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Slate's War Stories: Problems with Military Base Closures


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, DAY TO DAY's Mike Pesca wonders if there is some kind of equation that balances out a great movie like "Star Wars" and its less-great sequels and prequels.

First, this. We led Friday's show with a report on military base closings. The Pentagon proposes saving $48 billion over the next 20 years by shutting down bases and reserve centers across the country. Today, the federal base closings commission begins hearings on the Pentagon's list. Over the weekend, many alarmed politicians argued their localities should be spared. But Slate military affairs writer Phillip Carter says there's another reason that the country as a whole should re-examine this list. Phillip's here with us now.

Phillip, you write in Slate that, quote, "Today's civil military divide is greater than at any time in American history, and these cuts will widen them." How will they do that?

PHILLIP CARTER (Slate): Well, we have to start with the premise that a number of these bases, and particularly the reserve centers and armories, represent the only military presence in a lot of Americans' lives. With the all-volunteer force today, most Americans don't serve in the military, and they may not even know someone who serves in the military. So these tangible presences of the military are the only thing that connect a large part of society to the institution of the military.

CHADWICK: And when you say these reserve centers, these may be in towns or local communities, really all across the country. There's something there, people in uniform are showing up from time to time. They're going out to local cafes and things. They're integrated in the community life.

CARTER: That's right. And what's important to note is that these don't just exist for weekend drill duties, but armories are oftentimes a community center of sorts, and they contribute to the community by having elections there and by having town hall meetings there, by donating Humvees to local fairs and carnivals. And to lose these, especially in a small town that might not have something like it, will be an irreversible loss for these people, and they may not have any connection after that to the military at all.

CHADWICK: These are smaller military centers you're talking about, but I think many people would say that this list from the Pentagon seems to favor large rural bases over smaller urban ones. And that turns out to be a factor of real estate.

CARTER: Exactly. The Pentagon wants the ability to expand its bases. It also wants the ability to rapidly send troops overseas. And you can see a lot of operational necessity in this. If you have a military that you need to be able to send overseas quickly, then it makes sense to locate it near major ports and major airports and things of that nature, and it also makes sense to have large bases that you can expand to do training on and that sort of thing. But if we consolidate too much, then we remove those parts of the military that have been active in American society for the last 200 years, and that can be a dangerous thing.

CHADWICK: This question of military and civilian societies growing farther apart, isn't that really more a matter of a self-selecting, all-volunteer force rather than one drafted from all elements of society?

CARTER: That's certainly the driving force here. That's the reason why today's civil-military divide is greater than at any point in recent history. Today's force selects itself by the active enlistment, and most Americans don't choose to enlist. So by extension, most Americans don't have that connection to the force.

The problem is that in our democracy, we vest the political branches of government with the war-making powers, and when the people become divorced from the military, then it's difficult sometimes for the people to make decisions that accurately reflect the burdens being placed on the military.

CHADWICK: "The burden of voluntary military service today is heavy, but it is being borne narrowly." This is another quote from your piece.

CARTER: That's right. And if you look at certain communities where, by no coincidence, large bases are located today, they have borne an incredibly heavy price from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Places like Oceanside, California, home to the Marines of Camp Pendleton, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, home to the 82nd Airborne Division, have borne on the order of one-sixth to one-quarter of the casualties each. And that affects the ability of the rest of the country to accurately feel the burdens of this war and to make decisions about it.

CHADWICK: Opinion and analysis from Phillip Carter. You'll find his piece on base closings and the effects on civilian communities at

Phillip, thank you.

CARTER: Thank you, Alex.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: And there's more coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alex Chadwick
For more than 30 years, Alex Chadwick has been bringing the world to NPR listeners as an NPR News producer, program host and currently senior correspondent. He's reported from every continent except Antarctica.
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