Review: Blowback–The Costs and Consequences of American Empire

4 Star, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, History, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Military & Pentagon Power, Misinformation & Propaganda

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4.0 out of 5 stars Good Instincts, Spotty Presentation,

December 13, 2002
Chalmers Johnson
Updated to correct my error–original words left to make an important point: that even very experienced CIA people are unaware of some of the very bad things that the author obliquely was referring to but did not document appropriately. New material below in brackets.
I found this book very much on target with its principal thesis, to wit, that the United States is too quick to take pre-emptory and often covert or illicit action against short-term threats, and that we pay a very heavy price over the long run for doing things like reinforcing despotic regimes, overturning anti-American regimes, and so on.

However–and I am one of those who first learned to admire the author when he was an authority, in the 1970’s, on the causes of revolution–I found the presentation spotty, with errors of fact and perception in those areas where I have a solid background, specifically the U.S. Marine Corps on Okinawa, and the clandestine service of the Central Intelligence Agency. Neither of those two organizations is as evil or disorganized as the author seems to believe, and frankly, I found his bibliography with respect to both domains to be mediocre.

[Since reading this book I have been absorbed in a book not yet available in the US, Gold Warriors, by the Seagraves, and have been stunned by the crimes they document–to wit, the theft by the US, secretly and without the taxpayer finding out, of all the gold and other treasures looted by the Nazis and the Japanese during WWII, subsequently using this “black money” to fund global political corruption on a grand scale–all on the part of the U.S. Government, with specific assistance from the CIA, Treasury, and others. Their book comes with two CD-ROMS containing 60,000 documents in support. I am persuaded, and this book, among others I had forgotten on CIA money laundering and occasional drug running, causes me to credit Chalmers Johnson with more accuracy on his accusations than I in my naivete first appreciated. His documentation still leaves much to be desired, but I perceive that he is more on the mark than off.]

This is a helpful book. If it were the only one it would be important in its own right, but in the light of books such as Daniel Ellsberg’s “SECRETS: A Memoire of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers,” or Derek Leebaert’s much more profoundly researched and documented “The Fifty-Year Wound: The True Price of America’s Cold War Victory,” it falls from the front rank to the second shelf.

Among the critical points where the author is original and heed must be paid, is in his evalution of competing forms of economic management, and his very strong condemnation of the manner in which the US tries to impose a specific form of capitalism on the Asian economies, to their great detriment.

His book reinforces concerns others have articulated with respect to administrative secrecy enabling terrible policies to be enacted in the name of the people; to the military-industrial complex and its negative roles in arming and inciting to repression selected military around the world; to US guilt in human rights violations, to include the provision of encouragement for repression in both Indonesia and South Korea; and with respect to the value of North Korea to those in the US who want to fabricate a case for an anti-missile defense that most informed people agree is absurd in its concepts and extortionary in its pricing.

I am quite glad I read this book, quite glad to be reminded of the brilliant long-term contributions of the author to the field of Asian studies and the causes of revolution, and certain that those who specialize in studies the pathology of power–especially of imperial power such as is now enjoyed by the United States, will find much food for thought in this book.

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