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America Town: Building the Outposts of Empire
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2008
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
on September 8, 2009
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
on 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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on February 27, 2015
This is another book that has an excellent topic, but the book falls short. Four stars because it provides a great deal of information about the inception and operation of US bases abroad, particularly in Okinawa/ Japan, Korea and Italy, but the writing is three stars. The book could cover the same material and be half as long. An aspect worth noting is that American bases eat up a huge amount of land, and in heavily populated areas like South Korea, this is an extremely serious issue. If Gillem is correct, there is perhaps some racism operative as well.

Readers should be aware that there is a strong bias here against this kind of Americanization. He seems to argue that if we must have bases at least make them opportunities for understanding the host nation (host is of course ironic, the bases in Japan and Korea are opposed by most locals). There is also the fact that hundreds of bases with huge numbers of dependents offers lots of targets for people with hostile intent,
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2011
I believe America Town contains a profound message and supports the idea that one need only look toward at our contingency operations to identify digestible examples of the same challenges our military faces during stateside operations.

For those who have read "America's Town," I'd like to draw your attention to the article at the link. Not only does it pay tribute to the many men and women that have fought in Iraq, but it characterizes the basing trend presented in Gillem's book, America's Town (see chapters 2 & 3).

In fairness, Camp Victory is/was a vital command and control center during coalition counterinsurgency efforts; however, the sheer number of required supporting forces and contractors resulted in the establishment of an "America Town" on the grandest scale with bright lights that could be seen by those from a poorly illuminated in Baghdad.

Today, as our military closes Camp Victory and prepares to transfer it over to the Iraqi Government, one can imagine the fate of the now vacant fast food joints, gyms, theaters, PXs, and other amenities that made life bearable for our weary troops coming in from the outlying posts (which were definitely NOT mini-America towns to be sure!) for R&R. It is doubtful these artifacts of Americana have a useful role in a modern Iraqi government center.

"An American Outpost is Packing Up," Annie Gowen, 13 Sept 2011
[...]

Well, every Op Ed needs a "so what," so here's mine... Gillem's book proposes that we as a military have a tendency to not consider the implications of our basing actions outside the fence line. In fact he writes on pp. 35, "The planning maps produced by the U.S. rarely show anything beyond the fence line. For the Americans, the white space around their outposts is just that - it is nothing, it is nowhere." (If you want proof of this, just ask any installation planner to show you his or her planning maps. So this is why my hat is off to all of those who plan with a holistic view. We have learned that the Cultural Terrain is just as important as the physical terrain and America Town drives this point home.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2012
A must for any person who deals with US base planning & operations. ATFP standards are useless and make our bases ugly....yet we still use them.... to make us "feel safe".
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5 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2008
This book has missed the mark. What is written is not factual. For example, it is stated the LPP was signed after a tank incident when in fact it was signed 3 months before that accident. It is stated that China occupied Korea from 1639 to 1895, while the Mongols occupied Korea once and Japan occupied Korea twice China never occupied Korea. Another thing for example he talks interchangeably about Okinawa and Japan, while they are not one in the same. He talks about the US and its hold on Okinawa but never criticizes that Japan occupies Okinawa. It is indeed a separate nation and nationality from Japan. Many other issues stated as facts are wrong or inaccurate.

The author never lived at any of these places and could never know what it's truly like to be a local citizen or a US citizen stationed there. Finally I thought that the author might have some ideas as to how to fix the problems that he mentioned but he doesn't. It's just 300 pages of how the US has treated other countries so poorly. If I didn't know better, I would think he was paid by some Korean and Japanese citizens to write the book.
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