Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Social Unrest and American Military Bases in Turkey and Germany since 1945

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Social Unrest and American Military Bases in Turkey and Germany since 1945

Article excerpt

Holmes' Social Unrest and American Military Bases is a comparative study of anti-American bases social movements that emerged in Turkey and Germany during the Cold War and continued after. The author explores the emergence and causes of these movements against U.S. military presence in two frontline NATO allies, how the U.S. responded to these movements, and which tactics these movements resorted to, in order to accomplish their objectives. In doing so she does a commendable job of blending international relations and social movements literature to better understand the domestic and international conditions under which the perception of an American military presence went from 'legitimate protector' to 'giving harm' to Turkish and German security and sovereignty, that it was initially supposed to protect


Holmes rightly pays significant attention to the 1960s as the period when a distinct, mostly left-oriented, social movement emerged in Turkey against the American military presence. Not only different leftist political organizations, many of them illegal (such as THKO, THKC, and THKP), protested, threatened, kidnapped, and hurt American military officers assigned to or visiting Turkey (for instance, for temporary port visits) but also Turkish workers at American military facilities in different parts of the country carried out organized strikes and protests. A critical contribution to this antibase movement came from the leftist stream that developed within the armed forces as well (pp.70-73). Although the 1971 and 1980 coup d'etats significantly weakened the leftist influence, the anti-base protests flashed after the end of the Cold War as well, especially after the American decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and the U.S. requested Turkey's consent to use Incirlik base to open a northern front in the war.

The anti-base social movement was more intense in Germany. There too, American military personnel lived under the dire threat posed by the Red Army Faction (RAF), which, according to Holmes "... were opposed not to the unintentional collateral harm caused by the U.S. presence in Germany, but rather the intentional, concrete harm caused by the U.S. war in Vietnam" (p. 105). The anti-base social movement employed other tactics as well, such as civil disobedience acts, including blocking military bases, and street protests. Although not stressed enough in the book in the case of Turkey, disruption of people's daily lives and the humiliation felt by American officers' daily activities also contributed to the social unrest. In Germany communities, near areas where American training continued 363 days a year, were badly affected from the noise and raised complaints over the years (pp. 125, 126).

This is a well-written book on an understudied subject, especially in Turkey. Its rich archival data is complemented by an impressive number of interviews conducted in Turkey, Germany, and United States. The author is absolutely correct that opposition to U.S. bases in Turkey was a homegrown event with only minimal relation to the Vietnam war (pp. 19, 67). It is also an astute observation that consolidated democracies are more likely be acquiescent in accepting U.S. military bases while democracies in transition 'create' less problems for American military presence (p. 20). When left-oriented groups protested American fleets visiting Turkish ports toward the end of the 1960s and the U.S. wanted Turkey, as a NATO member, to provide safe passage and shelter for the U.S. personnel, it also realized that Turkey faced a dilemma between obligations arising from NATO membership and its democratic system, which forced it to respect demonstrations. This reminds us of the perennial dilemma felt by American policy makers between 'stability' and 'democracy' both before and after the Cold War.

Holmes is correct to attribute the emergence of anti-base movement in Turkey in the 1960s to the U-2 spy plane incident, the Cuban missile crisis, and the Johnson letter as defining moments that turned both public opinion and some elite attitudes against the U. …

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