In his new book, CIA analyst, distinguished scholar, and best-selling author Chalmers Johnson argues that US military and economic overreach may actually lead to the nation’s collapse as a constitutional republic. It’s the last volume in his Blowback trilogy, following the best-selling “Blowback” and “The Sorrows of Empire.” In those two, Johnson argued American clandestine and military activity has led to un-intended, but direct disaster here in the United States. [includes rush transcript – partial]
Chalmers Johnson is a retired professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego. He is also President of the Japan Policy Research Institute. Johnson has written for several publications including Los Angeles Times, the London Review of Books, Harper’s Magazine, and The Nation. In 2005, he was featured prominently in the award-winning documentary film, “Why We Fight.”
Chalmers Johnson joined me yesterday from San Diego. I began by asking him about the title of his book, “Nemesis.”
Chalmers Johnson, Author, scholar and leading critic of US foreign policy. Retired professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego. He is also President of the Japan Policy Research Institute. His new book is “Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic.”
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AMY GOODMAN: Today, we spend the hour with the former CIA consultant, distinguished scholar, best-selling author, Chalmers Johnson. He’s just published a new book. It’s called Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. It’s the last volume in his trilogy, which began with Blowback, went onto The Sorrows of Empire. In those two, Johnson argued American clandestine and military activity has led to unintended but direct disaster here in the United States. In his new book, Johnson argues that US military and economic overreach may actually lead to the nation’s collapse as a constitutional republic.
Chalmers Johnson is a retired professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego. He’s also president of the Japan Policy Research Institute. He’s written for a number of publications, including the Los Angeles Times, The London Review of Books, Harper’s magazine and The Nation. In 2005, he was featured prominently in the award-winning documentary, Why We Fight. Chalmers Johnson joined me yesterday from San Diego. I began by asking him about the title of his book, Nemesis.
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Nemesis was the ancient Greek goddess of revenge, the punisher of hubris and arrogance in human beings. You may recall she is the one that led Narcissus to the pond and showed him his reflection, and he dove in and drowned. I chose the title, because it seems to me that she’s present in our country right now, just waiting to make her — to carry out her divine mission.
By the subtitle, I really do mean it. This is not just hype to sell books — “The Last Days of the American Republic.” I’m here concerned with a very real, concrete problem in political analysis, namely that the political system of the United States today, history tells us, is one of the most unstable combinations there is — that is, domestic democracy and foreign empire — that the choices are stark. A nation can be one or the other, a democracy or an imperialist, but it can’t be both. If it sticks to imperialism, it will, like the old Roman Republic, on which so much of our system was modeled, like the old Roman Republic, it will lose its democracy to a domestic dictatorship.
I’ve spent some time in the book talking about an alternative, namely that of the British Empire after World War II, in which it made the decision, not perfectly executed by any manner of means, but nonetheless made the decision to give up its empire in order to keep its democracy. It became apparent to the British quite late in the game that they could keep the jewel in their crown, India, only at the expense of administrative massacres, of which they had carried them out often in India. In the wake of the war against Nazism, which had just ended, it became, I think, obvious to the British that in order to retain their empire, they would have to become a tyranny, and they, therefore, I believe, properly chose, admirably chose to give up their empire.
As I say, they didn’t do it perfectly. There were tremendous atavistic fallbacks in the 1950s in the Anglo, French, Israeli attack on Egypt; in the repression of the Kikuyu — savage repression, really — in Kenya; and then, of course, the most obvious and weird atavism of them all, Tony Blair and his enthusiasm for renewed British imperialism in Iraq. But nonetheless, it seems to me that the history of Britain is clear that it gave up its empire in order to remain a democracy. I believe this is something we should be discussing very hard in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Chalmers Johnson, you connect the breakdown of constitutional government with militarism.
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the signs of the breakdown of constitutional government and how it links?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Well, yes. Militarism is the — what the social side has called the “intervening variable,” the causative connection. That is to say, to maintain an empire requires a very large standing army, huge expenditures on arms that leads to a military-industrial complex, and generally speaking, a vicious cycle sets up of interests that lead to perpetual series of wars.
It goes back to probably the earliest warning ever delivered to us by our first president, George Washington, in his famous farewell address. It’s read at the opening of every new session of Congress. Washington said that the great enemy of the republic is standing armies; it is a particular enemy of republican liberty. What he meant by it is that it breaks down the separation of powers into an executive, legislative, and judicial branches that are intended to check each other — this is our most fundamental bulwark against dictatorship and tyranny — it causes it to break down, because standing armies, militarism, military establishment, military-industrial complex all draw power away from the rest of the country to Washington, including taxes, that within Washington they draw it to the presidency, and they begin to create an imperial presidency, who then implements the military’s desire for secrecy, making oversight of the government almost impossible for a member of Congress, even, much less for a citizen.
It seems to me that this is also the same warning that Dwight Eisenhower gave in his famous farewell address of 1961, in which he, in quite vituperative language, quite undiplomatic language — one ought to go back and read Eisenhower. He was truly alarmed when he spoke of the rise of a large arms industry that was beyond supervision, that was not under effective control of the interests of the military-industrial complex, a phrase that he coined. We know from his writings that he intended to say a military-industrial-congressional complex. He was warned off from going that far. But it’s in that sense that I believe the nexus — or, that is, the incompatibility between domestic democracy and foreign imperialism comes into being.
AMY GOODMAN: Who was he warned by?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Members of Congress. Republican memb–
AMY GOODMAN: And why were they opposed?
CHALMERS JOHNSON: Well, they did not want to have their oversight abilities impugned. They weren’t carrying them out very well. You must also say that Eisenhower was — I think he’s been overly praised for this. It was a heroic statement, but at the same time, he was the butcher of Guatemala, the person who authorized our first clandestine operation and one of the most tragic that we ever did: the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 for the sake of the British Petroleum Company. And he also presided over the fantastic growth of the military-industrial complex, of the lunatic oversupply of nuclear weapons, of the empowering of the Air Force, and things of this sort. It seems to be only at the end that he realized what a monster he had created.