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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

on September 14, 2010
This author, Chalmers Johnson, has a long history of being right about how US foreign policies have been badly flawed for decades. He broght up to date the term Blowback which was first mentioned in a CIA report in 1953, but most certainly was symbolized by 911.

This book recaps the record and suggests it is vital that we review the history of flawed outcomes from our imperial war-making and our world wide web of military bases that constitute an empire.

Ever since the American Presidency became truly imperial under LBJ, we have been treated to an endless parade of majestic media images--meetings, speeches and other events which likely would have made Mark Twain cringe. We increasingly kowtow to the office as if its occupant were somehow operating under the Divine Right of Kings.

But how have our Imperial Presidents performed on national security?

Truly badly. Pushed by the fear of not appearing strong on national defense, one by one they felt into the arms of the arms manufacturers who were the darlings of our military.

A number of other writers have eloquently echoed Johnson's perspicacious prognostications about building our empire. For example, Andrew Bacevich in his book, Washington Rules: America's Path To Permanent War, describes the role of two key architects of that empire: Allen Dulles, who planned the Bay of Pigs disaster (which cost him his job), and General Curtis LeMay who drove the Strategic Air Command to obtain nuclear weapons could have blown the planet to smithereens many times over.

Bacevich's book by a 20-year military officer, now a professor at Boston University, ranges over the decades since WWII to describe the process whereby America became an Empire, developing what Bacevich calls the "sacred trinity"--global military presence, global power projection and global intervention as exemplified by Korea, Vietnam and finally the Bush-contrived "preventive war" in Iraq.

Another author who dedicates the book to Johnson, The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's, by Tom Engelhardt, offers a little-heralded paperback masterpiece of only 216 pages which should enlighten anyone who has not already come to the sad conclusion that the US has turned into a dangerous empire.

From its first line, author Engelhardt sets the tragic scene: ''War is Peace' was one of the memorable slogans on the facade of the Ministry of Truth or Minitrue in 'Newspeak' the language invented by George Orwell in 1948 for his dystopian novel, 1984". [America's Tragic Descent into Empire, July 9, 2010]

From there Engelhardt's readers are tutored in how our fear of attack was obsessively co-opted by our government and its willing military suppliers.

All these authors plausibly describe the spread, like an octopus. of America's presence around the world, in the form of over 700 military bases--most in places where our security clearly wasn't then and/or is not now at stake.

In retrospect our forays into Korea, Vietnam and now in the Middle East, proved that war was not the answer. The cost in human lives and treasure and the escalating threat of terrorism cry out for a new evaluation of our present imperial policies, But they have been embraced by all Presidents since WWII--including Obama, who has now bought into Bush's ultimate folly, continuing that "preventive war" in Iraq with no real end to our occupancy there and around the world in sight. For example, we have built our largest overseas embassy in Bagdad and have other large permanent military facilities in Iraq.

As in Vietnam, these authors predict the US will eventually come to the point of withdrawal, after the loss of hundreds of lost lives on both sides later and trillions in wasted money. Johnson predicts bankruptcy if we do not. In fairness, all Obama's predecessors since WWII have folded to the wishes of the powerful military-industrial complex, about which President Eisenhower warned us in 1961.

Of these three, it is my view that Chalmers Johnson's Dismantling The Empire: America's Last Best Hope represents the best overview of how we got where we are.

His most dramatic recommendation--do away with the CIA--may never get traction, but his section on "The Legacy of the OSS" (the OSS was shut down in September 1945 and the Central Intelligence Agency started in 1947) should be enough to persuade most readers that our government should hasten to shut down this incompetent agency, which has been allowed total secrecy on how it has wasted our tax dollars (between $44 and $48 billion a year) and covered up dangerous and outrageous initiatives after they have failed. (Johnson's analysis of "Charley Wilson's War" should be mandatory reading for all Americans.)

Yes, we lost 3000 lives on 9/11, plus over 4,000 men and women in the current wars. But we killed three million in Vietnam, then hundreds of thousands in Cambodia and now hundreds of thousands in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, including many women and children.

Our Cold War motivations may have had some validity at an earlier time. But the alleged threats that prompted our military escalations clearly need reassessment now.

Looking back on the recent dreary ninth Anniversary of 9/11, and at the decades of bad policies which preceded that "blowback" (a term from a 1953 CIA report updated by Chalmers Johnson), we are reminded of what Pogo said long ago: "We have met the enemy and he is us."
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on December 9, 2013
This book has lots of interesting information about how wide-ranging U.S. military committments have become (and how irrelevant to our interests) and about some of the many ways in which the military wastes our money. It also has one big conclusion -- that the United States can no longer afford its massive world wide military committments. But the book is disappointing compared to the same author' "Blowback" and to Bacevich's recent book on the same topic "Washington Rules". The difficulty with "Dismantling the Empire" is that it is a series of essays, rather than a structured argument, which weakens the argument. Still, it is worth reading -- the more Americans learn about just what is being done in their name, and about just how much it costs, the better the odds on imposing some sort of limit on the military industrial complex
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on October 14, 2015
this book may have been written a little while ago; for current event stuff, anyway, but the main message is becoming ever more pertinent, as the military-industrial complex continues to waste huge resources in non-productive, destructive activities, at a time in when we cannot afford to be wasteful. It's great to hear someone speak truthfully; without self-interest or fear of consequences.
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on October 10, 2012
Chalmers Johnson is a genius at making complex issues of U.S. foreign policy logical and easy for the reader to understand. It is clear from this book and his other books (especially Blowback) that the United States has been on a failed and immoral fool's mission of manipulating world events.
While Johnson makes it clear that the U.S. has been on a course of self destruction, he is too optimistic that the American people and its leaders will ever eventually change their ways.
Johnson gives away his unfounded optimism in the wisdom of the American people in his introduction when he states that President George W. Bush will "go down in history as the worst American president ever".
Johnson overestimates the intelligence of the American people and the honesty of future historians, especially those that write history for school children.
All one needs to do to disprove Johnson's over-optimism about President Bush's future legacy is to look at the high esteem to which the American people, and history, now hold President Ronald Reagan and President Harry Truman.
If history and historians repeat them self, and I am betting they will, then President George W. Bush will be written about and remembered by future genenerations as one of the "greatest presidents in American history" that kept the U.S. safe during one of the "most dangerous times in the history of the World".
President Bush's legend will be that he "Kept Us Safe" for eight years from the evils of terrorism.
Buy the book anyway and enjoy.
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on September 14, 2013
Chalmers Johnson was an observer of the decline of what flawed democracy we once had, and he does not attempt to mitigate the loss even of that by raising false hopes. We will not dismantle our empire, but like all past empires it will come apart by bursting its seams. A highly important one for those who will be present, is whether a devastating war, perhaps nuclear can be averted in the burst. Another is the question of environmental destruction, either through climate change or through radioactive fallout from the many collections of nuclear wastes now distributed around the globe.
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on June 1, 2012
Sad to say, if you have read "Sorrows of Empire" and "Nemesis," this book provides little new information with exception of how President Obama has ventured into the morass created by his predecessor. If you have not read this book, then it should inspire you to go back to his earlier works. After reading Johnson's work, one has to conclude that Lord Acton was only partially correct: Power not only corrupts but it is also contagious. If you think that Bush II is our only imperialistic president, then you better go back to your history books to see how American imperialism has grown and prospered. Johnson is not concerned with 19th century history; his concerns (sorrows)are for what has happened following World War II. This book does not have the impact of his previous works because it is offered in bits and pieces.
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VINE VOICEon December 2, 2010
Let me start with my one criticism of the book. What Amazon's product description doesn't tell you is that, with the exception of the introduction, the essays in this book have all been previously published and that most are available on the internet. Had I known that, I probably would not have bought this book. Also, because the essays were all written independently, they often cover more or less the same material, so there is a lot of repetition in the book.

Nonetheless, I'm glad I stumbled onto Chalmers Johnson and I may very well go back and read his Blowback trilogy and/or Nemesis. Johnson, who sadly died just a couple weeks ago, was a CIA consultant in the late 60s and early 70s who became a leading expert on contemporary Asian (especially Japanese) policy, and was a co-founder of the Japan Policy Research Institute. Having seen first-hand the effects on U.S. foreign policy on Japan, Johnson became an outspoken critic of U.S. imperialism.

According to the essays in this book, U.S. imperialism takes two basic forms: covert and overt. Johnson spends roughly half the book detailing how, from its inception, presidents have used the CIA as their own private - usually secret - army. Johnson details a number of CIA operations from assassinations (attempted and successful) to arming and training various pro-U.S. militias to overthrow democratically elected leaders and governments. The thing about these operations is that they have been shrouded in secrecy, at least from the U.S. population. Therefore, when "blowback" occurs in response to these operations (for instance, terrorist and other anti-U.S. acts), Americans are left baffled wondering, "Why do they hate us?" Johnson calls for the elimination of the CIA, or at the very least a drastic scaling back of its activities and much greater oversight by Congress or some other accountable entity. I'm with him all the way, but good luck making it happen.

Johnson also talks about imperialism in the more overt and visible form of the network of hundreds of military bases scattered around the world. According to official reports, the U.S. has well over 700 bases in roughly 120 countries, but there are a number of bases not taken into account by these official figures, such as bases in Iraq and Afghanistan and secret CIA facilities. One of the stated purposes of all these bases is so that the U.S. is prepared respond to any threat, anywhere in the world. But Johnson argues that the real purpose is simply to dominate the world to protect U.S. interests. The U.S. uses over 25% of the world's resources, but accounts for only about 4% of the world's population. Our massive military is necessary in that sense in order to secure our excess take against nations who might otherwise want a fair share of the pie.

Included in this massive military dominance is the "military-industrial complex" which, along with the hundreds of worldwide military bases, drives defense spending, making our defense budget about as large as the defense budgets of all other nations combined. Each state is home to military contractors who depend on massive government earmarks to support a large portion of the state's economy. Ever more money is funneled into these defense companies to make ever greater ways to kill ever greater numbers of people. Often these contracts are for weapons and systems which will never - can never - be used, such as highly sophisticated fighter planes that will never be used in aerial combat and are virtually useless for things like reconnaissance which we could actually use. No politician will ever put an end to these earmarks because our economy has become too dependent on military contracting.

But end them, we must, Johnson argues, because the military-industrial complex is bankrupting the country. Because of the amount of money we spend on defense (much of which is hidden in budgets besides the defense budget), we don't have enough left over for domestic social and infrastructure needs. In fact, our whole military presences needs to be scaled back because our republic depends on it. Not only can we not financially afford our empire, but we can't afford it as a nation either. Our dominant military presence in the world has created a growing backlash. People in foreign countries are getting angry at our irresponsible attempts at "regime change". Indigenous people forced to share already overcrowded space with so many American bases chafe when American personnel violate local and international laws, seemingly with impunity. Finally, the very structure of our republican (small r) form of government will erode, as the military force and the structure of laws needed to maintain a global empire are simply not compatible with a domestic democracy.

Johnson predicts that the end of the American empire is coming one way or another, although he does not predict the exact for this end will take. Either the sheer costs will bankrupt the country or threats from other nations, groups of nations, or independent organizations (such as al Qaeda) will simply overwhelm our ability to continue to dominate the world. But Johnson believes there is another way. He argues that the U.S. could voluntarily choose to dismantle its empire in order to save its republic, much like Britain was forced to do after World War II. To do this, we need to dramatically decrease the number of foreign bases we maintain. We need to halt the production of much of our arsenal, especially weapons which serve no functional purpose, but only provoke our enemies. And we need to eliminate all forms of secrecy - including the CIA - in order to give the American people the ability to monitor the government and make it accountable.

I recommend reading Chalmers Johnson's work, whether this book, his other books, or his online articles. One essay in the book really stood out for me as far as the cost of the missteps the U.S. has taken in the past several decades. In an essay entitled "The Smash of Civilizations", Johnson details the looting of the museums in Iraq after the start of the U.S. invasion. Thousands of priceless artifacts from the very earliest civilizations on earth are no lost, possibly forever, for the understanding and knowledge of future generations. The "War on Terror" isn't so much a "Clash of Civilizations" as it is a choice between civilization and destruction. Personally, I hope we can find a way to choose civilization.
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on June 19, 2013
Author Chalmers Johnson is the president of the Japan Policy Research Institute. I had read his "Sorrows of Empire" and was very impressed with his thinking. This book is a compilation of his essays written from 2004 -2009. Johnson is an incisive thinker who is unafraid of talking truth to power and his ideas should at least be on the table for consideration. It is interesting to see how many of his ideas from past years are still valid and more important than ever.
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on November 13, 2010
This is my first Chalmers Johnson book. While I thoroughly enjoyed and would award 5 stars for his cogent, well supported arguments and observations, I did not enjoy the format.

Johnson deconstructs our military bureaucracy to reveal self defeating imperialism, profiteering, and profligate spending, among other trends he identifies as threatening to the well being of the US. He argues eloquently that no country in history has been able to remain democratic and economically provide for its civil society, while simultaneously maintaining a military empire abroad. He analyzes in depth the fiscal consequences of the US attempt to do so, and the resulting financial catastrophe that we are just beginning to see unravel. He demonstrated irrefutably how self defeating and unsustainable our present course is, and argues that we take the gentler path of voluntarily scaling back our empire rather than waiting for it to collapse under financial implosion and/or military defeat.

These are the common threads that run through the book, however, they are presented in a series of essays that originally appeared on a news/commentary website to which he contributes. While the essays are, in and of themselves, generally fantastic, they don't work cohesively very well as a book beyond the fact that the same basic themes are repeated. The repetition in numerous essays of the same statistics can get old. Also, despite the common themes, the topics do sometimes jump around abruptly, though the editors did try to arrange them in a logical way. I must not have read the description well enough to realize this was the case, so my expectations were colored by the fact that I thought I was buying an actual book, rather than a collection of short pieces.

In summary: 5 stars for content, 1 star for selling a bunch of essays I could have read online as a book =)
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on July 18, 2014
Chalmers has America figured out and tells it like he sees it. I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone who has even the smallest interest in understanding where our country is headed. I also recommend any of Chalmers' other books.
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