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Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (American Empire Project) Paperback – January 23, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0805062397 ISBN-10: 0805062394 Edition: 4th Printing

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Product Details

  • Series: American Empire Project
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; 4th Printing edition (January 23, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805062394
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805062397
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #270,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

If the 20th century was the American century, the 21st century may be a time of reckoning for the United States. Chalmers Johnson, an authority on Japan and its economy, offers a troubling prognosis of what's to come. Blowback--the title refers to a CIA neologism describing the unintended consequences of American activity--is a call for the United States to rethink its position in the world. "The evidence is building up that in the decade following the end of the Cold War, the United States largely abandoned a reliance on diplomacy, economic aid, international law, and multilateral institutions in carrying out its foreign policies and resorted much of the time to bluster, military force, and financial manipulation," writes Johnson. "The world is not a safer place as a result." Individual chapters focus on Okinawa (where American servicemen were accused of raping a 12-year-old girl in "Asia's last colony"), the two Koreas, China, and Japan. The result is a liberal-leaning (and Asia-centric) call for the United States to disengage from many of its global commitments. Critics will call Johnson an isolationist, but friends (perhaps admirers of Patrick Buchanan's A Republic, Not an Empire) will say he simply speaks good sense. All will agree he is an earnest voice: "I believe our very hubris ensures our undoing." --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This no-holds-barred indictment of what Johnson calls the post-Cold War American "global empire" is not for the faint of heart. Among the opening images is a plastic bag containing three pairs of bloodied men's underwear gathered as evidence from the brutal 1995 gang rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by two American marines and an American sailor, a crime that was officially passed off as an aberration but may qualify more accurately as another move in the endgame of, in Johnson's astringent phrase, "stealth imperialism." In his highly critical appraisal of the global U.S. military presence, Johnson, president of the Japan Policy Research Institute and prolific commentator on Japan and Asia, focuses on the effects of "blowback," a term coined by the CIA to denote the unintended consequences of policies that were in many cases kept secret from the American public. From anti-Chinese pogroms carried out by U.S.-trained soldiers in Indonesia to the viciously suppressed 1980 pro-democracy demonstration in Kwangju, South Korea, Johnson examines the fallout from what he sees as American "economic colonialism." Detailed assessments of American engagement in Japan, Korea and China are coupled with closer-to-home observations on the liquidation of American jobs in places such as Birmingham, Ala., and Pittsburgh, the latter yet another consequence of the massive U.S. trade deficit with the countries of East Asia. Brazenly spending ever-swollen defense budgets, Johnson argues, the Pentagon is fueling an "antiglobalization time bomb" that could blow up at any moment. His chilling conclusion--backed by copious and livid detail--is that a nation reaps precisely what it sows. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Chalmers Johnson, president of the Japan Policy Research Institute, is the author of the bestselling Blowback and The Sorrows of Empire. A frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times, the London Review of Books, and The Nation, he appeared in the 2005 prizewinning documentary film Why We Fight. He lives near San Diego.

Customer Reviews

This book is quite well researched and somewhat academic.
J. Adams
This book will make you put it down for a while because you will wonder how stupid these guys we hire to run our country are.
Liberal One
Johnson argues that while most great powers exploit their empires, America, is actually exploited by its own.
C. Colt

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

180 of 193 people found the following review helpful By razetheladder on May 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
I'm of two minds about Chalmers Johnson's Blowback. On the one hand, it's probably the best critical introduction to US foreign policy in Asia. On the other hand, Johnson too often chooses polemics over nuance and has a somewhat confused approach to imperialism and what to do about it.
The first thing to know is that both the title and subtitle are misleading. This is a book almost exclusively about US imperialism in East and Southeast Asia. It rarely explores other regions or what's usually termed blowback. What Johnson does do is much more valuable - he explains America's military and economic policies toward Asia without getting stuck in the stultifying prose of security experts or the bewildering technical jargon of economists.
It's not a pretty picture. We see the destructive legacy of American bases in Okinawa and elsewhere, the US complicity in the South Korean military's atrocities on Cheju (after World War II) and Kwangju (1980), the US arming and training of Indonesia's death squad military, the relentless push for a militarized Asia by the American military-industrial complex, and the horrible consequences of American economic priorities. We also learn a good deal about the recent history and politics of the region's major states.
Johnson's strength is in recounting the specificities of US foreign policy; he's much weaker at an overall understanding of imperialism. He seems to think that American policymakers have naively built up the economic strength of their Japanese, Korean, and now Chinese competitors by focusing on maintaining their own military power. This is an old critique, resting on the notion that imperialism hurts the imperialists.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT on January 11, 2006
Format: Paperback
In this hard-hitting analysis, Chalmers Johnson explains the goals and the hidden (from its inhabitants) functioning of the US hegemon: an empire based on military power and the use of US capital and markets to force global economic integration on US terms at whatever costs to others.

On the military front, the US population forgot G. Washington's warning: `avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican Liberty.'

The US intelligence and military establishment is close to being beyond civilian control and becoming an autonomous system, whose colossal budget with its juicy cost-plus contracts is only controlled by vested ideological and financial interests. This book shows clearly that US presidents, like Carter or Clinton, had not the power to oppose the Pentagon's designs: perpetuate and develop the Cold War structures in order to consolidate its power. The ends justify all means as numerous intelligence or military interventions in the world show, which sponsored dictatorships, genocidal campaigns, war crimes, state terrorism and paramilitary death-squads. 90 % of all US weapons were sold, not to democracies, but to human right abusers.

On the economic front, globalization US style provoked economic disasters in South-Asia and South-America, throwing millions of people into poverty. However the US still urged its `allies' to buy weapons! This kind of globalization, which provoked still more economic inequality, will not be forgotten for a long time (see W. Bello: Dilemmas of Domination.).

By overstretching its financial means (weapon systems are profligate economic waste), the US risks a long lasting downfall of the dollar.
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60 of 65 people found the following review helpful By C. Colt on November 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
"Blowback" is an important and timely critique of America's over-extended and obsolete empire not from a moral perspective but from practical considerations of the nation's future well being. The term "blowback" is derived from a CIA reference to American foreign policy decisions that generate unforeseeable, negative consequences. For example, following the Gulf War in 1991, the United States stationed more than 35,000 soldiers in Saudi Arabia to deter any further hostility from Iraq. An unexpected consequence of this decision was the sudden fomenting of intense hatred toward America on the part of radical Islamic fundamentalists including Osama Bin Laden.
Johnson argues that while most great powers exploit their empires, America, is actually exploited by its own. During the Cold War the United States justifiably sought to create a buffer of Pacific satellite nations to cope with the threat of Soviet expansion in Asia. While this may have been an effective deterrent, it also came with a price. According to Johnson, the United States effectively bribed Japan with favorable economic conditions that fueled phenomenal growth in that country while largely destroying the manufacturing base in America. Although this may have been a prudent strategy during the Cold War, Johnson asks why the United States continues to sacrifice its productivity and living conditions at home in order to maintain a troop presence in Asia.
Where American troops were once stationed abroad as a buffer against Soviet expansion, they are now used to influence the countries they occupy or to train governments in counter insurgency and political repression. Johnson points out that in several cases American intervention on behalf of a repressive government merely turned American protectorates into implacable enemies.
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