HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

March 19, 2007
From Liberty Street

Chalmers Johnson

John Turner


In three heavily documented books - Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire,  and most recently, Nemesis -- Chalmers Johnson has laid out the case that the United States is being transformed from a democratic republic into a militaristic empire. Others have made the same point, but I know no one who has done it as thoroughly as Johnson has. I can imagine that persons of conservative bent consider him to be a radical. Certainly, his arguments are strong, but there is nothing crazy or dishonest about them. They do, of course, involve interpretation and that's where other analysts have every right to take issue with him.

I, myself, am not quite as pessimistic as Johnson is. It doesn't seem to me that we have passed the point of no return or that the plutocratic militarists are so strong there is little chance of resisting them. But, I'll confess, after reading Johnson I'm more pessimistic than I used to be. If you read, for example, the chapter in Nemesis on the U.S. anti-ballistic missile program, and think about the money that has been wasted since Reagan's Star Wars speech of March 23, 1983, it's hard not to accept that we have become so gullible we'll swallow anything. Competent people told us from the beginning that this program was technologically impossible and, also, politically fatuous, but Congress continued to shell out billions for it. I don't suppose we can say the money has been thrown away. It went into the pockets of military contractors who lobbied for it incessantly. But I doubt the average citizen, if he or she knew what was going on, would choose to employ tax dollars in that way.

Perhaps the worst negligence of our lethargic journalism has been the failure to discuss the so-called Integrated Global Presence and Basing Strategy, which is also known as Global Posture Review. Have you ever heard on a Sunday morning news show any major reporter ask a government official why our country needs eight hundred military bases outside our own borders? It's an astounding truth, actually, you might even say, bewildering. Why do we spend billions to station military personnel all around the world when we can't pay our own bills, and sink deeper into debt every year? And how can that continue indefinitely without leading to a major financial breakdown? It's a question Johnson asks with extensive supporting detail, but which the main stream media scarcely ever touch.

The press has done a better job of inquiring into the government's extra-legal activities, such things as extraordinary rendition, secret prisons in eastern Europe, the suspension of habeas corpus for anyone the president decides to stick a made-up designation on, the redefinition of torture, and the assertion that the president's powers as commander in chief are unlimited. But as Johnson asserts, the public's response to these actions has been far less vehement than we should expect from a people genuinely committed to democratic decision-making.

The public seems to have little interest in why there are fifteen separate intelligence agencies within the U. S. government, why there are sixty-five lobbyists for each member of Congress, why  the budget for the CIA and much of the Pentagon is kept in a black hole where it can never be inspected by Congress, why we allow our national legislature to use the device of "earmarks," which in many cases are no different than theft, and which in 2004, cost the American taxpayer 32.7 billion dollars, and why we do not participate in international agreements that most of our allies find vital, such as the International Criminal Court.

These are the reasons Johnson adduces for saying that we, the people, are no longer capable of carrying forward a free, democratic nation. We don't have what it takes, he says, to examine whether the American military-industrial complex, which is really a creature of our own making, is actually the most dangerous entity on earth, and, in terms of actual threat, puts all the forces we have designated as "terrorist" in the shade.

Last week I heard Dan Rather say that citizens, if they really want to know what's happening in their world, might consider, in addition to scanning newspapers and watching TV, reading a book now and then. His audience erupted in applause when he said so. But they must have been unusual people because most American citizens do not read a single serious political analysis over the course of a year. If they decided to change their ways, Chalmers Johnson might not be a bad place to start. As I say, you can disagree with his interpretation of the facts. But the information he has tried to bring to our attention deserves careful scrutiny by all citizens who are not in favor of transition to a militaristic empire.

If you are you can, of course, devote your attention to the adventures of Britney Spears and then you'll receive the reward many operatives are determined to deliver to you.


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