Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The U.S. government has proposed to make Vicenza, Italy, the largest US military site in Europe, but the people of Vicenza, and all of Italy, have sworn it will never happen.
As with the story of the Downing Street Minutes two years ago, a major news story and huge controversy in Europe right now is unknown to Americans, despite the fact that it is all about the policies of the American government. In February of this year, 200,000 people descended on the Northeastern Italian town of Vicenza (population 100,000) to march in protest. Largely as a result, the Prime Minister of Italy was (temporarily) driven out of power. Meanwhile, just outside Vicenza, large tents now hold newly minted citizen activists keeping a 24-hour-per-day vigil and training hundreds of senior citizens, children, and families every day in how to nonviolently stop bulldozers. The bulldozers they are waiting for are American.
The conflict, should it come about, will be as surprising to American television viewers as were the attacks of 9-11, unless someone tells them ahead of time what is going on. In opposition to the base, a group of Italian Members of Parliament have visited Washington attempting to do just that.
To understand this story it is necessary to be aware of a few basic facts that Americans are not supposed to be aware of, including that U.S. military maintains several hundred bases in other people's countries, and that many of the residents of these countries resent the their presence. (Of course, the alleged planner of the murderous 9-11 attacks said he was reacting to U.S. bases on foreign soil, in that case in Saudi Arabia. The Bush Administration closed the offending bases.)
Since this story broke last year, Vicenza has become a focus for peace activists in Europe and has been the site of numerous protests and acts of civil disobedience.
As in much of the world, Vicenza is already overrun by American soldiers who drink too much, commit too many crimes, return from Iraq in mental anguish, and – since 9-11 – remain ever more isolated from the Italians. It's the Vicentines' city, but they are second-class citizens. If an Italian is waiting in line in a hospital emergency room, and a U.S. soldier comes in, the soldier can go straight to the front. And the economic argument so cynically used all over the United States to keep our economy based on war does not work in Vicenza: Italian tax payers are paying a large portion of the cost of their own occupation.
American taxpayers, on the other hand, are completely oblivious to the fact that they are paying hundreds of millions of dollars for the construction of a base that has enraged the nation of Italy and serves no purpose that the people of the United States have ever debated or had any say in.
But Cinzia Bottene, one of the leaders for the resistance, makes their case very clear. "The citizens," she says, "will never, I repeat, never accept a base at Dal Molin."
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