America Town: Building the Outposts of Empire

Article excerpt

America Town: Building the Outposts of Empire M.L. Gillem. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Gillem is a historian, architect, and former military officer. He draws on his background to describe how the use of land on American military bases overseas affects the host countries, particularly Japan, South Korea, and Italy. He uses a journalistic approach and integrates a great amount of information such as aerial photographs, government reports, newspaper articles, interviews with military personnel and their spouses, and first person accounts. He keeps readers engaged even though they may have little background in the history of empires, architecture, urban planning, and/or the military.

Gillem is convincing in documenting these four points regarding the sociospatial impact of the bases on their host countries: First, albeit with significant exceptions, overseas America military bases include living quarters that replicate contemporary suburbs in the continental United States; hence the bases are referred to as America Town in the title. These quarters consist of widely spaced single-family homes that on average are more extravagant than the homes of the nearby host civilians. The homes line broad, graciously curved, paved roads that provide convenient access to on-base schools, and shopping malls filled with American franchised stores and restaurants. The bases are essentially off-limits for the host country civilians. Second, the bases are self-contained to the point of constituting de facto segregation of the Americans from the host country citizenry, and that segregation not only limits positive intercultural exchanges but also actually fosters alienation of the host people from the American military personnel. …

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