Date of Degree
Catherine Lutz, Brown University
Between 1956 and 1973, the U.S. Government orchestrated the forced removal of the people of the Indian Ocean's Chagos Archipelago to create a military base on the island Diego Garcia. This dissertation provides a historical ethnography of Diego Garcia detailing the creation of the base, the removal, and the effects of the removal on the people known as Chagossians to ask what Diego Garcia reveals about the United States as an empire and empire more broadly.
Contrary to arguments that the United States became an empire of economics in the 20th century, Diego Garcia represents a reactionary reliance on traditional imperial tools of overseas bases and military force to maintain global dominance in an era of decolonization and declining U.S. power. As a response to decolonization, Diego Garcia helped usher in an ongoing shift of bases from locations near population centers to locations isolated from potentially antagonistic locals. Although Diego Garcia was just one reaction among many to growing U.S. anxieties, Diego Garcia's significance increases as one of the first deployments of U.S. military power in the Middle East. Seeking to explain the expulsion further, the dissertation also shows how the officials responsible for the removal practiced policymaking in a way that generally ignored the human impacts of their actions.
Because understanding empire requires recognition of its costs, the dissertation demonstrates how the expulsion caused severe ongoing impoverishment for the Chagossians. Linked with at least 13 other cases of displacement around bases, the Chagossians' removal illuminates a pattern of the U.S. military displacing non-"white," non-European peoples to build overseas military facilities, generally resulting in the impoverishment of the displaced. In sum, the dissertation suggests a more balanced perspective on American Empire, highlighting how overseas bases, along with other military and political tools, have worked in tandem with and undergirded economic forms of power, and how the national security that overseas bases supposedly offer has often been built on the insecurity of others. The dissertation concludes with the Chagossians' struggle to return to Chagos and win compensation, taking them to some of the highest courts in Britain and the United States.
Vine, David Stiefel, "Empire's Footprint: Expulsion and the United States Military Base on Diego Garcia" (2006). CUNY Academic Works.