The Next Vieques?

There's a battle going on between the U.S. Navy and community activists in Washington County, N.C., where the Navy wants to place an Offsite Landing Field (OLF) so fighter pilots can practice carrier landing. OLF opponents bring up good arguments, including environmental damage, noise, and unfairness to farmers whose lands will be appropriated.

This is all happening because the Navy lost its testing and practice grounds on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico. A popular uprising, including everyone from churches to pop stars to pro athletes, eventually forced the Navy to leave, after they had occupied much of the island for nearly fifty years. Now they need to shift testing to sites in the U.S., where the prime candidates include a series of locations in Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida, where live bombing exercises will take place at three ranges in the panhandle and central Florida.

So when the colonies act up, where does the military look? The rural South, of course, where they figure resistance can be defused with appeals to patriotism or fear of losing military dollars. Nearby Craven County's state legislators (two Democrats, one Republican) have come out pro-OLF, citing the need to placate the military in an age of base closings. As Sen. Scott Thomas (D-Craven) put it, "It sends a very bad message to the BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure] Commission." Craven County is the site of the Cherry Point Marine air station, where some of the jets that will practice landing in Washington County will be based.

Rep. Michael Gorman (R-Craven) said that Puerto Ricans "dealt themselves a devastating blow" by forcing the Navy to relocate.

Even in Puerto Rico, where unemployment is at 12 percent, legislators implored the Navy not to close the nearby Roosevelt Roads base in Ceiba after live testing ended. Ceiba's mayor said that the closing was intended to punish Puerto Ricans for the Vieques outcome.

Protesters in North Carolina and Florida aren't going to be able to marshal a popular movement to match the Vieques outpouring, for many reasons-most importantly, there was a strong nationalist/anti-colonialist element in the Puerto Rican movement. If anything, nationalism will work against the opponents of the new practice and bombing grounds. But it is instructive to see how the military exploits economic insecurity, in the South and elsewhere.

Any chance the rural South will wake up to its status as a colony any time soon?