- Series: American Empire Project
- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Metropolitan Books; 1st edition (January 6, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805077979
- ISBN-13: 978-0805077971
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 142 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #149,275 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project) 1st Edition
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Since September 2001, the United States has "undergone a transformation from republic to empire that may well prove irreversible," writes Chalmers Johnson. Unlike past global powers, however, America has built an empire of bases rather than colonies, creating in the process a government that is obsessed with maintaining absolute military dominance over the world, Johnson claims. The Department of Defense currently lists 725 official U.S. military bases outside of the country and 969 within the 50 states (not to mention numerous secret bases). According to the author, these bases are proof that the "United States prefers to deal with other nations through the use or threat of force rather than negotiations, commerce, or cultural interaction." This rise of American militarism, along with the corresponding layers of bureaucracy and secrecy that are created to circumvent scrutiny, signals a shift in power from the populace to the Pentagon: "A revolution would be required to bring the Pentagon back under democratic control," he writes.
In Sorrows of Empire, Johnson discusses the roots of American militarism, the rise and extent of the military-industrial complex, and the close ties between arms industry executives and high-level politicians. He also looks closely at how the military has extended the boundaries of what constitutes national security in order to centralize intelligence agencies under their control and how statesmen have been replaced by career soldiers on the front lines of foreign policy--a shift that naturally increases the frequency with which we go to war.
Though his conclusions are sure to be controversial, Johnson is a skilled and experienced historian who backs up his claims with copious research and persuasive arguments. His important book adds much to a debate about the realities and direction of U.S. influence in the world. --Shawn Carkonen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In his prescient 2000 bestseller, Blowback, East Asia scholar Johnson predicted dire consequences for a U.S. foreign policy that had run roughshod over Asia. Now he joins a chorus of Bush critics in this provocative, detailed tour of what he sees as America's entrenched culture of militarism, its "private army" of special forces and its worldwide archipelago of military "colonies." According to Johnson, before a mute public and Congress, oil and arms barons have displaced the State Department, secretly creating "a military juggernaut intent on world domination" and are exercising "preemptive intervention" for "oil, Israel, and... to fulfill our self-perceived destiny as a New Rome." Johnson admits that Bill Clinton, who disguised his policies as globalization, was a "much more effective imperialist," but most of the book assails "the boy emperor" Bush and his cronies with one of the most startling and engrossing accounts of exotic defense capabilities, operations and spending in print, though these assertions are not new and not always assiduously sourced. Fans of Blowback will be pleased despite Johnson's lack of remedies other than "a revolution" in which "the people could retake control of Congress... and cut off the supply of money to the Pentagon."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Johnson suggests that US militarism and imperialism (e.g. military bases
throughout the world) will lead to 4 sorrows:
1) perpetual war - leading to more terrorism against Americans wherever
they may be an a growing reliance on WMD among smaller nations as they try
to object to US imperialism
2) Loss of democracy and constitutional rights as the presidency
skirts Congress and as both are influenced by the Pentagon
3) Truthfulness will increasingly be replaced by a system of propaganda,
disinformation, and glorification of war, power, and the military.
4) Bankruptcy, as we pour our economic resources into every more grandiose
military projects and divert capital from the free market, and shortchange
education, health and safety.
Johnson states that American triumphalists, including Robert Gates, convinced the US public that the demise of the USSR was a great American victory, but the actual collapse of the USSR into the CIS was due to economics (Freidman and Barnett make that same point). The Pentagon, rather than restructuring and demobilizing after their major Cold War enemy folded, has looked for other areas to justify its budgets (e.g. B2 bomber, the Joint Strike Fighter, and nuclear programs). The Pentagon is now involved in the war on drugs, the war on terror, and overt and covert preventive interventions throughout the world. In a change that has nearly been unnoticed, US foreign policy has shifted from civilian control to military policy control, and now the US is acting as a law unto itself, withdrawing from treaties and disparaging international cooperation.
This book was published in 2004, well before the current situation due to the Iraqi war venture could have been predicted, and Johnson's predictions are prescient: he describes the worst case for Iraq as sectarian violence and civil strife.
Johnson makes the case that a revolution in US relations with the 'rest of the world' occurred between 1989 (the fall of the Berlin wall) and 2002. Foreign policy gave way to military expansionism: permanent bases and airfields, espionage listening posts, and strategic enclaves on every continent. This is militarism - because US national security does not depend on this expansion. He states the armed services have put their institutional preservation ahead of national security, and in the first chapter he draws historical parallels with the Roman empire, which fell to barbarians because it couldn't afford to sustain its far-flung outposts.
Johnson states the 4th Amendment should protect the US citizens' right to privacy and prevent unreasonable searches, but that is not the case. He argues the government has systematically been violating our privacy - and this was before the controversy of the Foreign Intel Surveillance Court broke in 2005, before Gen Hayden was appointed to the NSA.
Johnson quotes Jefferson, "that when the government fears the people, there is liberty; when the people fear the government, there is tyranny."
The SoE describes that militarism, going beyond what is needed for national security, damages globalism and international relationships by taking capital resources from the free market forces, reallocating money, talent, and resources to the military which is not responsive to real forces of supply and demand, and which is responsive to crony capitalism and false claims of effectiveness.
Some of Johnson's assertions bear further explanation: e.g. on pg. 287, he cites Immanuel Wallerstein's `world systems theory', but this concept is not described. On pg. 70, he asserts that "Most neocons have their roots on the left, not on the right." I would have liked further explanation of this. Johnson, like Chomsky, is very critical of both Democrats and Republicans - he is describing the systemic forces, larger than politics, that are shaping the future of the US. Certainly many of his assessments are opinions which are quite controversial, but these opinions deserve consideration.
Johnson is a true master of dismissive hyperbole. In response to his characterization of on-going conflicts as "an activity ... akin to a training exercise" and overseas bases as "high-ranking officers' watering spots and comfortable sites for their remote-control command posts", perhaps it would balance his perceptions to accompany troops to Afghanistan or Iraq. Johnson writes that "Once on their bases, America's modern proconsuls and their sous-warriors never have to mix with either "natives" or American civilians," and harps on "base amenities". Comments like these reflect a propagandist bent or a writer completely detached from reality, in light of daily missions to interface with local nationals where such interactions are an essential component of the job, not a corollary effect, all while subsisting with little to no creature comforts and working 16 to 20 hours a day.
He does point out the co-opting of the media in their failure to fully report the news, but doesn't suggest what the armed forces or even the press should do. He expresses no hope for positive interaction between Americans and the locals.
What he hits around, but never nails down is that Congress has abdicated its full and proper function of acting as a counterweight to the executive's usurpation of power, a siphoning away of designated functions that began decades ago, possibly with the court stacking tendencies and the agency-of-the-day, hit or miss policies of FDR's administration, or even in his cousin's (Teddy Roosevelt). In his skewed presentation of our military-gone-wild, he forgets it does not set policy, but serves as a tool to implement it, and does so at the executive's behest and under the financial purse strings and legal guidance of Congress. One of his few sideways glances in this direction is this: ..."the Bush administration has done everything in its power to classify and so hide official information on the high probability that the system will malfunction." Is "the system" he refers to Congress in their formulation of the law, or the Supreme Court reviewing and limiting various of the current administration's actions? There is no thorough examination of this point; it is a major flaw in a work marked by various minor ones. This is a conscious choice by the author, as he does mention them in passing: electronic eavesdropping, illegal incarcerations, a lack of review of defense and intelligence agency budgets. The author merely chalks them up to "signs of militarism and of the creation of a national security state.
Even chapters like The Empire of Bases and The Spoils of War that have informative sections (see his brief description of Echelon), are peppered with statements portray Americans as whoring hillbillies and culturally ignorant or imperialistic. The reasoned, insightful research characterizing Chalmers Johnson's early writings is missing here; its tenor and bias make Sorrows of Empire a lecture on the evils of America and its military, long on condemnation and short on solutions (none of significance were cited). It is sad to see what might have been a useful, focused study into the Pentagon's excesses as a reflection of overbearing, undemocratic policies of past and current administrations transformed into a vitriolic diatribe, giving us little more than a hot plate for casseroles. The nuggets of wisdom and insight to be found in its pages are only reached after mining through mountains of cant, rant and rage. Biased presentations do not age well, and are with time relegated to the junk pile of the irrelevant.
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