Chalmers Johnson: Academic and author whose books attacked US foreign policy

The tragedy of 11 September 2001 transformed Chalmers Johnson's 2000 book Blowback from a trenchant critique of American foreign policy ignored by the mainstream into a best-seller. Johnson described, as the book's subtitle stated, "The Costs and Consequences of American Empire", and thus offered an analysis of the discontents behind the attack on the World Trade Center.

But predictions of unforeseen consequences from America's imperial actions were only part of Johnson's message. In Blowback and his next two books, his so-called "Empire Trilogy", he dissected the transformation of America from republic to empire, arguing that its pathology put democracy itself at risk.

A leading critic of George W Bush's war policies, Johnson's criticism was consistent with a career spent overturning received wisdom. Born in Phoenix, Arizona, he took a degree in economics at the University of California, Berkeley in 1953. He began learning Japanese as a naval officer stationed in Japan and Korea, and returned to Berkeley in 1957, taking masters and doctorate degrees in political science.

His dissertation on China, Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power, caused a stir when it was published in 1962, arguing that it was famine, more than the cult of Mao, that drove peasants to the communists during the years of war against Japan. That year he joined Berkeley's faculty; he would chair the political science department, and head its Centre for Chinese Studies.

In 1982 he published another controversial work of revisionism, MITI and the Japanese Miracle, arguing that it was state control, through the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), and not free markets, that was responsible for Japan's economic boom. In 1988 he joined the new School of Pacific Studies at the University of California-San Diego, and retired from teaching in 1992.

Blowback was focused primarily on his area of expertise, Asia, but the next two volumes of the trilogy expanded his reach. Their concerns can be gleaned from their titles; The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2004) was written while America prepared and launched the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, while Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2008) went back further in history, but also outlined the ways in which the maintaining of the present military empire was already undercutting the domestic freedoms Americans presumed they enjoyed. "We are on the cusp of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire," he wrote.

Johnson's final book was published in August 2010. Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope detailed ways in which the imperial impulse in American foreign policy might be reversed. As the writer and editor Tom Engelhardt wrote, "his final question was this: what would the 'sole superpower' look like as a bankrupt country? Nobody, I suspect, has the answer."

Michael Carlson

Chalmers Ashby Johnson, author and academic; born Phoenix Arizona 6 August 1931; married 1957 Sheila K Johnson; died Cardiff-by-the-sea, California 20 November 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Déjà vu: David Tennant returns to familiar territory with Anna Gunn (‘Breaking Bad’)
tvReview: Something is missing in Gracepoint, and it's not just the familiar names
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?