Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Warrior Zone

“Our bases in Italy are making it easier to pursue new wars and military interventions in conflicts about which we know little, from Africa to the Middle East. Unless we question why we still have bases in Italy and dozens more countries like it worldwide -- as, encouragingly, growing numbers of politicians, journalists, and others are doing -- those bases will help lead us, in the name of American “security,” down a path of perpetual violence, perpetual war, and perpetual insecurity.” – David Vine
Speaking of imperialism, I recently read this interesting piece by David Vine: “The Italian Job: How the Pentagon Is Using Your Tax Dollars to Turn Italy into a Launching Pad for the Wars of Today and Tomorrow”:
The Pentagon has spent the last two decades plowing hundreds of millions of tax dollars into military bases in Italy, turning the country into an increasingly important center for U.S. military power. Especially since the start of the Global War on Terror in 2001, the military has been shifting its European center of gravity south from Germany, where the overwhelming majority of U.S. forces in the region have been stationed since the end of World War II. In the process, the Pentagon has turned the Italian peninsula into a launching pad for future wars in Africa, the Middle East, and beyond.

…Base expert Alexander Cooley explains: “U.S. defense officials acknowledge that Italy’s strategic positioning on the Mediterranean and near North Africa, the Italian military’s antiterrorism doctrine, as well as the country’s favorable political disposition toward U.S. forces are important factors in the Pentagon’s decision to retain” a large base and troop presence there. About the only people who have been paying attention to this build-up are the Italians in local opposition movements like those in Vicenza who are concerned that their city will become a platform for future U.S. wars.
[Here’s some more background about the base in Vicenza and the local resistance.]

The organized opposition to the expansion of US military installations in Europe and around the world came to my attention several years ago when mayors and other groups in Poland and the Czech Republic campaigned to block the construction of missile shields in their countries while Italians around Vicenza protested Dal Molin.

Anti-base struggles often concern local issues, but they also involve core struggles against the culture of militarism and imperialism. The global movement resisting an expanding US military presence includes women, indigenous and displaced people, migrants, former soldiers, and others who bear the brunt of militarization. It includes peace, democracy, and human rights activists. It includes those in the US and Latin America who oppose US interference in the politics of the other countries in the hemisphere - the US military’s support of authoritarianism and repression, its partnership with US corporations, and its role in ecological destruction. (The 2008 Hemispheric Conference against Militarization was held, interestingly enough, in Honduras, just months before the coup. It concluded with a protest at Soto Cano airbase, which president Zelaya was planning to convert to a civilian airport.)

Vine’s description of Dal Molin is striking:
Last month, I had a chance to visit the newest U.S. base in Italy, a three-month-old garrison in Vicenza, near Venice. Home to a rapid reaction intervention force, the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), and the Army’s component of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), the base extends for a mile, north to south, dwarfing everything else in the small city. In fact, at over 145 acres, the base is almost exactly the size of Washington’s National Mall or the equivalent of around 110 American football fields. The price tag for the base and related construction in a city that already hosted at least six installations: upwards of $600 million since fiscal year 2007.

…Publicly, U.S. officials say there are no U.S. military bases in Italy. They insist that our garrisons, with all their infrastructure, equipment, and weaponry, are simply guests on what officially remain “Italian” bases designated for NATO use. Of course, everyone knows that this is largely a legal nicety.

No one visiting the new base in Vicenza could doubt that it's a U.S. installation all the way. The garrison occupies a former Italian air force base called Dal Molin. (In late 2011, Italian officials rebranded it “Caserma Del Din,” evidently to try to shed memories of the massive opposition the base has generated.) From the outside, it might be mistaken for a giant hospital complex or a university campus. Thirty one box-like peach-and-cream-colored buildings with light red rooftops dominate the horizon with only the foothills of the Southern Alps as a backdrop. A chain link fence topped by razor wire surrounds the perimeter, with green mesh screens obscuring views into the base.

If you manage to get inside, however, you find two barracks for up to 600 soldiers each. (Off base, the Army is contracting to lease up to 240 newly built homes in surrounding communities.) Two six-floor parking garages that can hold 850 vehicles, and a series of large office complexes, some small training areas, including an indoor shooting range still under construction, as well as a gym with a heated swimming pool, a “Warrior Zone” entertainment center, a small PX, an Italian-style café, and a large dining facility. These amenities are actually rather modest for a large U.S. base. Most of the newly built or upgraded housing, schools, medical facilities, shopping, and other amenities for soldiers and their families are across town on Viale della Pace (Peace Boulevard) at the Caserma Ederle base and at the nearby Villaggio della Pace (Peace Village).
I was especially intrigued by the “Warrior Zone” entertainment center (and the idea of people heading there for evening entertainment after a day in Peace Village). It’s described on the base’s web site:
The Warrior Zone is a modern multipurpose entertainment center designed specifically for Single Soldiers as a home away from home. It is a place where Soldiers and their guests can come to socialize, relax, and grab a bite to eat and enjoy a beverage from our full service bar. Unwind in the comfortable lounge areas and outdoor patio or enjoy a movie in the cinema room.
On the menu? Hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon cheeseburger, grilled chicken sandwich, Philly cheese steak sandwich, and BLT. The first two (of four) sides are a hot dog and - I’m not making this up - two hot dogs. I’m surprised they don’t serve lamb shakes.

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