BLOWBACK by Chalmers Johnson


The Costs and Consequences of American Empire
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In this timely book, noted Asian specialist Johnson (Japan: Who Governs?, 1994) addresses the effects of American global

interventionism, delivering a grim warning that the United States will soon experience severe reprisals (or "blowback") from the

victims of government policies kept secret from the American people.

Johnson begins his book with a confession. He admits that as a naval officer after the Korean War, and as an academic who

studied the formation of Chinese communism, he was not in a position to witness the results of American power disinterestedly.

In fact, he wholeheartedly shared the assumption that America was the necessary guarantor of world peace. Only after his

pathbreaking exploration of Japan's economic renewal in MITI and the Japanese Miracle (1973) did he conclude that the US

mission to protect the "free world" was a justification for empire. This insight became especially clear in the wake of the Cold

War. That the US has not significantly reduced or adjusted its military position after the fall of the Soviet Union reveals, to

Johnson, this country's imperialistic aims. Moreover, he argues that American fat-headedness is not just confined to the upper

echelons of the State Department. From rape in Okinawa to the imposition of economic austerity in Indonesia (followed by the

quick purchase of its industrial plant on easy terms), Johnson sees the imperialistic mentality as the defining style of American

actions and expectations abroad. In order to curb imminent and massive blowback, he calls for a more humble American

presence—both militarily and psychologically—in the world. However, one has to wonder about the value of Johnson's dissent:

Is humility a realistic solution to the tangle of issues that this nation has persistently involved itself in for half a century?

Engrossing and at the same time alarming, Johnson's well-researched book nevertheless presents an easy solution to

fundamental problems that have usually forced great powers into catastrophic predicaments.

Pub Date: March 14th, 2000
ISBN: 0-8050-6238-6
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2000


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