February 27, 2011. You want to be here as the theater fills; you’re absorbed in the quiet as Vinie Burrows asks for moments of silence in memory of the anti-imperialism historian Chalmers Johnson. It is his testimony you’re about to hear in Enrico Parenti and Thomas Fazi’s film, STANDING ARMY.
Vinie recalls the promise she and other Grannies made four years ago to other women at an international conference in Venezuela: to inform the U.S. public about the many sorrows visited upon these women and their families by the U.S. military presence in their countries. And today, she says with feeling, for the fifth time we offer a “teach-in” as evidence of the “sorrows of the U.S. Empire.”
The theater darkens. The film begins to unfold the facts.
The official statistics:
The U.S. maintains 716 operational military bases in 110 countries. There are 250,000 military personnel, men and women, employed on those bases. The annual cost of the US military presence is in the billions.
The sweep of history:
WW II ends, and the U.S. corporate elite sees its future in the war industry, an endless production of bigger and more destructive arsenals. A good pretext is the threat from the USSR, the escalation of fear, the arms race, the creation of the “communist menace.”
Always, there is the need for an enemy (Castro, Ho Chi MInh); after glasnost, new enemies are found: Chavez, Iran, drugs, then Al Qaeda and terrorism.
You feel the power of people’s life stories. The filmmakers show us how an airbase on Okinawa shatters the quiet in a nursery school. An eloquent Japanese man gestures to his land, now part of a huge airfield and says that so long as his land is used for machines of war and death, he feels responsible, and will not stop his protest or efforts to end the occupation of his land.
Brown University Anthropology Professor Catherine Lutz calls bases “the booty of war.” That is the premise and rationale for their presence in Japan, Italy, Germany (all WWII) and more recently South Korea, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. You re-learn that military personnel stationed on US bases commit violent crimes against women and men of the occupied country. Offenders are not tried by local the courts because of SOFA (the Status of Occupying Forces Agreement). Often they are not punished other than to be sent back to the U.S. SOFA causes huge resentment towards the U.S.
You see the enormity of construction; you sense it is not “temporary”. You follow the logic that where there are soldiers there will be war. Eisenhower warned against the escalation of the Military Industrial Complex, but here it is, fully realized. And in the worst case scenario, it is unstoppable.
Here some of the heroes of Parenti and Fazi’s film come in:
The people of Okinawa keeping vigil in their rainforest to stop a U.S. helicopter pad from being constructed. The 2,000 Chagossians forcibly removed from their small, beautiful island of Diego Garcia by Great Britain after WW II and leased to the U.S. for a secret naval and air base but continuing the struggle to regain the right to live in their homeland, seeking redress in ever higher courts of law. The people in Vicenza, Italy holding a referendum to prevent a U.S. airbase expansion and their mayor deying authorities in Rome.
Then there are the clear, cogent statements of Chalmers Johnson who worked within the US information-gathering system until he saw too much, and began to feel the urgent need to document how military bases and soldiers are a recipe for endless war.
The film ends with a reminder of the reason for its title: STANDING ARMY. It was George Washington who warned that a Standing Army would be a threat to any republic.
You, the viewer, feel keenly grateful for the accuracy and skill of these two filmmakers who, with the benefit of an Italian perspective, have succeeded in telling the story of the way the US commitment to empire parallels the course of history that led to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
Lights come up and we’re introduced to our guest speaker, Ray McGovern. Vinie outlines Ray’s background as a CIA analyst during years of the Kennedy through the George H.W. Bush administrations, and more recently as the founder of the VIPS, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. We’re in the company of the kind of hero we’ve just seen in the film. He’s recently been hurt during a brutal arrest by the Washington, DC police when he protested the statements of Secretary of State Clinton. All he did was silently stand and turn his back during her speech. He asks us to turn around and look at one another. He wants us to feel ourselves as a presence, as a force. He says, “We need to put our bodies into it! Does anyone have any more doubts as to why “they” hate us??”
McGovern tells how as a major in Russian studies at Fordham, he admired and learned from his mentor George Kennan. Later, he was appalled by Kennan’s statements that the U.S. has 50% of the world’s wealth, 6% of the world’s population and the goal is to keep it that way….forget sentimentality, forget human rights. Here one can recognize US policy in South and Central America, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Africa and the Middle East. Here is the structure of the Foundations for a New World Order reported in the film.
Some of McGovern’s points:
The presence of US military in the Middle East and elsewhere is about O.I.L.
O for oil; I for Israel; L for logistics. It’s about securing access to petroleum and supporting our ally, Israel. But, says McGovern, it might be time to realize our interests in the Middle East are not the same as Israel’s right now.
Iran stopped building a nuclear weapon in 2003. This is a fact.
The 4th Estate media, controlled by advertisers, corporations and the government, is no longer an honored part of our common life.
Wikileaks is good news. The 5th Estate media is our only channel today. Watch footage that showed the attack on Iraqi civilians from the Apache helicopter. Also, watch a fine piece put together by German TV about Bradley Manning. (Google: “Panorama, Bradley Manning”)
Though the US disclaims having permanent military bases abroad, the word “enduring” has appeared in the lexicon.
Many good questions are submitted to McGovern. His responses:
The Pentagon, not the President, not Congress, holds warmaking power in D.C.
Q: What do you suggest a person can do?
A: “Get together with no more than four others, preferably a majority of you should be women, meet regularly, decide that you’ll be supportive of one another, you’ll hold one another accountable for doing what you agreed to do. Then do it!”
Obama, during his campaign said, “You’ve got to make me do it!” (change the system). Let’s make Obama do it!
On that stirring note, the audience gave Ray Mc Govern a standing ovation, which was followed by songs from The Raging Grannies.
Must see this film!
Who would have a better perspective on the perils of empire than the Italians, where Rome still holds the evidence of the greatness and the fall? It is our good fortune that two Italian filmmakers have shown that the story of US Imperialism is repeating the story of the end of the Roman Empire It’s important to see this film. It brings the arguments together and supplies the evidence to back them up.
– Caroline Chinlund
for the Granny Peace Brigade
Illustrations (1&2) courtesy of “Standing Army”
Photos (3&4): Eva-Lee Baird