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Posts Tagged ‘Chalmers Johnson’

Responsible Statecraft – An appreciation: Chalmers Johnson’s writings on American empire

Posted by M. C. on April 15, 2020

Richard Drake

It has been nearly ten years since Chalmers Johnson died, and twice that long since the publication of “Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire.” That Johnson’s condemnation of American imperialism originated in a conservative political and philosophical tradition makes him a somewhat unusual figure. Such viewpoints more characteristically come from the left than the right. The “Blowback” series, eventually comprising three volumes, remains a prime source for understanding the motives of American foreign policy in the Trump era and merits a retrospective appreciation.

A longtime political science professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Johnson was one of that institution’s most publicly visible conservatives during the anti-war protests of the 1960s. In “Blowback,” Johnson described himself as an Eisenhower Republican. He had believed in America’s anti-communist Cold War mission. After serving as a naval officer during the Korean War, he earned graduate degrees in political science at Berkeley and became a leading expert on China and Japan at his alma mater. He performed consulting work for the CIA where the term “blowback” was used to refer to unintended consequences of government policies.

Only after the end of the Cold War did Johnson begin to question the assumptions of the American foreign policy he had served in and out of uniform. He had understood the need for a far-flung American military presence to oppose the murderous tyranny of the Soviet Union. Why even after the Soviet Union had disappeared, however, did the United States continue to maintain an ever-increasing network of military bases? In “Blowback,” he set out to find answers to this question.

Johnson began with a confession. Although abysmally ignorant about the dysfunction and oppression in communist societies, the Berkeley radicals had understood the nature of American capitalism better than he had. American foreign policy did make sense only in the light of economics. During the Second World War, the United States had taken the lead in creating the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as the financial means of creating a global capitalist order. To defend that order, an American empire of military bases would ring the globe. Everything everywhere would be a concern of the United States in its self-appointed role as the guardian of the status quo. The Soviet Union had been more a pretext than a reason for these worldwide operations, as the continued existence of an American empire of bases after the Cold War made manifest.

Keeping a lid on the cauldron of international problems stemming from a world order in which billions of people lived on less than two dollars a day and whole cultures suffered from the resentments of ethnic or religious marginalization would have the United States perpetually on the march fighting endless wars. This would be one form of blowback. Terrorism would be another. Read the rest of this entry »

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