- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Metropolitan Books; First Edition edition (January 13, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805070044
- ISBN-13: 978-0805070040
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 131 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #416,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic First Edition 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constitutes national security in order to centralize intelligence agencies under their control and how statesmen have been replaced by career soldiers on the front lines of foreign policy--a shift that naturally increases the frequency with which we go to war.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
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."
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Within the U.S. itself, we remain in willful and painful denial about how our encroaching imperialism and unwanted cultural hegemony have impacted the rest of the world. As well, we remain in chronic denial about how, domestically, they have also transformed our county's ideals into a bastardized form of "racist cowboy narrow-mindedness" best depicted in the egregious behavior the author carefully chronicles about what goes on on our military bases around the world, where American "creature comforts" take precedence over the needs of the nations we pretend to be protecting.
Even in our own collective parochial mind, we have gone from "making the world safe for democracy," to "fighting the evil empire," to "winning and ending the Cold War," to a rash of unnecessary interventions from Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Colombia, Serbia, Vietnam, to Afghanistan and Grenada. And yet, after a century of "international gunsling," only after 911 have we been forced finally to look ourselves in the mirror. And it seems that no one other than those on the radical right, who watch the "Fox News channel," like what they see.
In the aftermath of 911, we are finally beginning to understand who we really are as a nation: We are a global cultural and military hegemon, period. Cultural and military dominance and hegemony is what we do. Sadly, it is all we know. We have invented a name for it; it is called "U.S. exceptionalism." Yet, as this author argues, exceptional or not, and sixteen trillion dollars on military hardware later, we are "less free" and "infinitely more insecure" today than we have ever been in our nation's history?
As a nation, we have fought in more wars than any other nation in the history of the world. And yet, even on the "UN index of Peace," a measure of how unstable the nations of the world are, in 2010, the U.S. ranked not first or second, but 85th (between Macedonia and Angola). But there are yet other reasons why even without the UN index, there are no reasons for us as citizens of a proud nation to be sanguine. There is something palpable going on here that we can feel in our bones. Something is not right about America? Even though, arguably, we won the Cold War, our warlike footing did not change one iota for the better, but instead got measurably worse.
For instance, internally, America has become infinitely more of a police state. In every county of the country, we now have representatives of "homeland security," from "rent-a-cops," to PIs, to DEA agents, to CIA, DIA and other intelligence stringers, to border guards, INS agents and IRS investigators. Even our banks and municipal office buildings all now have metal detectors. And did anyone forget that among the indices within the UN Peace Index are things like the number of individuals a nation holds in its prisons and jails, the number of political assassinations, the number of guns within the culture, the number of murders and the overall amount of crime and violence within the society?
On these sub-indices, guess which nation rules the roost for the Western World? The U.S. of course. These indices alone, give a whole new meaning to the term "U.S. exceptionalism." The U.S., the world's only self-proclaimed democracy, truly sits alone atop the heap with the dubious distinction of having more major political assassinations, more of its citizens in prison, more homicides and gun violence than the rest of the Western World combined. Yet, we continue to see ourselves as an elevated form of "law and order democracy?" Is it unreasonable to ask: What kind of nationalistic kool-aid are we all drinking that we refuse to see our own glaring flaws?
To ourselves we are at worse an "informal hegemon." And although we may seem like the proverbial cultural bull in a china shop, we are actually opening markets, guaranteeing mutual security, underwriting world stability, promoting democracy and instituting a just humanitarian world order, right? Yes, to ourselves, we continue to be "all things good." But the rest of the world is tiring of all this self-promoted goodness.
Our most recent act on the international scene has been to wage a war on terror, which effectively means that we are now fighting a war against an idea, a concept, and against sixty countries and the religions that embraced Jihad. This new war requires a commitment of resources and energy for the rest of eternity.
Our current President called the Cheney/Bush act of going to war to fight Iraq "fighting a dumb war," but he then quickly committed nearly 100k troops to Afghanistan where, by liberal estimates, only a couple hundred al Qaeda remain. He did so in a military arena that has devoured armies since Alexander of Macedonia was defeated there in the 4th century. Now, just how smart of a war is the one he is fighting? Even worse, somehow, our democratic precepts allowed us to introduce in the last administration, the idea of pre-emptive war. It is an idea that all our scholars and military planners had argued against in our military academies, forever. Yet, our leaders, Cheney and Bush, with a straight face endorsed this cockamamie idea with a vengeance, and with it, using a package of measures called "the Patriot Act," rolled back most of the freedoms we claimed to cherish. As we looked on comatose, these two cowboys with a single wave of the hand, turned America globally into an international outlaw; and domestically into a nascent police state. That we allowed it to happen, means that the American people are still sleep-waking through the 21st century.
There will be a high price to pay for our continuing acquiescence to the criminality of our leaders. A sobering read. Five stars.
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.