Fashion Featured Item Imperialism Online Articles Show on Homepage U.S. Empire U.S. military

Power Is Sovereignty, Mr. Bond

Power Is Sovereignty, Mr. Bond

Energy Is Sovereignty, Mr. Bond

The a whole lot of U.S. army bases scattered throughout the globe may look like small, unimportant dots on a map, however they’re the inspiration of the U.S. Empire as we speak.

Daniel Immerwahr ▪ February 18, 2019
Marine Corps Air Station Futenma: An outpost of america lodged within the coronary heart of a tightly packed Okinawan metropolis.

“Ah, Mr. Powers,” says Dr. Evil, “welcome to my hollowed-out volcano.” The setting, an elaborate underground base on a tropical island from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, is immediately recognizable. The deranged supervillain, his island lair, the specter of world domination—it’s so acquainted you overlook how weird it’s.

Of all the doubtless menacing locales, why do our most formidable evildoers, those bent on world domination, hunt down distant specks of land in the midst of seas and oceans? You’d assume the qualities of islands that make them fascinating trip spots—their distance from inhabitants facilities, their relaxed tempo of life—would sick go well with them as launchpads for international conquest. In any case, Napoleon’s adversaries despatched him to Elba to neutralize him, to not encourage him to have one other go.

For the remainder of the nineteenth century, that’s how islands have been seen. Lawless and maybe even harmful, however not highly effective locations. It wasn’t till the 20 th century that the notion of planetary domination from an island began cropping up in literature. So far as I can inform, it began with Bond.


Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, knew one thing about islands. Through the Second World Warfare, he’d served because the assistant to Britain’s director of naval intelligence. In 1943, he traveled to Kingston, Jamaica for a high-level intelligence convention with the USA. The Caribbean was then in dire straits, affected by German submarines that evaded the Allied navies. Rumors floated that the boats have been discovering protected berth at a secret harbor constructed by Dr. Axel Wenner-Gren, a mysterious Swedish multimillionaire with Nazi ties who had established himself on an island within the Bahamas.

The accusations that Wenner-Gren was utilizing his island as a secret Nazi base proved false. However Fleming however discovered all of it irresistible. He purchased an property in Jamaica (named Goldeneye, after one of many intelligence operations he’d assist run) and commenced writing his Bond novels from there. Certainly one of them, Reside and Let Die, used the bit a few secret island submarine base. One other, Physician No, took the thought additional. Its titular villain, a cosmopolitan multimillionaire with a personal Caribbean island, bore an plain resemblance to Dr. Wenner-Gren.

From his secluded base, Physician No tells James Bond within the novel, he can use radio to watch, jam, and redirect U.S. missiles. The secrecy of his location is important to this. “Mister Bond, energy is sovereignty,” he explains. “And the way do I possess that energy, that sovereignty? By way of privateness. By means of the truth that no one is aware of. Via the truth that I’ve to account to nobody.”

The movies took that notion and ran with it. The personal island looms giant within the film of Physician No, however comparable locales might be present in different Bond movies: Thunderball (filmed on Wenner-Gren’s island), You Solely Reside Twice (rocket base underneath a Japanese volcanic island), Diamonds Are Eternally (offshore oil rig), Reside and Let Die (small Caribbean island dictatorship), The Man with the Golden Gun (personal Thai island), The Spy Who Beloved Me (big sea base), and Skyfall (deserted island). There’s a sequence within the 2006 On line casino Royale shot, as was Thunderball, on Wenner-Gren’s island.

The world of James Bond accommodates many absurdities. The exploding pens, shark tanks, and countless procession of round-heeled feminine helpmeets appear extra the fruits of Fleming’s rum-soaked creativeness than insights into precise espionage. But with the island factor, Fleming was onto one thing.

Simply as he noticed, islands and secret bases are devices of world domination.


James Bond was fiction, however not as removed from reality because it might sound. Beginning within the Second World Warfare, the USA had begun significantly buying abroad bases across the planet. Some have been, like Physician No’s base, on distant islands. Others have been walled-off enclaves inside different nations. Within the 1950s, Washington claimed a whole lot of abroad bases. It has, based on David Vine, some 800 at present. For distinction, contemplate that each one different nations on the earth maintain round thirty overseas bases mixed.

The pointillist empireRecognized U.S. bases past the contiguous United States at this time.


Bodily, the USA’ abroad holdings aren’t huge. Mash collectively all U.S. island territories (akin to Puerto Rico and Guam) and all of its bases and also you’d nonetheless have an space smaller than Connecticut. However these tiny specks of land are unfold everywhere in the globe, perforating the sovereignty of dozens of nations. Lots, because it seems, has occurred on or round them.

What, particularly, might america do with a base? A advantageous instance is the Swan Islands, a small cluster of three islands in an remoted a part of the Caribbean, not removed from the fictional location of Physician No’s island. Within the 1950s, the CIA secretly constructed a touchdown strip and a fifty-thousand-watt radio transmitter on Nice Swan. That single transmitter might attain South America, permitting the USA to cowl with its radio beams territory inaccessible by floor.

Quickly after the CIA constructed that radio station, a delegation of Honduran college students carrying arms got here to Nice Swan to “liberate” the islands and declare them for Honduras. That they had no concept of the CIA’s presence, and the company was decided to maintain them in the dead of night. give them loads of beer and shield the household jewels learn the frantic cable from Washington (i.e., don’t allow them to uncover the broadcasting gear). Marines sped to the island to repel the invasion.

What occurred subsequent might be greatest appreciated by studying the cable visitors from Swan to Washington:

Swan to HQ: honduran ship on horizon. beer on ice. talked to college students. they confabing [sic]. have accepted beer.

Swan to HQ: college students mixing cement during which they intend to put in writing “this island belongs to honduras.” one group malingering, listening to eartha kitt data and consuming fifth beer.

Swan to HQ: college students have simply raised honduran flag. i saluted.

Swan to HQ: beer provides are operating low. now breaking out the rum. these youngsters are nice.

Swan to HQ: college students have embarked for honduras. liquor provide exhausted. household jewels intact.

In the long run, the scholars have been permitted to sing the Honduran anthem, take a census, and lift their flag. They left, by no means realizing who their consuming buddies have been. Or that a contingent of marines had been ready, prepared to start out capturing if the beer didn’t work.

The household jewels have been value defending. In 1954, the CIA had used radio to unfold pretend information throughout a coup it helped stage to overthrow Guatemala’s elected authorities. With a transmitter on Nice Swan, it might run an much more in depth operation, this time directed at Fidel Castro’s Cuba. By means of “Radio Swan,” which posed as a privately run station, the USA promulgated false information studies and trolled the Cuban authorities. Castro and his lieutenants have been “pigs with beards.” Raúl Castro was “a queer with effeminate buddies.” The facility and site of its transmitter allowed Radio Swan to boast fifty million listeners all through the Caribbean and Central and South America.

In 1961, america despatched seven ships of paramilitaries to invade Cuba, an try and repeat its success in Guatemala. Radio Swan performed a key position, sowing confusion with cryptic messages designed to confound Castro. (“Look properly on the rainbow.” “Chico is in the home. Go to him.”) Through the invasion, Radio Swan broadcast orders to nonexistent battalions to encourage the rebels and unfold worry among the many authorities.

The Bay of Pigs invasion, because it was referred to as, led to failure. Radio Swan’s cowl was blown, and journalists snickered over the resemblance between the operation and the plot of Physician No. However that wasn’t the top of the Swan Islands. Within the 1980s, the CIA outfitted Nice Swan with a port to dump cargo meant for its political allies. Munitions, uniforms, parachutes, and different materiel flowed from the island to rebels in Nicaragua who sought to deliver down the leftist authorities there. The Swans have been the place right-wing paramilitaries educated, the place mercenary pilots from southern Africa took off for his or her airdrops over Nicaragua. The illicit streams of help on the coronary heart of the Iran-Contra scandal flowed straight by way of the Swan Islands.


Within the 1958 novel Physician No, the villain’s lair is on a “guano island,” beset by thickly flocking birds whose droppings have been within the nineteenth century a valued type of fertilizer. On the finish of the novel, Bond defeats Physician No by burying him in a guano pit.

However within the movie model, made 4 years later, there isn’t a hint of guano. As an alternative, Physician No’s island is the location of a nuclear reactor, and Bond triumphs by triggering a meltdown, drowning Physician No within the pool containing the overheating reactor. (That Bond’s motion would very possible have turned Jamaica and its environs right into a Chernobyl-style fallout zone goes narratively unexplored.)

The nuclear theme wasn’t a random selection. There’s a particular connection between nuclear weapons and bases. The very remoteness of army bases from the homeland, and sometimes from giant populations, makes them ideally suited websites to check and retailer nuclear units.

The USA discovered one such website at Bikini Atoll and the next-door atoll of Enewetak, a calmly inhabited a part of the Marshall Islands in Micronesia. The navy ushered the Marshallese off their homeland and commenced utilizing the atolls for nuclear checks. Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. army detonated sixty-seven nuclear weapons on or close to Bikini and Enewetak. To the proverbial Martian wanting on from area, it should have appeared that humanity was for some indiscernible purpose waging livid, unrelenting warfare towards a string of sandbars in the midst of the Pacific.

One check at Bikini, the “Bravo Shot,” concerned exploding a hydrogen bomb with a fifteen-megaton yield. The explosion was twice as highly effective as anticipated, and unusually robust winds carried the fallout far past the cordoned-off blast zone. Had it detonated over Washington, D.C., it might have killed 90 % of the populations of Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York inside three days.

On Rongelap, greater than 100 miles from the Bravo Shot, islanders watched radioactive white ash fall from the sky like snow. Dozens of them suffered from radiation poisoning, and the entire island needed to be evacuated for 3 years. A Japanese tuna fishing boat, the Fortunate Dragon, additionally outdoors the blast zone, was engulfed within the fallout. All twenty-three of its crew members obtained radiation poisoning, and certainly one of them died.

These have been small numbers, straightforward to disregard from Washington. “There are solely 90,000 individuals on the market,” Henry Kissinger stated of Micronesia. “Who provides a rattling?” But when the Fortunate Dragon limped again to port carrying its catch of irradiated tuna, it encountered a rustic that very a lot gave a rattling. Japan had firsthand expertise with radioactive fallout. The return of the Fortunate Dragon set off a media frenzy. Rumors that the irradiated fish had made their method onto the market briefly triggered the collapse of the tuna business. The emperor himself started touring with a Geiger counter.

Amongst these swept up within the spirit was a younger movie producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka. He’d later go on to supply such high-end classics of Japanese cinema as Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. However in 1954, the yr of the Bravo Shot, he had one thing else in thoughts. He employed a director, Ishirō Honda, who had traveled by way of Hiroshima in 1945 and seen the destruction firsthand.

Their movie, Gojira, informed the story of an historic dinosaur woke up by U.S. hydrogen bomb testing. Gojira first destroys a Japanese fishing boat—a thinly veiled Fortunate Dragon—earlier than attacking and irradiating a Bikini-like island referred to as Odo. Gojira, stated to be “emitting excessive ranges of H-bomb radiation,” then activates Tokyo, respiration hearth and laying waste to the town.

As movies go, Gojira isn’t delicate. It’s filled with speak of bombs and radiation. “If nuclear testing continues, then sometime, someplace on the planet, one other Gojira might seem,” are its somber ultimate phrases.

That message, nevertheless, obtained misplaced in translation. Gojira, phenomenally well-liked in Japan, was remixed for a U.S. viewers. The Hollywood model used a lot of the unique footage however spliced in a white, English-speaking protagonist performed by Raymond Burr. What obtained reduce out was the antinuclear politics. The Hollywood model incorporates solely two muted references to radiation. And it ends on a a lot happier notice. “The menace was gone,” the narrator concludes. “The world might get up and reside once more.”

The Japanese Gojira was a protest movie, hammering away on the risks of U.S. bases within the Pacific. The English-language Godzilla, against this, was simply one other monster flick.


The Japanese weren’t the one ones to object. The USA has maintained bases in each area on the earth, and wherever the bases have opened, protest has adopted. The French complained of U.S. “occupiers” and compelled the army to desert its base websites. Hundreds of Panamanians, marching with indicators studying down with yankee imperialism and never another inch of panamanian territory, additionally pressured the bases out.

For the British, the primary problem was nuclear weapons. Within the 1950s, america saved its bombs on British bases and flew B-47s recurrently over England. Have been these planes carrying nuclear bombs? “Properly, we didn’t construct these bombers to hold crushed rose petals,” the U.S. common in cost informed the press. He was bluffing, barely—the bombs have been unarmed. However the terrified British public had no method of figuring out that.

The British had cause to be afraid. The USA, we now know, did fly armed bombs over its allies’ territory, and doing so was terrifically harmful. Within the 1960s, a B-52 carrying 4 Mark 28 hydrogen bombs close to a U.S. base in Greenland crashed into the ice at greater than 500 miles an hour, leaving flaming particles. The traditional explosives in all 4 bombs blew up. The bombs have been ostensibly “one-point protected,” which means that these explosives across the core might go off with out detonating the bomb, as long as they didn’t go off concurrently (which might violently compress the core and set off nuclear fission). But some bombs within the arsenal had proved to not be one-point protected, and lots might go mistaken in a crash.

The Greenland accident didn’t set off a nuclear explosion. It did, nevertheless, spew plutonium everywhere in the crash website. On this, it resembled the time when one other B-52 additionally carrying 4 armed hydrogen bombs crashed over a village in Spain. A part of the aircraft landed eighty yards from an elementary faculty, one other chunk hit the earth 150 yards from a chapel. The traditional explosives in two of the bombs went off, sowing plutonium mud into the tomato fields for miles. A 3rd bomb landed intact. A fourth dropped out of sight and took the army a hair-raising three months to seek out (all whereas the field workplace was dominated by Thunderball, a James Bond thriller about nuclear weapons gone lacking).

And so the British had trigger for alarm about U.S. bases on their soil. Inside months of the U.S. common’s announcement concerning the bomber overflights, greater than 5,000 well-dressed protesters gathered within the rain at Trafalgar Sq.. From there, they marched for 4 days to a nuclear weapons facility in Aldermaston. By the point they reached it, their numbers had grown to round 10,000. nuclear disarmament and no missile bases right here, their banners learn in sober black and white.

An artist named Gerald Holtom designed a logo for the Aldermaston march. “I used to be in despair,” he remembered. He sketched himself together with his arms outstretched and downward, “within the method of Goya’s peasant earlier than the firing squad. I formalized the drawing right into a line and put a circle round it.”

The lone particular person standing helpless within the face of world-annihilating army may—it was “such a puny factor,” thought Holtom. However it captured vividly the sensation of vulnerability, the mixture of impotence and worry that dwelling within the shadow of the U.S. bases engendered. Others felt it, too, it appeared. Holtom’s creation, the peace image, resonated and shortly traveled around the globe.


Working bases abroad is a fragile operation. It’s not arduous to think about the general public response to a Chinese language base in, say, Texas. The truth is, it’s not even essential to think about. Within the eighteenth century, the stationing of British troopers in North America was so repellent to the colonists that it fueled their revolution. The Declaration of Independence denounced the king for “quartering giant our bodies of armed troops amongst us.”

So it wasn’t a shock to Washington that it was met with some caginess after the Second World Conflict when it requested to open a base in Saudi Arabia. The location was ideally suited, like an “immense plane service” proper in the midst of the main air visitors lanes of the planet, a State Division cable famous. But the Saudi royals fearful how it might look to let the USA fly its flag over the land of Mecca and Medina. So nervous was the king that, although he granted the army the appropriate to open a base at Dhahran, he forbade it from bodily planting a flag. As an alternative, the Stars and Stripes needed to be hooked up to the U.S. consulate, to stop it from touching Saudi soil. And the location was to be referred to as an “airfield,” by no means a base.

Simply because the king feared, many Muslims blanched. The Dhahran complicated introduced Christians and Jews to the Holy Land, making the Saudi monarchy complicit within the kingdom’s desecration. The Voice of the Arabs, an Egyptian radio station essential of the Saudi authorities, invoked Dhahran as its prime instance of U.S. imperialism. Ultimately, the Saudi authorities relented and ended the lease, forcing the U.S. army out in 1962.

Nevertheless it didn’t keep out. In 1990, Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq, invaded Kuwait. It was a daring and sudden assault, giving Hussein management of two-fifths of the world’s oil provide. And it appeared very a lot as if he may invade Saudi Arabia subsequent.

Dick Cheney, Basic Norman Schwarzkopf, and the Pentagon’s Paul Wolfowitz flew to Jeddah the subsequent day.

Cheney proposed reopening Dhahran to the U.S. army. “After the hazard is over, our forces will go house,” he promised. King Fadh acquiesced. “Include all you’ll be able to deliver,” he informed Cheney. “Come as quick as you’ll be able to.”

They did. The primary planes landed at Dhahran inside twenty-four hours, they usually stored coming. The Pentagon put “the whole lot aloft that would fly,” wrote Colin Powell. “You possibly can have walked throughout the Mediterranean on the wings of C-5s, C-141s, and business plane shifting throughout the area,” one pilot marveled. Saudi Arabia turned the idea for Operation Desert Storm, the U.S.-led marketing campaign towards Iraq.

However internet hosting U.S. forces at Dhahran was no much less of a sensitive topic within the 1990s than it had been earlier than. Saudis close to the bottom have been unnerved by seeing feminine service members driving automobiles and sporting T-shirts. Radio broadcasts from Baghdad charged U.S. forces with defiling Islam’s holiest websites.

Saudi clerics complained. For one vexed Saudi, Osama bin Laden, the bases weren’t solely an affront to faith, they have been additionally a maddening capitulation to empire. “It’s unconscionable to let the nation grow to be an American colony with American troopers—their filthy ft roaming in all places,” he fumed. The USA, he charged, was “turning the Arabian Peninsula into the most important air, land, and sea base within the area.”

Major Coalition Bases in the Gulf WarMain coalition bases used within the Gulf Warfare

On the urging of the nervous Saudi authorities, Bin Laden left the nation, making his approach ultimately to Afghanistan. However he didn’t drop the difficulty. That the U.S. troops stayed in Saudi Arabia after defeating Saddam Hussein within the Gulf Warfare, in breach of Cheney’s promise, solely added gasoline to Bin Laden’s hearth.

In 1996, a bomb went off at a housing facility at Dhahran. Nineteen U.S. Air Drive personnel died, and 372 individuals have been wounded. Bin Laden claimed duty. It’s genuinely unclear if he was concerned, however somebody hated the bottom sufficient to bomb it.

Shortly after the Dhahran bombing, Bin Laden issued his “Declaration of Warfare Towards the People Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Locations.” On the face of it, this appeared an absurdly imbalanced warfare: an exile dwelling in a cave complicated in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, taking over probably the most highly effective army in existence. But Bin Laden, outfitted with the newest satellite tv for pc know-how in his mountain base, calculated that he might, like some kind of Central Asian Physician No, order strikes from afar.

These calculations have been proper. On the eighth anniversary of the arrival of U.S. troops at Dhahran, Bin Laden used satellite tv for pc communications to coordinate simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Greater than 200 individuals died, and a number of other thousand have been wounded.

The climax of Bin Laden’s marketing campaign got here three years later, in what al-Qaeda known as its “planes operation.” Nineteen hijackers, fifteen of them from Saudi Arabia, commandeered 4 business plane. One hit the Pentagon (“a army base,” Bin Laden defined). Two extra struck the World Commerce Middle (“It wasn’t a youngsters’s faculty!”). The fourth, en path to the U.S. Capitol, crashed in a subject in Pennsylvania.

The assaults baffled many in the USA. “To us, Afghanistan appeared very distant,” wrote the members of the 9/11 Fee. So why was a Saudi man there attacking Washington and New York?

The reply is that, for Bin Laden, the USA was not “very distant.” “Your forces occupy our nations,” he wrote in his message to the U.S. populace. “You unfold your army bases all through them.” Bin Laden’s listing of grievances towards america was lengthy, starting from its help of Israel to Invoice Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. (“Is there a worse sort of occasion for which your identify will go down in historical past?” he requested.) However his chief objection, voiced persistently all through his profession, was the stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia.

That is value emphasizing. After the 9/11 assaults, “Why do they hate us?” was the fixed query. But Bin Laden’s motives have been neither unknowable nor obscure. September 11 was, largely, retaliation towards america for its empire of bases.


The conflict on terror was, Protection Secretary Donald Rumsfeld informed the press after 9/11, a “very new sort of battle.” Earlier wars had been towards nations. Now america was preventing terrorism writ giant. The previous area-based army ideas of entrance, rear, and flank not made as a lot sense. “We’ll should cope with networks,” Rumsfeld defined.

Having recognized the adversary as a collection of related factors, Rumsfeld adhered to a brand new strategy to preventing. It was much less a recreation of Danger than one among Disguise and Search. Eyes within the sky, not boots on the bottom, can be the important thing. Rumsfeld favored a army that specialised find targets and zapping them from above with pinpoint aerial strikes. The enemy on this type of warfare wasn’t a rustic. It was a GPS coordinate.

But when giant occupying armies weren’t central to this new conception of conflict, bases have been. Even drones want launchpads, and the struggle on terror relied on a string of bases operating from North America to the recent spots and conflict zones. Such bases, Rumsfeld confessed, “grate on native populations.” However even because the U.S. army has been kicked misplaced after place—Vieques in Puerto Rico, Dhahran (once more) in Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan—it has held tight to the websites it could possibly management, typically islands. Anti-base resistance in Okinawa has led the army to plan a serious enlargement on Guam. As a U.S. territory, Guam has no voting energy in Congress and no energy to vote for the president. It’s a possession, and the USA can do with it what it pleases.

Guam isn’t the one spot of land that has proved essential within the ongoing struggle on terror. Quickly after 9/11, the Bush administration fixed on Guantánamo Bay in Cuba as a spot to detain suspected terrorists. A century-old lease gave the USA full jurisdiction over it. It had a McDonald’s, a Baskin-Robbins, a Boy Scout contingent, and a Star Trek fan membership. However as a result of the land remained technically Cuban, it was, White Home legal professionals argued, “overseas territory” the place U.S. legal guidelines and treaties relating to the remedy of prisoners wouldn’t apply.

Guam and Guantánamo Bay are a becoming pair, each U.S. outposts removed from the preventing which have however turn out to be central to the struggle on terror. Small dots on the map like this might sound unimportant. However they’re the inspiration of the U.S. Empire in the present day. They and tons of of different websites across the globe are the place the army can retailer its weapons, station its troops, detain suspects, launch its drones, and monitor international affairs. They’re so priceless as a result of they’re outposts of america the place, within the phrases of Physician No, Washington has to “account to nobody.”

Daniel Immerwahr teaches historical past at Northwestern College. He’s the writer of Easy methods to Disguise an Empire: A Historical past of the Larger United States (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019) and Considering Small (Harvard, 2015).

This excerpt, printed with permission from the writer, is from Learn how to Cover An Empire: A Historical past of the Larger United States, out February 2019.

fbq(‘init’, ‘552845971584446’,
em: ‘insert_email_variable,’
fbq(‘monitor’, ‘PageView’);
(perform(d, s, id)
var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];
if (d.getElementById(id)) return;
js = d.createElement(s); = id;
js.src = “//join.fb.internet/en_US/all.js#xfbml=1&appId=214067098624442”;
fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);
(doc, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’));

About the author