[Okinawans protest against the US military presence on their island. Photograph: Aflo/Barcroft Images]
Independence, The American Way
As we celebrate our fragile independence, we need to honestly ask ourselves, who is the oppressor?
By CODEPINK Digital Team
This July 4th will be celebrated at around 750 U.S. military bases across 80 nations, on every continent except Antarctica. Our bases account for an estimated 90% of foreign military bases across the globe and we spend more on defense than the next 10 countries combined. The world has never seen a nation with so many bases occupying foreign lands, which even our own government may be struggling to keep track of. In fact, professor David Vine discovered that the Pentagon relied on his database of military sites for research rather than its own.
Yet we still fear losing our independence to nations with much less military might. We’re told to fear countries because they don’t believe in democracy and they want to take away our freedoms. We continually increase military spending and are currently opening new bases around China, supposedly to protect ourselves and the global community from oppressive regimes.
But as we celebrate our fragile independence, we need to honestly ask ourselves, who is the oppressor? Are we actually contributing to a safer and more democratic world? Our military expansion often involves denying others’ rights to self-determination and creating tensions that could threaten our own national security. Let’s have a closer look at three U.S. military bases as examples, but before that, here’s a snapshot of our history with independence.
Spreading Independence through Military Expansion
In 1776, we overthrew British colonial rule and became the United States. While our revolution inspired other nations to fight for their independence, we imposed our rule through at least 90 military outposts in Native American territories. Supposedly built to maintain peace, these forts mainly protected the interests of fur trading companies and white settlements exploiting indigenous land.
The U.S. continued to fight against European imperialism in the Western Hemisphere, replacing it with our own new brand. We justified military interventions into sovereign nations through a self-righteous concoction of Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine, the Roosevelt Corollary. During the “Banana Wars” we protected the interests of US corporations over the
basic rights of local workers, invading or occupying eight countries.
World War II completed the transfer of imperial power from Europe to the U.S., with an average of 112 foreign bases built per month in 1945. Base construction has displaced at least 18 communities and indigenous groups since WWII, not to mention all those forced to flee from our military interventions around the world. Covering all those military interventions in this short blog would be overwhelming, so instead let’s take a closer look at the impact of just three U.S. military bases.
Colonialism in Guam
Inhabited for over 3,500 years by the Indigenous Chamorro people, Guam’s native inhabitants have suffered greatly since the US took colonial control over the island in 1898. This treatment includes racist and discriminatory policies by U.S. naval authorities denying basic civil rights; disastrous health impacts from the storage and use of nuclear weapons, radioactive vessels, toxic waste sites, and hazardous chemical agents; alongside massive land seizures to make way for U.S. military bases and installations. The U.S. government continues to deny the Chamorro people their fundamental right to self-determination, contrary to its obligations under international law to hasten the decolonization of Guam.
Rather than address past harms, the U.S. continues to perpetrate new ones, including an extensive expansion of the U.S. military footprint in Guam. Despite widespread local opposition, and censure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several Senators over the financial cost and environmental impact of the expansion, the transfer of thousands of military personnel and associated workforce to the small island has proceeded. The military buildup has seen construction of live-fire training ranges and other installations over sites of great cultural and spiritual significance to Chamorros, including protected wildlife refuges and critical habitats for numerous endangered, endemic species.
Displacement in Diego Garcia
After being torn from their homes and enslaved by the French and British to work on coconut plantations on the Chagos Archipelago, the Chagossian people managed to create thriving communities on these islands. In the 1960s-70s, both the U.K. and U.S. decided to construct a military base on the island of Diego Garcia, which meant expelling over 1,000 Chagossians from the land they had transformed into a home to make room for 3,000-5,000 U.S. military officials.
Many Chagossians relied on absentee plantation owners for housing until they were forced out by the U.K. buying up these properties. There are numerous reports of inhabitants being physically threatened and a British commissioner ordered for pets to be exterminated. Supply chains were interrupted, putting further pressure on inhabitants who were struggling to access some essential goods. Many inhabitants were packed into cramped boats and endured a long journey to Mauritius and Seychelles. After being forced to leave everything behind, they found themselves without any resources or support to rebuild their lives.
To this day, the U.S. and U.K. have worked together to prevent anyone from returning to the Chagos Islands. Diplomatic cables revealed through Wikileaks that the governments created a marine reserve as an excuse to deny Chagossians return to their homeland. Meanwhile, for 30 years the U.S. Navy was destroying a protected lagoon and violating environmental laws by dumping hundreds of tonnes of waste. Human Rights Watch released a report in February 2023, detailing the many crimes against humanity committed by our government and calling for reparations to Chagossians.
Occupation in Okinawa
Okinawa is said to be the Hawaii of Japan and has a similar history of colonization from neighboring nations in the 1800s. After WWII, the U.S. occupied Japan for seven years, but retained power over the Okinawa prefecture up to 1972. During this period, the U.S. expanded its military bases across this small archipelago, overwhelming a territory that represents less than 1% of the country with 75% of U.S. bases in Japan.
In addition to environmental degradation, the local population has suffered from serious crimes committed by U.S. base personnel, which too often go unpunished. In contrast, several anti-base activists have been jailed without trial and not a single base has been closed, despite major protests. According to the Okinawa Woman Act Against Military Violence, there have been hundreds of victims, but the vast majority receive little attention and no justice. Two particularly heinous cases did make international news: the rape and murder of a 20-year-old in 2016 and the gang rape of a 12-year-old in 1995.
The Cost of Imposing Freedom
We spend at least $80 billion each year on our military bases throughout the world. Meanwhile our national infrastructures continue to deteriorate and 1 in every 7 children in the US goes to bed hungry. Many join the military to escape poverty and achieve financial independence, ultimately risking their lives to protect a nation where they too often end up living on the streets. Veterans account for 1 in 10 people without homes and many more live in poverty.
We could house the entire US homeless population and end world hunger with the over $6 trillion spent on war since 2001. Both at home and abroad, desperation to fulfill basic needs creates instability and fuels violence. What if we redirected our resources at fulfilling these basic needs? How many soldiers could be back in the US today, celebrating the 4th of July, surrounded by family and friends? How many more nations could finally celebrate their independence?
- Forts & Presidios Across America
- Mapping the History of US Military Bases Abroad
- Why 90% Of Foreign Military Bases Are American
- Homeless Veterans in America (Infographic) - Numbers & Statistics
- How Many Kids in America Go to Bed Hungry?
- FACT SHEET - OVERSEAS BASE REALIGNMENT AND CLOSURE COALITION
- U.S. Defense Spending Compared to Other Countries
- Monroe Doctrine, Summary, Facts, Significance, APUSH
- The Banana Wars – 10 Quick Facts About America’s Military Interventions in the Caribbean & Latin America - MilitaryHistoryNow.com
- Tell Congress to Investigate the Harm Done by US Military in Guam
- UK, US Expelled Islanders 50 Years Ago, a Crime Against Humanity
- Chagossians - Wikipedia
- Okinawa’s vocal anti-US military base movement
- NCIS Case Files Reveal U.S. Military Sex Crimes in Okinawa (theintercept.com)
- WikiLeaks Archive
Exclusive: World’s most pristine waters are polluted by US Navy human waste | The Independent