, any possibility of return would be greatly diminished.
Beginning during World War II but continuing right through the 1950s, the U.S. military displaced a quarter million Okinawans, or half the population, from their land, forcing people into refugee camps and shipping thousands of them off to Bolivia — where land and money were promised but not delivered.
In 1953, the United States made a deal with Denmark to remove 150 Inughuit people from Thule, Greenland, giving them four days to get out or face bulldozers. They are being denied the right to return. People are rightly offended when Donald Trump proposes to purchase Greenland, but for the most part oblivious to the U.S. military presence there and the history of how it got there.
Between 1968 and 1973, the United States and Great Britain exiled all 1,500 to 2,000 inhabitants of Diego Garcia, rounding people up and forcing them onto boats while killing their dogs in a gas chamber and seizing possession of their entire land for the use of the U.S. military.
The South Korean government, which evicted people for U.S. base expansion on the mainland in 2006, has, at the behest of the U.S. Navy, in recent years devastated a village, its coast, and 130 acres of farmland on Jeju Island in order to provide the United States with another massive military base.
Virtually every new base, in Italy or Niger or anywhere else, displaces people, albeit within the nation occupied. And every new base displaces sovereignty, independence, and the rule of law. Persian Gulf kingdoms resist democracy with the help of U.S. bases, but they give up independence in the process and contribute to the status of the United States as a nation above the rule of law. At the same time, U.S. bases fuel popular hostility toward the United States and toward local governments.
U.S. bases are intended to be permanent, and so apparently are some of the wars they’re engaged in. The U.S. media writes about Trump’s “opposition” to endless wars, even while completely smothering any possibility of actually ending any of them. Permanent wars for effective control of a handful of places still lying somewhat outside U.S. influence that have been continued in the past three years by the U.S. government include wars in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Somalia.
The United States is not the only colonizer, but it does possess some 95 percent of the world’s foreign military bases. And it does operate on the basis of a belief in its own unique superiority. At World BEYOND War, we believe that a step toward holding the U.S. government to the rule of law, and a step toward abolishing war, is the closure of foreign bases. So, we are working to oppose new bases and close old ones around the world. This can be done. Numerous bases have been stopped or shut down.
Approaches we are taking include public education and nonviolent activism directed against bases and militarism in general. We also try to use the environmental damage of military bases against them. U.S. bases have poisoned ground water in numerous nations with “forever chemicals,” yet those nations and the relevant localities have been denied all right to compensation or control over their land.
We’re also trying an approach that could turn U.S. propaganda against itself. A pretense is generally maintained that having U.S. bases on every speck of land somehow makes the United States safer. A measure we supported was recently passed by the U.S. House and then scrapped to please the Senate. It would have required the Pentagon to explain how each foreign base makes the United States safer, rather than endangering it or having no effect on its “security.” Research would show that in fact — among many other disastrous impacts — foreign bases make the colonizers less safe than they could be without them.
The immediate opportunity, of course, is to close the U.S. bases in Iraq as demanded by Iraq. The world and the U.S. public need to join Iraq in that demand.