Boots On The Boot: The US Military & Italy

From the northern towns of Aviano and Vicenza to Sigonella on the island of Sicily, slices of America can be found throughout Italy.

US military members

From the northern towns of Aviano and Vicenza to Sigonella on the island of Sicily, slices of America can be found throughout Italy.

Blue waves crash onto white sandy beaches. Villas perch magnificently on the hillside. Children ride their bikes between military tanks. Director Luca Guadagnino of dreamy Call Me by Your Name offers these scenic snippets in the advertisement for his new film. We Are Who We Are follows a pair of friends as they navigate their teenage years and a time of self exploration.

But what makes the film particularly intriguing is the setting of the story on an American military base in Italy. The movie will not only give us an inside look into the growing pains of teens living amongst US service members abroad, but will introduce viewers to facets particular to the military community: American influence and impact on the international stage, multiculturalism and diversity, globalization. The base is as much a protagonist as the characters themselves.

Much like pizzette, little slices of America can be found throughout the Italian peninsula. From the northern towns of Aviano and Vicenza to Sigonella on the island of Sicily, the naval, air force and army branches are all represented in Italy. The history of these bases is rooted in the creation of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Org) in 1949 after WWII. The agreement was originally founded with key principles in mind: to quash the Russian communist threat and expansion postwar; to encourage EU political integration and deter nationalism; to create and maintain allyship — a coalition for global security.

For this reason, American bases have been present throughout Europe since NATO’s inception. The organization has evolved significantly over time in response to conflicts throughout history, for example, dealings with the USSR, the Kosovo War and unrest in the Balkan region. Most recently, the US plans to move troops further southeast, including to locations in Italy, as an anchor for American force’s southern plank in response to unrest in the Middle East.

There exists much debate over the presence and relevance of these bases, not only in Italy but globally. American critics point to the ineffectiveness and financial drain of these installations on the US economy, while Italian pundits are displeased by the imposition of US influence and the presence of nuclear weapons. Some also openly criticize the lack in “bilateralism” — one of the foundational elements of NATO — of these military efforts as they are seemingly solely controlled by American forces and bring US conflicts to Italian shores. Moreover, the cultural clash between military members and locals has added to feelings of resentment in years past.

Proponents, however, point to the continued relevance and importance of these bases as active components of international allyship and symbols of collaboration. For better or worse, the US has taken on the role of “global policeman,” acting and reacting in the name of security worldwide but also with goals of self preservation and self interest. America fronts a large bill in the name of this crusade, something to the tune of $24.4 billion dollars in the 2020 fiscal year. Many allies rely heavily on US military forces, so much so that their own armies are not nearly as developed and extensive.

A poll taken in 2018 by the Social Science Research Network reveals that countries, including Italy, maintain neutral if not positive attitudes towards the presence of the US military in their home country. Solidarity between American forces and Italian locals was evident this year as we observed collective responses to the coronavirus outbreak and the murder of George Floyd.

The ongoing conversation surrounding America’s military presence in Italy is as multifaceted and complicated as, say, being a teenager. Enter Guadagnino whose We Are explores identity on varying levels, most obviously through his teen leads Caitlin and Fraser. Their adolescent juncture applies to the military community on a broader scale. It seems appropriate that teenagers as well as American service members be considered “inbetweeners” — the teens as neither adults, nor children; the military members as neither American, nor Italian. The cultural commingling is evident in the trailer as the US and Italian flags are raised side-by-side, and American kids ride past the local Eurospin store. Guadagnino’s film first humanizes and then complicates the American military experience, through the most complex perspective of all: that of a teenager.

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