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Chalmers Johnson

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Chalmers Johnson has died. I read Sorrows of Empire in college, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge of him. This is a pretty good overview of his work.

I remember not being impressed with Sorrows. That’s probably a function of what I wanted out of it: a good argument that there was such a thing as an American empire. His definition was looser than mine was, so I wasn’t happy. Plus, he ventured awfully close to 9/11 conspiracy theory. Thinking back, though, it was a better book than I gave it credit for. The extent to which we have military bases around the world is really astonishing and it does us little good. His warnings about what our foreign policy will lead us to resonate with me more now, as I’m less focused on intentionality and more on consequences. I also didn’t realize that Johnson was Right wing, which is a nice commentary on how Left and Right foreign policy critiques can sound pretty similar.

At this point, I think of him more like Andrew Bacevich: probably correct, but I wish he wasn’t.

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Categories: Foreign Policy, The Right
  1. December 15, 2010 at 10:23 am

    Interesting take – I find it hard to see why anyone could overlook the American “empire”. True, we don’t advertise ourselves that way, and no matter how we got here, the country has so much military power, is so intent on invading other countries that act independently of us, and has effective hegemony over so much of the western hemisphere, that it is hard to not say it is an empire.

    We know looking back through history that various empires existed. Did they call themselves that at the time? Hardly matters.

    Plus, he ventured awfully close to 9/11 conspiracy theory.

    That’s an odd statement from such a thoughtful man. The very idea that the facts, causes and participants of such an event could have been discovered and exposed within days of the event is farcical. At least permit us the fifty years or so that it has taken to get a better understanding JFK’s death.* In a government that operates in extreme secrecy, it is hard to imagine that a crime of that magnitude is given transparency while so much else is kept under wraps.

    *(I am still open to new theories, as there are many, the Oswald one having the least traction.)

  2. December 15, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    People see empire like the British empire, I think: lots of territories directly managed by the government running the empire. The U.S. doesn’t have colonies in that sense. We have military power positioned throughout the globe and states where we have a high degree of influence (I think you’d be hard pressed to say we have even puppet states at this point, though maybe I’m just not remembering them). That was my disconnect, anyway.

    You’re betraying the two-faced nature of the “9/11 Truth” movement. On one hand, they’ll say they’re just asking questions, that we don’t know everything, that they just want more investigation. On the other, they’ll spin grand theories based on distortions, half-truths, and faulty logic. When someone criticizes the latter, they revert to the former, which is what you just did. It’s not honest argument.

    Now, you’re right to say that we can’t know everything about 9/11 right away. But 9/11 conspiracy types are arguing for a version of that event that is supported by no evidence and bad logic. We don’t know everything now, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t say certain ideas about the event are wrong.

    * You’re interested in new theories about JFK to the extent that they have something sinister about them. Boring theories like Oswald as the assassin don’t give you a chance to comment on the nature and corruption of the American empire, so you don’t like them. But we’ve had the JFK argument before.

  3. December 15, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    The U.S. got into the empire game in the mid 19th century with the SW, and later with the Philippines and Cuba. This country adopted the British model used in the Mideast in allowing self-governance so long as it doesn’t interfere with US. business interests. We’re even OK with democracy, as long as we can throw out anyone who gets out of line. (Hamid Karzai soon to be gone?) But don’t kid yourself – maintenance of an empire requires the ability to project military power. Those bases are not there to protect anything but US interests.

    The country is soling influence in Latin America, hard to know what kind of measures will be taken to bring recalcitrants back into line. Check out Latinobarometro sometime for polling results on US popularity down there – there’s a very high correlation with absence of US influence and high levels of democratic rule.

    I don’t know about the the corruption of the America empire any more than this: It is no different than empires before, including the hubris in presuming that we are better than those who came before. Power corrupts everyone. We’re corrupt, but so what? Knowing it doesn’t make me a bad person, does it?

    I’m not a “truther”, just a doubter. I’m not wasting any time on that. I just think it’s absurd to think that a crime of that magnitude could be solved in a few days. Nothing is ever that clear cut. Too pat. Wish I was going to live longer.

    JFK – I don’t know – have you ever read some of the better works on that subject? There’s a swarm of people around Dallas and New Orleans at that time, and covert operations and mobsters running right and left, crossing each other. Oswald himself is far too complicated to be a lone gunman. I think you just want to believe the Oswald theory because it’s easy and points to the goodness of America, which is not an empire. But shit happens, you know. JFK was no saint, no hero, and his biggest drawback was Bobby.

    • December 16, 2010 at 1:01 pm

      That’s basically what I said? When you say empire it conjures up images of direct control of governments, which we don’t have. That was my problem at that time, whereas now I essentially agree with Johnson.

      Which makes your assessment of why I believe Oswald shot JFK wrong. I also don’t believe America is fundamentally good. Our government has done lots of horrible things. I just don’t assume that’s the case in every possible instance. I like to have some evidence or reasoning first.

      • December 17, 2010 at 10:06 am

        But we DO have direct control of governments! Ergo, military bases. We are different only in the sense that we learned form the British to allow the appearance of self-government, mostly to feed the illusions of the American people (I would guess, but certainly cannot know).

        And, as Russ Baker pointed out and which I wrote about in the Blue Bayou post on which you commented, the Oswald/Sirhan/Ray lone-nut sequence in our history is a giant cop-out. Allowing yourself to believe those fantasies keeps you mainstreamed.

        Evidence and reasoning is all around you. I encounter that condescension everywhere. I asked if you had read some of the better works on the JFK assassination – you know, the ones with evidence and reasoning? No. You want e&r, but are not willing to look for it, again, becuase of that mainstream comfort.

        BTW, you demonstrated two of the main fallacies of the herd mentality – one, black/white – that those who don’t buy into the 19 incredibly-lucky-that-day and easily uncovered Arab theory of 9/11 must automatically join those who somehow know that Bush or Cheney did it. You’re saying that it is wrong to doubt. I doubt. Beyond that, I do not know. I want to live 50 more years to know more. It takes quite a few deaths of powerful people to uncover this stuff.

        The other is that if JFK was indeed killed via conspiracy, that he must have been a victim of evil. Those who follow that line of reasoning (Oliver Stone) naturally conclude that he was a saint. Even Russ Baker believes this to some degree. JFK was a cold warrior. He started the Vietnam war, was supervising a planned invasion of Cuba, and simply got caught in other circumstances stemming out of the Cuban invasion – namely, Bobby’s vendetta again the mob, who the CIA had enlisted to assist in assassinating Castro. Oswald’s role in this … well, its’ fascinating, that’s all.

        That’s the current theory, the one I buy into until something even better comes along. It explains the cover-up. It explains most everything, and keeps JFK in the ordinary human realm. Just goddammed unlucky. But “Oswald did it” makes it easy to just ignore the other things going on. Too easy.

  4. December 17, 2010 at 11:08 am

    You’re saying we have direct control of the governments of the countries where we have bases? Like, we have direct control of Japan, Italy, and Spain? That’s kind of absurd.

    If you remember the JFK argument we had, all I was arguing was that Oswald shot JFK. That and I don’t see any reason to think our government put him up to it. That’s my opinion. Beyond that, if the mob put him up to it, I don’t really care (this is your generation’s obsession, not mine). I don’t have a high opinion of JFK, either.

    I didn’t lump you in with Truthers. Johnson wasn’t doubting 9/11, he was suggesting a particular theory, as I remember. Is there some problem with me criticizing theories about 9/11?

  5. December 17, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    I am saying that bases are a way of projecting military power. That much should be obvious. How much influence do we have in those governments? Quite a bit. Do we control other powerful countries? To some degree, some more than others. The greatest fear is independence, which is always punished where possible. The greatest threats right now mountain are European unity, Latin American independent markets, and alliance between China and oil-producing states.

    You’d be hard-pressed to offer any untainted evidence that Oswald shot anyone. He was just a low-level spook, and if Hartmann/Waldrom are right, was being set up to take the fall for Castro’s assassination, which was why he was in Mexico trying to get into Cuba. The mobsters then turned it on the CIA, and used the Castro patsy as a Kennedy patsy. It’s a fascinating story, full of evidence and reasoning. Poking holes in it leads to other theories, but none to Oswald.

    I don’t care what you think about 9/11, or what Johnson thinks. I just notice how people are afraid to doubt in public the official conspiracy theory.

  1. December 16, 2010 at 8:21 am

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