If you've ever wondered what people living near those U.S. bases overseas think about the American soldiers in their midst, look no further. This book tells the real story of the social and political impact of American military bases throughout the world. It's a story that most Americans don't have a clue about, but we should. The Sept. 11 attacks occurred in part because of the "defilement" of Saudi Arabia by infidel U.S. soldiers.
Baker starts with a nice overview of the development of the modern military from the beginnings of the nation until World War II, when the United States became a global power. She describes the creation of the global base system after the war, and talks about the inevitable opposition that developed in the 1960s. She then devotes chapters to specific nations or regions: Germany, Panama, the Philippines, Japan (Okinawa), South Korea, and the Middle East.
I was amazed at the impact U.S. military bases have had in various parts of the world. In Panama, there were huge and bloody riots after American students on a base disrespected the Panamanian flag. In Okinawa, the rape of a young girl by three American servicemen provoked years of organized protest against the bases. In the Philippines and South Korea, opponents objected to the disgusting camptowns, where thousands of young women worked as prostitutes. For the past five decades, the U.S. military presence overseas has been a source of irritation and anger from all kinds of people, especially in poorer areas where brothels and bars surround the bases.
On the other hand, Americans and American military communities have done a lot of good. First of all by protecting civilians from hostile neighbors, as in South Korea. American servicemembers have gotten to know their neighbors, resulting in thousands of marriages and generations of bicultural children. The military has helped out in countless natural disasters, created ties with civilian communities, and generally been the face of America for millions.
Unlike other writers on this subject, Baker doesn't have an axe to grind. She doesn't portray the overseas military presence as an unmitigated blight, nor does she dismiss all criticism of the bases. She says in the introduction that any judgment on the impact of overseas military bases has to take into account the purpose for which they have been established. That is, if the bases exist to defend against an imminent military threat, then the problems they bring are a small price to pay. If, however, the threat is exaggerated or distorted by political partisanship, then the impact of the bases is an injustice. This makes a heck of a lot of sense, and is more than most scholars will admit.
This book is clearly written, with interesting information and anecdotes that will sometimes shock and sometimes amaze you. I highly recommend it.