Thursday, December 17, 2015

Italy's "huge" military base...

A couple of days ago, I got into a discussion with an Italian friend of mine who is now a US citizen living in Germany.  I "met" him on Epinions.com, a now defunct product review site where I posted for about eleven years.  My friend, "Vic", used to read my reviews and leave snarky comments.  At first, I was offended by him, but then grew to appreciate him as we got to know each other better.  Make no mistake about it.  He's not a fan of the US military.  He enjoys disdaining it and other things about the United States.

I can't help but think it's a shame that Vic got naturalized, since he clearly doesn't love his "adopted" country and now has to pay taxes.  Aside from that Vic clearly identifies as an Italian, though he hasn't lived in Italy for years and often disdains Italy, too.  Indeed, Vic has said the only city that "works" in Italy is Bolzano.  I will agree, Bolzano is a beautiful city with a nice mix of Austrian and Italian.  I can see why that works well.

So anyway, I was commenting about my initial impressions of Vicenza, which, to be honest, aren't all that positive.  Granted, I haven't had the chance to see much of the city, since I've kind of been stuck at the hotel in the depressing outskirts this week.  What I did see looked charming, though crowded with aggressive drivers and dented vehicles and I was seeing it in the dark while highly annoyed with Bill.  The food, on the other hand, has been a real delight.

Vic agreed that Vicenza is not Italy's nicest city.  He mentioned that one of the main reasons it sucks is because of the "huge" US military installation there.  He says that as a US taxpayer, he doesn't like his taxes going to fund the US war machine.  As an Italian, he simply wants that "crap" out of his country.

I had to take exception to Vic's comments.  First off, if you want to talk size, the military installation in Vicenza is certainly not "huge".  It's about a quarter of the size of the one(s) in the Stuttgart area.  In fact, the United States has been downsizing its footprint in Europe over the past few years.  A couple of installations in Germany that were open when we lived in Europe last time are now defunct.  One in Italy used to be a full base, but is now just a "camp".  Little by little, the United States military is leaving Europe, though I doubt they will ever totally go away.  And while some people would like to see them leave, others are glad they are there.  Not only is the US military handy for defense purposes; it's also good for local businesses.  Aside from that, a lot of US citizens end up befriending or even marrying host country nationals.

But there's another side to this that I don't think people not affiliated with the military realize.  Americans ought to have the chance to live abroad.  Too many Americans never leave the United States.  Too few have passports and take the opportunity to travel.  People talk about how Americans have no concept of what life is like in other places and they don't have respect for other people.  One way to build respect and empathy for others is through exposure.  Taking vacations is all well and good, but it takes immersion to really get a feel for what another country is like.  It's true that a lot of Americans living abroad never bother to see anything beyond the gates of a military installation.  On the other hand, plenty of people take the time to see where they are and get exposed to new things.

To be honest, a lot of Americans in the US military come from places where they might not have otherwise had the chance to travel beyond the US.  Granted, that isn't true for everyone, but it is true for many people.  My dad, for instance, grew up poor and later became an Air Force officer.  His career afforded him a chance to see much of the world and develop a fascination for other cultures, an appreciation for which he passed on to his daughters.  We grew up more open minded than we might have, largely because we didn't grow up in one place.  In fact, though my dad was a staunch Republican, his daughters are way more liberal than he ever was.  Because we had been exposed to other people and other places, we didn't have that narrow perspective of someone who always stays within a comfort zone.

This is my fourth time living abroad.  Every time I move to another country, I learn new things and meet new people.  I try to be a good ambassador for my home country.  I understand why people have a negative opinion of the United States.  But if we quit living abroad and traveling, pretty soon all many people will know of us is what they see in movies or watch on the news.

I can appreciate that it's expensive to maintain military bases all over the world.  I understand that moving Americans to Europe or elsewhere costs a lot of money.  Vic wants to know why we need to do this.  Why does the military send people to live abroad and spend so much money on bases in places like Italy and Germany?  Well, I won't pretend to know all the reasons why.  It's a rather complex issue that has roots going back to way before I ever walked on Earth.

I doubt what I say to Vic will change his impressions of the military or the people within it.  I think if he met Bill in person, he would not see someone who is a knuckle dragger who likes blowing up things.  He's a kind, sensitive, intelligent man who loves what he does and loves his country... and loves Europe, too.  All I will say is that I'm glad that we have the chance to live in Europe.  I appreciate it.  It's changed my life and opened my eyes and made me a better person.  I can't be the only one who feels that way.

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