Chalmers Johnson 1931-2010

“It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and expose lies.”
— Noam Chomsky

Chalmers Johnson, author of Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic, and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic passed away Saturday.

A bio on Johnson via Wikipedia reads as follows:

Chalmers Ashby Johnson (August 6, 1931 – November 20, 2010)was an American author and professor emeritus of the University of California, San Diego. He served in the Korean war, was a consultant for the CIA from 1967–1973, and chaired the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California, Berkeley from 1967 to 1972. He was also president and co-founder of the Japan Policy Research Institute (now based at the University of San Francisco), an organization promoting public education about Japan and Asia.

The rape of a 12 year-old girl by three American servicemen in Okinawa, Japan in September 1995 and the statement by an US military commander that they should have just “picked up a prostitute” became the pivot moving Johnson who had once been a supporter of the Vietnam War and railed against UC Berkeley’s anti-Vietnam protesters into a powerful critic of US foreign policy and US empire.

Johnson argued that there was no logic that existed any longer for the US to maintain a global network of bases and to continue the occupation of other countries like Japan. Johnson noted that there were over 39 US military installations on Okinawa alone. The military industrial complex that Eisenhower had warned against had become a fixed reality in Johnson’s mind and essays after the Cold War ended.

Before 9/11, Johnson wrote the book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire
After the terrorist attacks in 2001 in New York and Washington, Blowback became the hottest book in the market. The publishers could not keep up with demand and it became the most difficult to get, most wanted book among those in national security circles.

I found a copy of Blowback at The University of California Irvine Bookstore in October of 2001 and reading it was like a revelation for me. This single book completely altered the course of my political sensibilities and spoke to me on a genuinely personal level. I had been in Okinawa at Camp Schwab(now a place under much scrutiny) just a year earlier. The accuracy and the resonance with which Johnson described the situation on the island was astounding to me.

With follow-up works such as The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic ,Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, and most recently Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope . This former net assessments adviser to the CIA’s Allen Dulles, had become such a critic of Washington and the national security establishment that Johnson, a hard-right conservative, had been adopted as one of the political left’s greatest icons.

Johnson is often compared to other great leftist intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal yet, Chalmers Johnson brought something into his writings that both Chomsky and Vidal are missing: First hand knowledge of the other side and the pain and sadness one carries after realizing your once closest ally is now your most bitter enemy. Johnson’s writings ooze a kind of regret and anger that is unique to his tomes.

To me, saying “Chalmers Johnson is dead” just feels ridiculous. People like this do not die they just move on to whatever comes after death however diffuse and beyond comprehension that might be for us. His books, essays and powerful political and ethical theories will keep him very much alive in my life forever.

Condolences to his family and friends.

Chalmers Johnson; gone but never forgotten.