Chalmers Johnson’s Nemesis is the third volume in an “inadvertent trilogy” — a sort of retirement gig, part of The American Empire Project, from an eminent UC Berkeley and UC San Diego scholar in Asian (especially Japanese) affairs.
The first volume, Blowback (2000), written just before 9.11, was an account of why something like the World Trade Center attack was bound to happen… an alternative answer to President Bush’s question, “Why do they hate us?” The term “blowback,” as he explained, is a CIA coinage that “does not mean revenge but rather retaliation for covert, illegal violence that our government has carried out abroad that it kept totally secret from the American public (even though such acts are seldom secret among the people on the receiving end).”
His second volume, The Sorrows of Empire, surveyed the vast US military establishment largely hidden from budgetary review or popular conversation: 700-plus US bases in roughly 130 countries abroad, “over two hundred military golf courses around the world, some seventy-one Learjets and other luxury aircraft to fly admirals and generals to such watering holes…” In sum, as he wrote, “As militarism, the arrogance of power, and the euphemisms required to justify imperialism inevitably conflict with America’s democratic structure of government and distort its culture and basic values, I fear that we will lose our country.”
And now, Nemesis announces that we are approaching a destination.
Chalmers Johnson and his book will be mis-classified by some as leftist, even anti-American. To my eyes and ears his Jeremiad has a classic, old-fashioned and middle-American accent. The “empire is the issue” crowd in fact spans right and left — from the late Susan Sontag and Gore Vidal through Norman Mailer to Senator Robert Byrd and Pat Buchanan. I observe that it’s only the mushy middle of the public conversation and the mainstream media that avoid the evidences of empire and the common-sense misgivings about a foreign policy of force and domination, and open contempt for “the opinions of mankind.”
The dire prophecy that Chalmers Johnson is forcing us to confront late in Bush II and the Iraq debacle comes, in fact, from a consensus of the Founding Fathers and from James Madison in particular, quoted by Johnson at some length.
In preparation for a verdict in the Libby perjury trial, let me again display one of my favorite cartoons.