AUBURN, Ala. -- The American tourist is the subject of legend, lore and some degree of reluctant affection around the world. Europeans and Asians may look down on us in some ways, but they're glad for the prosperity that comes with private spending.
Not so with the U.S. troops. In almost every country, they are stirring up public controversy. People claim U.S. soldiers are so rowdy as to be culturally disruptive. Not even the Yankee dollar can paper over that fact. With U.S. troops come crime, social dislocation and cultural mayhem.
For example, a year ago, three American servicemen stationed in Okinawa beat and raped a sixth-grade girl, a crime unheard of in Japan. On its own terms, it was an appalling act of violence, made all the worse by the fact that it was committed by foreign military men. It should have humiliated every patriotic American. Yet, in a classic display of shamelessness, the mothers of the rapists blamed the supposed "racism" of the Japanese people instead of owning up to their sons' guilt.
Outrage in Japan was strong enough to force a revision this week of Japan's security treaty with the United States and a consolidation of U.S. deployments on Okinawa.
The incident should have caused the public to rethink the place of the U.S. in the post-Cold War world. Instead, most people turned a blind eye.
City of bars
This wasn't an isolated occurrence. Wherever the U.S. military goes around the world, every manner of vice follows. Subic Bay in the Philippines supported an entire city of bars and prostitutes, and the people of Okinawa know the U.S. military as a root cause of petty theft, public drunkenness, the drug trade, harlotry and sexual disease. The beating and rape of a child was merely the last straw.
The facts are difficult for most Americans to face up to. They don't square with the image we have traditionally held of our troops. In newsreels from World War II, U.S. troops were greeted in all corners of the globe as conquering heroes and liberators. Even now, we are shown pictures of Haitians celebrating our soldiers and their deeds.
But the world has been transformed. The military is far more political now, and even less morally disciplined. It attracts social misfits and deviants, in addition to disciplined young men of the old school. Alcoholism is rampant and so is drug use.
Military bases not only have menaced foreign cultures; they also have harmed our communities. The U.S. military has long been the world's largest purveyor of pornography, which pours out of its discounted PX shops. Military dollars -- meaning U.S. tax dollars -- support a lifestyle of decadence and dishonor for hundreds of thousands of enlisted men.
Corrupting a small town
Think about Columbus, Georgia, an otherwise charming Southern city populated by traditional people with traditional morals. It also hosts Fort Benning. Along the main drag are two dozen or so nude dancing, modeling and sex parlors. They aren't inconspicuous, but brightly lighted, and supported by military paychecks.
The same is true around every military base. We can turn our televisions off and avoid bad movies, but we can't stop paying for a government bureaucracy that corrupts youth, promotes booze and promiscuity, and subsidizes seediness.
The rallying cry of the anti-war movement used to be "bring the boys home." These days, the cry from the rest of the world is "take your boys back!" It's not xenophobia at work. How would we react if foreign soldiers were a primary source of crime and cultural squalor in America? The outcry would be deafening, and they'd be out on their ears.
Even aside from the costs to us in taxes and freedom of maintaining the "large standing armies" the framers of the constitution warned against, we should bring the troops home if we have no desire to wreak moral havoc on foreign lands. That this is not even a consideration is a measure of the moral blindness of our political leaders.
Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
Pub Date: 12/03/96