Thursday, June 16, 2011

Astonishing!

I was squatting in our garden patch weeding when Brigitte came out with a printout in her hand. “How many military bases do you think we have in Germany?” she asked. She sat down on a garden chair. Her question suggested that the figure was bigger than I had imagined, so I said, going over the top: “Thirty?” She smiled. “Would you believe 227?”

Now in the background here, for me, was remembering Grafenwöhr firing range just a few days ago—and remembering it, looking it up—and looking it up being amazed that it was still a U.S. Army installation! Still? Today? Even in my own days in U.S. Army Europe, I would have been astonished at that number—despite the fact that I actually served at three different bases in Germany when I was there and had been to at least six others, one being Grafenwöhr.

The numbers are there—but tough to find. Brigitte was quoting a story in The Nation. That story, in turn, referenced a Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and the Bulletin, finally, linked to a FY 2007 Base Structure Report issued by the Department of Defense (link). In that report itself I discovered that the number was 287 bases; sixty of them were evidently typographical casualties. In FY 2007, DOD had 823 bases the world over, the majority in Germany, in Japan (130), and in South Korea (106). Three hundred others were strewn across 36 other countries, according to the DOD—although other sources report a U.S. military presence in 150 countries all told. If the bases in Iraq and Afghanistan were included, according to The Nation (they were not, in this report), the total would be more than 1,000.

A later story in the Huffington Post, publishing comments by Senator Jon Tester of Montana (here), provides what seem to be updated numbers: 268 bases in Germany, 124 in Japan, and 87 in South Korea. The numbers are still in the same ballpark.

So when, again, did World War II end? It ended in August 1945. Sixty-six years later we still have nearly 270 bases in Germany and more than a hundred in Japan. The cost of maintaining these and the other bases, per The Nation, runs $102 billion a year.

My oddly ricocheting conclusion from all this—a couple of more hours of weeding and another day of hard outdoor work later? It is that human collectives behave quite unlike rational individuals. I’ve got to believe, indeed I’ve no reason not to, that the vast majority of our public officials are well-meaning, honest, and reasonably intelligent. Nevertheless, the great public outcomes that we see all around us present something strangely and alarmingly mad. And when I myself served as a little cell in the body of the great Military Industrial Complex, I was just doing my duty. Wasn’t I?

1 comment:

  1. Considering that we are now fighting at least six wars at the same time: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lybia, Yemen, and the “War on Terror,” the following statement came to my mind:

    “Every gun that is made,every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spendidng money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”
    Dwight D. Eisenhower, speech, American Society of Newspaper Editors, 16 April, 1953.
    (Not our Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Pres., but a General said this….)

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