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No Peace or Justice: America's Plans to Expand a US Military Base in Vicenza, Italy
by Paul A. Iversen
Most Americans live their lives blithely unaware of the impact that our sprawling network of military bases has on others' local politics, populations and landscapes, in no small part because our main stream media generally ignore their quotidian operations until some trouble arises and the US government issues a travel advisory. Then we inevitably hear the refrain, especially from those ill-informed about the particular situation, that civilization owes us a never ending debt of gratitude for reviving democracy and for defeating the Nazis and Fascists in WWII, or that what's good for America is good for the world. Such apparently are the beliefs that underwrite some of the knee-jerk comments at this Huffington Post link, which were made in response to the fact that on February 17, 2007 somewhere between 70,000 and 150,000 Italians (figures courtesy of the major Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera) demonstrated against the expansion/extension of an American military base in the Italian city of Vicenza. Comments like, "You have to wonder how many of these giabonis have even heard of Mussolini or Hitler." Or, "Worth checking is the defense costs percentage to GNP in western European nations. Yes, it is low and the reason is American military presence...Personally, I'd like to see us pull out completely and allow them to wallow in their socialist mire. Eventually, they'll be knocking on our door, hat in hand."
Such comments, while they represent a minority view at progressive sites such as Huffington Post (HuffPo is not responsible for these comments and is to be lauded for highlighting this story on the front page of its web site), nevertheless do reflect widespread American sentiment and ignorance, as if the people of Vicenza and Italy do not pay a significant share for the costs of our bases on Italian soil, as if the problem is that they and the rest of our allies spend too little on defense rather than that we spend too much, as if the Italians have forgotten their first-hand experience with empire-building, fascism and militarism, or as if the Vicentini themselves might not have some very good practical reasons to oppose this particular base in their city.
Since Italy has been one of our staunchest and most reliable allies, especially during the so-called War on Terror, it's worth detailing the events that lead to this particularly large demonstration at Vicenza, who participated, and what it portends for Italo-American relations in light of the Bush administration's illegal conduct of the War on Terror, especially the Neoconservative-driven Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war, or what the Italians like to call Bushismo. As always, the devil's in the details, so a bit of local history is in order. As will become clear, there are serious questions about whether building this base in Vicenza is just, and whether it will lead to peace.
Questions of Justice
Vicenza (pop. 120,000) is located in the northeast region of Veneto and tends to be overshadowed by its better known neighbors Padova (Padua) and Venezia (Venice) to the east, and Verona to the west. While I can't vouch for every detail of the Wikipedia Vicenza entry, it is a good place to get an overview of the town's rich history, including how many empires the town has seen come and go. Although most Americans have never heard of Vicenza, any architecture buff worth his or her salt can tell you that American democratic iconography is infused with an architectural renaissance born at Vicenza thanks to the work of Andrea Palladio, whose neoclassical revival of the dome for the Rotonda from the more famous Pantheon in Rome impressed Jefferson so much that he once called Palladio his "Bible" and he incorporated Palladian techniques for Monticello and the Rotunda at the University of Virginia. The rest is American architectural history; following Jefferson's lead, the US Congress and White House both incorporate Palladian neoclassical domes as well as most US state capitals, and thus pay homage to Jefferson's admiration of Vicenza's most famous resident. In short, the city of Vicenza is a world class city of art and architecture, both secular and religious, thus meriting its place among the elite members of UNESCO's World Heritage list.
Jumping ahead to the 20th century, the Nazis held the town during WWII until the Allies, especially the Americans, bombed the city and forced the Germans to retreat. The pock-marks of those bombings are visible everywhere on the city's walls and houses, or at least the ones that are lucky enough to still be standing. The city's main eighteenth-century theater, for instance, was destroyed during this bombing and the people of Vicenza have only just recently got around to rebuilding a new one. This is not to say that most Vicentini did not understand and accept America's bombardment in return for getting rid of the Nazis, but we must remember that it also killed many civilians, their names inscribed on walls and columns around Vicenza and nearby villages.
In more recent times, Vicenza has prospered and is one of the major players in the international gold and jewelry market. It is also situated within one the most heavily industrialized zones in the world, sitting as it does along Italy's greatest economic corridor running between Venezia (Venice) and Torino (Turin), the latter of which was the site of the 2006 Winter Olympics. On many days the Autostrada A4 artery that runs along the south side of Vicenza between Sistiana and Torino more closely resembles a vast parking lot than a highway, overrun as it is with semi-trucks shuffling goods between Eastern and Western Europe. It is, therefore, a highly modern, affluent and populated region with all the attendant problems that development and population bring, especially overcrowding, air pollution and scarcity of land and water.
The smog is a particular concern. In fact, by February 23 of this year Vicenza had already piled up 46 days where the heavy metal particles in the air were above the legal limit - the second worst performance in all of Italy. Only Verona was worse (47 days), while third place went to Padova (45 days), the two major cities between which Vicenza is now sandwiched so tightly that they are more or less one continuous development. Often you see people riding their bikes or walking with rags over their faces to keep the taste of the pollution out of their mouths and lungs - many bikes, in fact, carry a sign that when translated says "Bicycles don't pollute." Despite the pollution, which Vicenza is combating by shutting off the historic center of the town to automobiles or banning all automobiles within the city limits on some Sundays, Vicenza is more beautiful than any American city I've ever visited.
In addition to being a world-renowned city of art and architecture, Vicenza is already home to an existing American military base called Caserma Ederle, or Camp Ederle, that currently houses about 2,750 American military personnel. The soldiers stationed here have been important players in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they will undoubtedly be called upon for any future conflicts that might arise, especially those in the Middle East and Africa. The base sits just under 2 miles southeast of the town's center and since 1965 it has been the headquarters of SETF, or the Southern European Task Force (see photo 1). Since June of 2000 is has also been the home of the US Army's reactivated 173rd Airborne Brigade, which this past September was renamed the 173rd Airborne Combat Brigade Team (173rd ACBT). The residents of Vicenza enjoy visiting Caserma Ederle once a year during the annual Fourth of July celebrations, at which one finds the typical Fourth of July Americana: carnival games, rides, hot dogs, apple pie, country music, dancing, and fireworks. In fact, Vicenza is thought by many Italians to be the most pro-American of Italian cities.
Since its reactivation in 2000, the 173rd ACBT has grown from one battalion to six, two of which are at located at the existing Caserma Ederle, three in Bamberg, Germany, and one in Schweinfurt, Germany. The idea is to unify the Combat Team at Vicenza, which involves moving the four battalions there from Germany, or about 2,000 people. But because Caserma Ederle is already "a bulging waistline crammed into a pair of pants that are just too tight", which is to say that Ederle is completely overrun and surrounded by the expanded town, a new facility must be built elsewhere to accommodate the prospective arrivals.
The proposed solution to the battle of the bulge is to shoe-horn a new military facility into the existing small civilian airport called Tommaso Dal Molin, which sits on a precious piece of green space just a mile and a half northwest of the town's historic center (see photo 1). The project would also possibly involve enlarging some of the existing roads that run between Caserma Ederle on the southeast and Dal Molin to the northwest. The proposed plans mean, therefore, that the already dense population of this city would increase by almost 1.7%. They would also inherit a new US air base that is a mere 25-minute leisurely walk from the Basilica Palladiana, which sits in the heart of the city. In Photo 2, which was taken from Monte Berico on the south side of town just above the train station on a very rare day when you can clearly see the Alps, the Basilica Palladiana is the building in the bottom right-hand corner with the large green roof, while Dal Molin is the runway in the one large patch of green in the middle. Expanding the airport here, then, would be far worse than building a major military airbase one and half miles from the most historic piece of real estate in the US. As such it represents a serious callousness on the part of the US to local conditions and thus to justice itself.
As this article in Stars and Stripes shows, secret discussions for this new military installation opened "about a year and a half" before April 12 of 2005, or in late 2003, and by April 12, 2005 some sort of a plan was given the OK by the then premier of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi and possibly some local members of his center-right party at Vicenza, including the mayor Enrico Hüllweck [I have now linked to a Military.com version of this story because Stars and Stripes has removed the story from their web site; the link at Military.com also mysteriously keeps moving too, but the date is clearly April 12, 2005]. By March 5, 2006 Stars and Stripes ran another article confidently proclaiming that "growth is coming" to Vicenza. There was, however, one major problem with the discussions and agreement - the governments of Berlusconi, Hüllweck and the US had done all of the negotiating behind closed doors, thus keeping the people of Vicenza, including members of the city council, completely in the dark about it. In fact, it took more than a year after the agreement had already been announced in a US military source, which very few Italians read, for the rumor of the project to begin flitting about the town in May of 2006. In response to these rumors, on May 18, 2006 councilwoman Francesca Equizi made the first public motion at the City Council of Vicenza to debate "the future of the 'Dal Molin' airport" (see OGGETTO 82). After apparently receiving more concrete information that this indeed was going to be some sort of an American base, on June 6, 2006 she made the more specific motion for a debate on "the new American installation at the 'Dal Molin' airport" (OGGETTO 85). Naturally, justice demanded that the residents of Vicenza had a right to have a say in the matter or even to know some basic details of the proposal, like how big would the installation be, what purpose would it serve (an air base?), what brigades would be there (at this point they still didn't even know it would be the 173rd), or what sort of equipment, ammunition and chemicals? How much water and electricity would be required? How much noise, traffic, and pollution would be produced?
Meanwhile that same June, Silvio Berlusconi's center-right coalition was relieved of duty, voted out in no small part due to his support of Bush's unprovoked invasion of Iraq. By July 10, 2006 references to the Dal Molin project finally began filtering into the middle or back pages of the local newspapers (articles sorted with latest at the top). Soon thereafter the new center-left premier, Romano Prodi, who was in large part elected on his promise to pull all Italian troops out of Iraq, also said that his government would review the matter of the base extension at Vicenza.
Naturally, given the lack of public information, some news organizations began to print stories that alarmed residents, such as that this would be the largest American Army base in Europe (which turns out to be false), it would house dangerous equipment, or bombing missions would leave from there, or that the US was planning to shutter Caserma Ederle if the Dal Molin expansion weren't approved - something that would deal a blow to the local economy. This last rumor, in fact, was already flying by August 8 as demonstrated by this article, the headline of which reads "From Ederle a desperate SOS: 'Save Our Jobs'".
These rampant stories forced the US to make clarifications on the project, including the first public press conference in early October of 2006, which was conveniently arranged just a few weeks before the first scheduled public debate at the City Council. At this press conference the commander of SETF, Major General Frank Helmick, when asked directly whether the US would pull the plug on Caserma Ederle if Dal Molin were not approved said if the Dal Molin project were not approved then "the national governments of both the United States and Italy will have a difficult decision to make." Naturally, this statement was meant to convey to the City Council that the base-closure rumors might be true in order to sway their votes. At this meeting Helmick also confirmed that the plan was to bring in the 173rd Airborne Brigade and he provided a few drawings of what some of the new structures might look like (see photo 3). His office also put out a statement giving assurances that "There will be no M1 tanks, no M2 Bradley armored personnel carriers, no self-propelled artillery or self-propelled mortars, no MLRS [Multiple Launch Rocket System] Rocket Launchers, and no Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Vicenza."
I don't know about you, but if the US and Italian governments made such promises to me, I might be skeptical. Should one parse these statements, it is notable how easily misleading some of them could be, not to mention that they leave unanswered many questions, like what other equipment and ammunition would be there (are single rocket launchers allowed?), what fuel, what chemicals, and would there be loud training exercises? These sorts of agreements also find a way to be reopened and modified later when no one is paying attention - in fact the negotiations continue to be described as "on-going." Of course these sorts of negotiations are always "on-going."
On the heels of Helmick's press gaggle, Vicenza's center-right mayor Enrico Hüllweck asked Prodi's government to clarify its position on the matter. On October 16 Hüllweck was given an audience to meet with Prodi's recently appointed Italian Defense Minister, Arturo Parisi. At that meeting Parisi cheered Hüllweck and the US by saying that he personally supported the base "in the spirit of friendship between the two countries." In fact, several months later Prodi's Foreign Minister, Massimo D'Alema, would say that "Revoking the authorization would have been a hostile act on our part against the United States." This clearly demonstrates that the US government was leaning hard on Prodi's government and telling them that if they did not allow the base expansion, the US government would put Italy on a list of uncooperative or even "hostile" countries. This "all or nothing" approach to the relationship by the US, which amounts to extortion, is hardly what one would expect of a just and fair ally.
Ten days later on October 26, the City Council of Vicenza, which was elected with a majority of Berlusconi's center-right allies before the Dal Molin issue became public, finally took up the debate and voted on the matter. There were two issues under consideration: whether the Council of 41 members should just vote to approve the expansion/extension or not, or whether to allow a popular referendum to decide the issue. As for public opinion, local polls showed that 61% of the residents were against it, while a whopping 85% were in favor of settling the matter through a popular referendum. The City Council, surrounded by "unprecedented security", had 20 representatives speak for the "yeas" and 20 speak for the "nays", and then they voted first to reject the idea of a referendum and then to approve the expansion. The final tally for the project-vote was strictly along party lines, with 21 "yeas" (right coalition), 17 "nays" (left coalition), 2 abstentions, and 1 missing in action. The vote to reject holding a referendum was even closer, winning by only a margin of 1. After the vote, the previous mayor of Vicenza for 15 years, Achille Variati, is reported in the local paper to have said about the council's decisions, "No, they cannot decide the future of Vicenza themselves. I will work to bring about the referendum."
And continue to work he and others did. The people of Vicenza and throughout the region of Veneto began organizing groups to protest the move: young, old, nationalists, environmentalists, city-planners (Eduardo Salzano, a respected urban-planner from Venice, said of the project "That plan is pure folly"), artists, advocates for peace, and lots of ordinary citizens who were just plain mad as hell that the governments of Italy and the US thought they could build this in their back yard with no local, public input. Several citizen's committees were formed, an internet site was created, several public meetings held, and several smaller non-violent protests, student strikes, and sit-ins were staged. All this resulted with the first major demonstration on December 2, 2006, when somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 protestors marched the roughly 5 miles from Caserma Ederle to Dal Molin without violence or incident.
In the meantime, the citizens of Vicenza were awaiting the final word from Prodi himself, who was being pressured by some in his wafer-thin coalition to reverse Berlusconi's decision. Prodi was keeping his cards close to his vest, but on January 16, 2007, while in Bucharest, he finally played his hand, saying that his government was "not opposed to the decision of the preceding executive nor to the decision of the local government of Vicenza to expand the American military base." Within two hours of this announcement, an impromptu demonstration and sit-in took over the train station and tracks at Vicenza. On January 23, 2007 permanent sit-ins were then organized at the Town Hall and the Provincial Hall and continue to this day. Many other meetings were held, including those led by respected religious leaders. For instance, one of the most beloved Catholic priests in all of Italy for his work amongst Africa's poor, Father Alex Zanotelli, came to Vicenza at the beginning of February and gave a talk at the Teatro Astra to a packed house entitled "The Priests say 'No' to Dal Molin."
All of this led to the large peaceful rally on February 17 of somewhere between 70,000 and 150,000 demonstrators, numbers which indicate that the row has now gone national. In fact, two national TV channels, Tv7 and SkyTg 24, covered the march and registered over 4.3 million viewers -- or an impressive 5.33% average share of the television market and peak of 7.83% that afternoon. I purposely did not use the word "culminated" about this demonstration because many more actions are planned in the coming days and months until the message is received, "No to Dal Molin."
Given the local context of overcrowding and pollution, as well as the history of how this issue has been unjustly handled, including Italian and US attempts to negotiate within a small circle of government officials rather than allowing this to go to a more open and democratic referendum, it is abundantly clear that the people of Vicenza have more than enough good reasons to protest this air base in their city. It's also worth mentioning that in addition to the US's Caserma Ederle, the American military has ammunition depots under the folds of the Colli Berici - a series of stately hills that hedge in the south side of town - including one about 4 miles south at Tormeno and another about 7 miles south at Longare. There are persistent rumors that these depots house nuclear weapons, which whether true or not reflect the local mindset. So, a new base extension at Dal Molin would literally ring the city around with American military bases and munitions depots and thus increase what already seems to the locals as a heavy military footprint. Most Italians and Vicentini, in fact, are far more sensibly afraid of accidents or terrorists attacks than they are of being invaded, given that they already have more than enough bases for an adequate defense.
Then there is the extra expense a new base entails. Most Americans might be surprised to learn that Italian tax payers actually cover a significant share of American bases on their soil (this is called Host-Nation Support, see also here ). While the exact stipulations of who pays what for each specific project are mostly kept hidden per the stipulations of the post-WWII treaty, in Italy it is widely believed that Italian tax-payers are required to pick up just over 40% of the tab, in addition to the large sums for the enormous amounts of water and electricity. This doesn't cover time of war, when America often asks Host Nations to kick in even more ad hoc support, so a new base may also entangle Italy in paying greater costs for future conflicts. Any suggestion, therefore that somehow the Italians or the other nations where we have bases are "freeloaders" is terribly misguided. They help pay for a significant chunk of our bases on their soil. In addition, few Vicentini think that America's help during WWII, as much as it is appreciated, obliges them to build yet another base in their overcrowded and beautiful back yard. Most are tired of America always expecting another pay back and treating them as their eternal client state. Most feel that the post WWII Italo-American treaty is too secretive, obsolete, lopsided, and way overdue for a change. In addition, the vast majority of those who do support the bases do not do so for ideological or defensive purposes, they support them merely as a good way to make a Euro or two.
One should also remember that these American bases in Europe are often the first stop for American soldiers returning from the front line of war to civilian areas. While most Vicentini I've spoken with say the Americans have been good guests over the years, occasionally there are problems. One such fatal incident occurred on the night of November 2 or the morning of November 3, 1989, when three American soldiers and an American civilian stationed at Ederle where drinking at a dance bar in the nearby village of Marola when they got into a scuffle and "savagely killed" a man from Ghana named Johnny Boateng. It is fruitless to search online for a mention of the story in English sources; it, was, however, discussed by the Italian Parliament on Friday, December 1, 1989 (see here on page 42105 = page 17 of PDF file). More recently, one soldier who returned to Ederle from Iraq was having hallucinations and was described as being a sniper (cecchino) by the local press. Can you imagine what the US public, press and Congress would say were a foreign soldier to behave like a sniper in one of our cities when we can't even stomach foreign food names at our Congress's cafeteria ? Fortunately no one was hurt, but such was not the case in another episode (free subscription) when an American soldier stationed at Ederle, who was apparently suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a tour in Iraq, tortured and raped a woman. Naturally there are accidents; a few summers ago an American soldier in his car hit and killed a girl on her bicycle at the nearby town of Villaverla. Then there are just plain stupid mistakes, such as happened near Aviano airbase on February 3, 1998 when an American pilot, who was apparently hot-dogging with an EA-6B Prowler, lost altitude and sliced a ski-lift cable in half, sending 20 people plunging to their deaths. I do not recount these stories to make America and American soldiers look bad, rather the point is to demonstrate that the people of Vicenza have good reasons to be nervous about another American base in their city, especially a new air base.
Questions of Peace
So far I have focused on the practical reasons of justice for the opposition to this base but I'd like to conclude with a few words on the other, and in many ways more significant, reasons why many Vicentini and Italians oppose this base, namely because it is a threat to world peace. There is no doubt that in Italy and most of the world there is a widespread and growing conviction that Bush's America is no longer the same America that reluctantly fought to end a horrific war sixty years ago; rather, she is going out of her way to pick unnecessary fights, thus displaying obvious signs of fascist, militaristic and imperial behavior herself - things the Italians have quite a bit of experience with, can easily recognize, and for which they now have a term that recalls the Fascismo of yester-year: Bushismo. It also hasn't helped that the Bush administration has thumbed its nose at the UN, IAEA, the Kyoto Protocols, the Geneva Conventions, Habeas Corpus, and is responsible for Abu Gharib, Guantanamo, the recent probable involvement of CIA agents in an illegal case of extraordinary rendition in Milan, and that the US military cleared of all wrongdoing the American soldiers who in Iraq killed an Italian Secret Service agent named Nicola Calipari while he was rescuing an Italian journalist. Naturally the Italian public would prefer the US to change its policies and behavior, but if the US doesn't, even traditionally pro-American cities like Vicenza would rather risk future Vandals, Visigoths and Huns rather than be complicit enablers of US imperial hubris by hosting another American base.
That growing conviction that the highest levels of the US government have hubristic imperial designs that threaten peace is not just extremist left-wing, European blather, for one would be hard pressed to find a better smoking gun to prove the point than the Neoconservatives' own founding manifesto of 1997 at the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Rather than letting America reap the benefits of a peace dividend after the Cold-War policy of containment had produced a victory, this cabal hatched a plot to justify huge increases in defense spending that would conveniently line the pockets of their defense industry friends in order "to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values" (i.e., pre-emptive war for regime change) and to lead the world to a "New American Century" -- all behind the guise of promoting democracy. Many of those who would later become Bush Junior's most trusted senior officials, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis Libby, and Zalmay Khalilizad, all signed onto this blatant clarion call to empire. Even the president's younger brother, Jeb Bush, signed on, so it is likely that George Jr. was privy to, and supportive of, this group's goals before he was elected (someday someone will do America a big service by investigating George Bush's ties to PNAC before he became president). It should thus have come as no surprise that the official signatories to PNAC, like Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, used 9/11 as a pretext to attack Iraq and that they cooked the books on Iraqi links to Al Qaeda and WMD programs to further their little "project". In fact, in the summer of 2002 the journalist Ron Suskind reports a conversation he had with a senior Bush administration official that went as follows:
So, it is no overstatement or radical left-wing propaganda for the people of Italy and the world to protest American military bases and to invoke the words "imperial hubris" of America's actions when senior Bush administration officials view us as an empire.
The time-tested concept of what constitutes hubris is particularly important here. The noun hybris is derived from the Greek preposition hyper meaning "above" (which is cognate with the Latin preposition super from which is derived the Latin noun superbia ). Hubris to the ancient Greek, however, was not just a matter of "pride", as the word is usually poorly translated in English. Hubris was the condition of having a haughtiness so high that it led to a feeling of impunity, which in turn led to a wanton act of violence. That is why the Athenians prosecuted crimes such as rape under the rubric of hybris. For the Greeks, then, the pride of hubris was one that produced a wanton act of violence that caused great ruin, even death (which is why hubris was later listed amongst the Seven Deadly Sins). That death, however, was not limited to the victim, as any one who has read Greek literature can tell you, but the ruin of hubris eventually doubled back upon the perpetrator's own head.
In recent years, it is hard to imagine a better textbook example of classical hubris than the Bush administration's implementation of the Doctrine of Preemptive War in Iraq for the purpose of regime change and "shock and awe." That pornographic aerial assault of Baghdad created waves of mass destruction that swept outwards leaving many dead in its wake, and it continues to strew thousands of bodies across Iraq even to this day. But this hubris-born tsunami hasn't only rained destruction down on the Iraqi people. It has also doubled back on the US and senselessly killed and maimed many of our own troops as well as the troops of our allies. The world looks upon this senseless tragedy and is shocked at its awfulness, indeed.
But the force of that shocking assault created another tide of democratic disgust that first reached shore in Spain, when voters there sent Jose Maria Anzar's government packing so that Spain's troops would be withdrawn from Iraq. Next it washed upon the shores of Italy and swept Berlusconi's government out of power and Italian troops out of Iraq. It even touched America's own shores last November, when it swept members of Bush's own party out to sea. It is now rolling over Blair in Britain so that even he has announced plans to step down and withdraw British troops. It went on to Denmark, which has also announced they will be withdrawing Danish troops, and it is even pounding the distant shores of Australia, where Howard's government is now under great pressure to withdraw Australian troops. Not content to make one pass at Italy, those waves of Bushismo roiled Italy's shores a second time, drowning even Prodi's government, indicating that many people in Italy are reluctant to support a hyper-power like the US even in Afghanistan, much less the new American base at Vicenza.
Meanwhile, as America's allies are getting washed off the field left and right in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and as America's military weakens at time when we are wasting trillions of dollars, America's enemies such as Al Qaeda and Iran continue to gain strength off the energy that shocking act of wanton violence created. The result of all this is that America has fewer and fewer allies and finds herself more isolated, powerless, penniless and morally bankrupt in the face of greater dangers and threats to world peace that we ourselves created.
For Americans, however, there is more at stake here than just more future wars, losses of lives, allies, and a diminution of America's financial, military and moral stature, there is also a good chance that we will sacrifice our own republican form of democracy on the altar of the Neoconservative empire. Using Republican Rome as his model, Chalmers Johnson has recently argued that democracy and empire have historically been incompatible. Johnson was not the first one to meditate upon this conundrum; it was first observed at the home of the world's first democracy by a pro-war Athenian politician named Cleon, who during the Peloponnesian War in 427 BC got up before the Athenian assembly and in a moment of unguarded candor admitted, "I personally have often had the occasion to observe that democracy is incapable of empire" (Thucydides 3.37.1). As it turns out, up to this point in history Cleon has never been proven wrong: you can maintain democracy or empire, but over time you cannot maintain both. In short, the very politicians who claim that they are using militarism to spread democracy around the globe are curiously ignoring what the democratic peoples of the world are saying even as they undermine our own democracy at home.
But it gets worse. Even in the face of all the popular and democratic backlash around the globe against our optional invasion of Iraq, now comes word that Bush and his Neoconservative undertakers are "redirecting" our entire Middle East policy to confront the growing power of Iran (a growing power that was created by our ill-advised invasion of Iraq in the first place). This policy apparently includes advanced plans to bomb multiple sites there - plans that undoubtedly will utilize bases in Italy to coordinate these attacks, including Caserma Ederle. Given that the US has an excess of military might way beyond what is required for legitimate self defense, and given that groups like the Neoconservatives or their future mutations in the US will undoubtedly want to use that excess power for more offensive-minded military misadventures in the Middle East, Africa or elsewhere that threaten world peace, it is high time that the American public woke up to the dangers and consequences of Bushismo and join with the people of Vicenza and others around the globe to oppose more American bases, especially air bases, that will not only unjustly scar a beautiful city but also enable more tragic wars, and that if left unchecked will destroy our own democratic way of life.
** Paul A. Iversen is a Professor of Classics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He has spent a lot of time in Vicenza with family.
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