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America Town: Building the Outposts of Empire [Kindle Edition]

Mark L. Gillem
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

American servicemen and -women are currently stationed in more than 140 countries from Central America to Western Europe to the Middle East, often living and working on military bases that not only dominate foreign territories but also re-create familiar space that “feels like home”—gated communities filled with rambling subdivisions, franchised restaurants, and lush golf courses.


In America Town, Mark Gillem reveals modern military outposts as key symbols of not just American power but also consumer consumption. Through case studies of several U.S. military facilities—including Aviano Air Base in Italy, Osan and Kunsan Air Bases in South Korea, and Kadena Air Base in Japan—Gillem exposes these military installations as exports of the American Dream, as suburban culture replicated in the form of vast green lawns, three-car garages, and big-box stores. With passion and eloquence he questions the impact of this practice on the rest of the world, exposing the arrogance of U.S. consumption of foreign land.


Gillem contends that current U.S. military policy for its overseas troops practices avoidance—relocating military bases to isolated but well-appointed compounds designed to prevent contact with the residents. He probes the policy directives behind base building that reproduce widely spaced, abundantly paved, and extensively manicured American suburbs, regardless of the host nation’s terrain and culture or the impact on local communities living under empire’s wings.


Throughout America Town, Gillem demonstrates how the excesses of American culture are strikingly evident in the way that the U.S. military builds its outposts. The defense of the United States, he concludes, has led to the massive imposition of tract homes and strip malls on the world—creating mini-Americas that inhibit cultural understanding between U.S. troops and our allies abroad.


Mark L. Gillem is assistant professor of architecture and landscape architecture at the University of Oregon. He is also a licensed architect, a certified planner, and a former active-duty U.S. Air Force officer.

Product Details

  • File Size: 5820 KB
  • Print Length: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press; 1 edition (August 22, 2007)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00440CXXE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,347,226 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As hoped for March 24, 2008
By mja
As an American who has been affiliated with a few overseas military installations, I hoped that this book would deal with the sociocultural aspects of plopping thousands of middleclass Americans down in a different country and then tailoring their environment to make it seem as though they are still in Virginia or Illinois. America Town exceeded my expectations, as it provided a lot of new information that helped me to better understand some of the experiences I had in Asia, Western Europe, and The Med.
I would say that this is a "niche" book, so if you are not curious about how the US designs its overseas military bases or have not lived on one, then you might find this either unbelievable or boring.
Given our current controversial empire building in the Mideast, however, the way this book provides a history of how nations have always designed their occupations and then connects it to America would also appeal to anyone interested in geo-politics.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This is an unusual, highly specialized book, discussing the impact of US military bases in South Korea, with an emphasis on architecture and land-use planning. Korea is a country where every bit of land is precious, and Koreans are accustomed to living in accommodations that would be cramped by US standards. Thus, when the US takes land to create sparsely built suburbs for US military personnel, the effect is incredible illwill: From the Korean perspective, not only do Americans take their land, they then waste it. On the other hand, the US is faced with the dilemma that military personnel will rebel against assignments in Korea unless they can live in spacious, US-style housing.

The author persuasively argues that of all the problems in US-ROK relations, inefficient land use by the US military is the number one irritant. There doesn't seem to be a solution to this conundrum, although the US suffers in the long term due to the resultant anti-Americanism in South Korea.

US bases in Okinawa and Italy are also discussed, but the major emphasis is on South Korea.

Also, the author delves into a phenomenon that most Americans would find shocking - entire communities of prostitutes, isolated from the rest of Korea, staffed by women from the ex-Soviet states and other poor countries. These women exist in a legal no-man's-land beyond the control of Korean police, and when a US soldier or a pimp commits a crime against a prostitute, the prostitute's only recourse is the US military police.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Poorly Crafted, Confusing, No Solution November 7, 2010
While I agree with the author's assessment that many of our military installations overseas are constructed in a way that is disrespectful of the people who loaned us the land, I had hoped for a more clearly written book to illustrate this. America Town, however, is simply a confusing listing of examples (many not quite factual)of military installations and blunders. The book provides no unifying theme, no solutions, and no POINT.

In addition to the lackluster content and organization, the prose is horrible. As someone who has visited all of these installations, I felt that I would surely be personally interested enough to read this book with a high level of interest. Not so. Instead, I found myself skimming, skipping, and eventually giving up on the whole tiresome mess.

My only hope is that a good author and/or visionary will tackle the same subject and deliver interesting prose and suggestions for improving the way the US government does business overseas.
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