Remembering Chalmers Ashby Johnson (8/6/31 – 11/20/10) – by Stephen Lendman
A personal note.
It’s no way to begin a Sunday or any day. An email explained. My first thought was: damn, we lost another good one when we urgently need him and many others, given the state of today’s America – out-of-control militarism, imperial arrogance, and homeland repression at a time of economic crisis for millions. Johnson knew the threat, challenging it brilliantly in his important writings and outspokenness. Now he’s gone.
A former cold warrior, Chal, as friends called him, turned activist critic of US foreign policy, an imperial agenda doomed to fail. When the Cold War ended, he saw no further logic to US global bases, continued heightened militarism, and occupation of Japan, South Korea, Germany and elsewhere.
Peace breaking out was glorious. “Give Peace A Chance,” wrote John Lennon, his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame song predated it by two decades.
In a March 2006 Tom Engelhardt interview, Johnson said:
“I was a cold warrior. There’s no doubt about that. I believed the Soviet Union was a genuine menace. I still think so….As I saw it, the only justification for our monster military apparatus, its size, the amounts spent on it, the growth of the Military-Industrial Complex….was the existence of the Soviet Union and its determination to match us.”
After it imploded, he thought: “What an incredible vindication for the United States. Now it’s over, and the time has come for a real victory dividend, a genuine peace dividend. The question was: Would the US behave as it had in the past when big wars came to an end?” Instead, we “began to seek an alternative enemy. Our leaders simply could not contemplate dismantling the apparatus of the Cold War. That was, I thought, shocking….I was flabbergasted and felt the need to understand what had happened.”
Maintaining heightened militarism “suggest(ed) that the Cold War was, in fact, a cover for something else; that something else being an American empire intentionally created during World War II as the successor to the British Empire. The Cold War was not the clean-cut conflict between totalitarian and democratic values that we had claimed it to be.”
Most ominous about US imperialism is that “militarism is so central to ours….not (for) national defense….but as a way of life, as a way of getting rich or getting comfortable. (Yet it’s) bankrupting the country…This is not free enterprise. (It’s) state socialism,” heading us for ruin. “And the precedents for this should really terrify us.”
Johnson ended the interview quoting Pogo’s observation, saying: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
On November 21, Steve Clemens wrote about the man he knew, worked with, and admired, his article titled, “The Impact Today and Tomorrow of Chalmers Johnson.” Calling him “incorruptible and passionate about policy, theory and their practice,” he can’t “fathom him being gone….I just can’t imagine that this blustery, irreverent, completely brilliant force won’t be there to challenge Washington and academia.” He “defied society’s and life’s rules and commanded an enormous following of acolytes and enemies.”
His wife and lifelong intellectual partner, Sheila Johnson, a Ph.D in anthropology, a distinguished scholar in her own right, wrote this on her husband’s passing:
“At about 1PM on Saturday, November 20, Chal breathed his last. Chal was in hospice care here at home for ten weeks. We tried to keep him as comfortable as possible, and many evenings our cat Seiji slept on his bed to keep him company.”
Noting his last four books, she said “They paint a gloomy picture of a way of life grown old, and they perhaps cannot change the course of history, but they were written with the hope that readers would gain greater understanding as to what is happening to our Republic and the world.” More on his books below.
A Brief Profile
Distinguished scholar, author, Korean War veteran, and former CIA consultant turned anti-war activist, Johnson taught political science and Chinese studies for 30 years at the University of California’s Berkeley and San Diego campuses from 1962 – 1992, holding endowed chairs in Asian politics at both. At Berkeley, he also served as Chairman of the Center for Chinese Studies and its Department of Political Science.
From 1967 – 1973, he was a consultant for the CIA’S Office of National Estimates (NIEs), contributing analysis on China and Maoism.
In 1976, he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1994, he co-founded and served as president of the Japan Policy Research Institute (JPRI), “dedicated to policy-relevant research and public education on Japan and the entire Pacific Rim, with the aim of advancing inter-societal understanding, regional reconciliation, and global justice.”
Johnson was also a prolific writer of numerous articles and 18 books, his newest titled, “Dismantling the Empire – America’s Last Best Hope,” calling the country’s reliance on global imperialism and permanent wars a “suicide option” unless reversed, the topic his well-known trilogy addressed:
— “Blowback,” CIA terminology following its first foreign leader coup, ousting Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq, ushering in 26 years of dictatorship under Shah Reza Pahlavi;
— “The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic;” and
— “Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic.”
Combined, the three volumes show how imperial hubris and overreach undermined the republic, what Johnson called:
“arrogant and misguided American policies (that) headed us for a series of catastrophes comparable to our disgrace and defeat in Vietnam or even to the sort of extinction that befell….the Soviet Union (that he believes is) now unavoidable.”
Calling America’s condition dire, he said it’s “too late for mere scattered reforms of our government or bloated military to make much difference.” History is clear, he stressed. We can choose democracy and survive. Or continue as present and perish, saying America is plagued by the same dynamic that doomed past empires unwilling to change, what he called:
“isolation, overstretch, the uniting of local and global forces opposed to imperialism, and in the end bankruptcy,” combined with authoritarian rule and loss of personal freedom.
Hence, his title, Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance and punisher of hubris and arrogance in Greek mythology. She’s already among us, unseen and patiently stalking our way of life as a free nation, awaiting her moment to appear, our day of reckoning.
Johnson compared her to Wagner’s Brunnhilde in Der Ring des Nibelungen. Unlike Nemesis, she collects heros, not fools and hypocrites. But she and Nemesis announce themselves the same way: “Only the doomed see me,” even though her presence harms everyone.
Post-9/11, Johnson railed against destructive policies driving the country to tyranny and ruin, citing:
— a nation with no enemies permanently at war;
— a secret, unaccountable global torture prison gulag;
— the most secretive, intrusive, repressive government in our history under a lawless, duplicitous president;
— one claiming “unitary executive” authority, calling it a “ball-faced assertion of presidential supremacy dressed up in legal mumbo jumbo;”
— homeland social decay;
— an unprecedented wealth disparity combined with excessive corporate power;
— a de facto one-party state with two wings, solely serving capital;
— the absence of checks and balances and separation of powers under a reckless “boy-emperor” on a “messianic mission;”
— a weak, servile Congress beholden to a dominant executive under a system of authoritarian rule;
— a secret, unaccountable intelligence establishment with near-limitless funding;
— a corporate-controlled media, manipulating the public mind with managed news and infotainment;
— a destructive military-industrial complex Dwight Eisenhower couldn’t have imagined when he warned about it in his farewell address; and
— endemic corruption, stemming from incestuous ties between government and business, flaunting the notion of government of, for or by the people.
Summarizing the book, Johnson explained:
“In Nemesis, I have tried to present historical, political, economic, and philosophical evidence of where our current behavior is likely to lead. Specifically, I believe that to maintain our empire abroad requires resources and commitments that will inevitably undercut our domestic democracy and in the end produce a military dictatorship or its civilian equivalent.”
“The founders of our nation understood this well and tried to create a form of government – a republic – that would prevent this from occurring. But the combination of huge standing armies, almost continuous wars, military Keynesianism, and ruinous military expenses have destroyed our republican structure in favor of an imperial presidency. We are on the cusp of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire. Once a nation is started down that path, the dynamics that apply to all empires come into play – isolation, overstretch, the uniting of forces opposed to imperialism, and bankruptcy. Nemesis stalks our life as a free nation.”
Johnson warned us, his powerful writings explaining the clear and ominous danger, one showing no sign of abating. Just the opposite, in fact, under a Democrat as neocon as Republicans, and a populace largely clueless of the threat.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.