Matt Farish‘s perceptive view of David Vine‘s BaseNation – ‘a distressing and tremendously helpful resource for grappling with the global geography of the American armed forces’ (see also here, the map here [also shown above] and the interactive map here) – is up at the LA Review of Books here.
The Baseworld that was pieced together during and after World War II undoubtedly represented “a qualitative and quantitative shift,” but it is noteworthy that a place like Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, once dubbed the “western edge of civilization,” is today both a heritage landscape and an active Army facility, including, of course, the military’s most prominent prison. As historians have noted, the movement of men and motifs from the “Indian Wars” to overseas conflicts like the Philippine-American War (1899–1902) was direct. “Now that the continent is subdued,” the California-based Overland Monthly announced in 1898, “we are looking for fresh worlds to conquer.”
In the 21st century, the perverse demand for “total defense” has produced an increasingly diverse roster of base types, from Germany’s Kaiserslautern Military Community (including the massive Ramstein Air Base), home to an 840,000-square-foot mall, to the small, often secretive “lily pads” that typify the Pentagon’s role “in at least forty-nine of the fifty-four African countries. It may be operating in every single one.” By limiting the number of troops in place — sometimes replacing them with “pre-positioned” weapons and matériel — and encouraging closer ties with other national militaries, lily pads present a different sort of challenge for opponents of military presence.
But Matt – I think properly refuses the distinction between ‘domestic’ and ‘extraterritorial’:
Vine’s decision to focus almost exclusively on “extraterritorial” sites is practical, but it is also political, even as the division implied by this word is unsustainable. The benefits of its retention seem meager: it allows Vine to advocate for a return of “troops and base spending back to the United States,” “stemming the leakage of money out of the U.S. economy and ensuring that economic spillover effects remain at home.” Despite the stupendous number of dollars at stake — tens if not hundreds of billions, annually — I still wonder if Vine’s heart is really in this argument, or if he would prefer to emphasize the “twenty-first century form of colonialism” he documents in places like Guam, and the restitutions that might result from demilitarization. But even on this charge, he follows the same path, claiming that the condition of Guam or Puerto Rico hinders “our country’s ability to be a model for democracy.” For followers of popular political speech, this is familiar prose. But it is still a fictional aspiration, all the more frustrating because it seems to be the result of authorial or editorial pragmatism. It falls apart as soon as we consider varieties of ongoing military colonialism and environmental injustice in the American Southwest, for instance.
David has promised to donate all proceeds from Base Nation ‘to nonprofit organizations serving military veterans, their families, and other victims of war and violence.’