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.

News
Actor Burt Reynolds last year
newsBurt Reynolds, once among the most bankable actors in Hollywood, is set to auction his memorabilia
News
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case
News
people

Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
films
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
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

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game