Posted on October 12th, 2007 in Books by Robert Miller

Chalmers Johnson’s latest book “Nemesis” was the third book of his trilogy on our state of militancy and the problems that it presents for us today. I have read all three of his books; I finished “Nemesis” months ago and I am just now getting around to saying something about it. When Johnson published his first book “Blowback” it came out before 9/11 (March 2000) and until that date it had very little visibility. But immediately after 9/11, sales of his book picked up and with this third book on the same general topic, he has become a must read author for learning about the state of American militarism. Johnson began as a professor at Berkeley and was a conservative faculty member when the “free speech” movement broke out and civil rights became a fulminating issue together with the emergence of the Vietnam War. Probably because of those leanings he was invited to consult with the Federal government and got to know intimate details about the pentagon and the CIA, by reading CIA documents in Allen Dulles’ home library (Dulles was the first civilian head of the CIA, 1953-1961; he was forced to retire after the Bay of Pigs Invasion and was later appointed to the Warren Commission to examine the assassination of JFK, never mentioning how he clandestinely got the CIA involved with the mafia and Cuban radicals to assassinate Castro). Perhaps no one writing today has more depth of knowledge about the CIA and the growing secrecy of government that is so prevalent in the current administration. His advice on this issue is clear: the purpose of making documents classified is solely to prevent the public from knowing embarrassing details about government screw-ups. According to Johnson if you completely eliminated secrecy and document classification, a few red faces would result from the revelations, but our nation would remain secure. It is the insistence on secrecy and document classification that has robbed most Americans from knowing what its government did to shape the world we live in today. Especially the World since the end of WW II.

The subtitle of “Nemesis” is “The Last Days of the American Republic.” Johnson’s thesis in this book is that, like the Roman Empire, which converted from a Republic to a dictatorship, we are on the verge of a similar conversion based on the advanced state of our militancy and the many “blowback” conditions we have created for ourselves in the world. The huge number of military bases that we retain throughout the world (more than 650 we admit to), and the debt we are creating to maintain them, will produce a state of economic collapse that is unavoidably in our future. Johnson sees little hope that we can recover from this high state of militancy that needs to be fed by conflict, whether real or imagined. In the prologue to his book, Johnson quotes a recent Zogby poll of 3300 Arabs in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. When asked to identify “the best thing that comes to mind about America,” virtually all respondents answered “nothing at all.” When you realize that Muslims are 1.3 billion worldwide and comprise some 22 per cent of the global population, you see how successful we have been in creating the enemies necessary to sustain our dependency on a military focus. Johnson’s point is that not only is the state of militancy necessary for us to deal with the “blowback” conditions we have created for ourselves, but our economy depends on military spending to keep employment levels high. George Bush and Dick Cheney have led us into a cul-de-sac that imperils our future. But removing them from office will not solve the problem. Johnson’s advice is to move yourself out of the country, as our future is already sealed, just as it was for the Romans, the Soviet Union, the British and every other country that tried to dominate the world. But our situation is different than it was for the British. When the British gave up their pretenses for empire, they did not have significant public debt owned by other countries and it is our debt, together with mounting problems that we cannot face while still supporting a huge military, that make our circumstances different than what the British faced after WW II. Then too, the British could retire from their empire mode because they could turn the task over to someone else, but if we retire, who will lead? China? Revitalized Russia? The European Union?

In the first chapter of “Nemesis,” Johnson points out what he thinks about Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. His insight comes from a book published by Hannah Arendt in 1964 who tried to understand the evils of Nazism by attending the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem (“Eichmann in Jerusalem”). The subtitle to her book was “A report on the banality of evil.” According to Arendt, what made Eichmann both evil and banal was his inability to think for himself. Her point was that the phenomenon of evil deeds committed on a huge scale that could not be traced to any person or wickedness or identifiable pathology finds its explanation in the extraordinary shallowness and detachment of people from their deeds. The deeds were monstrous, but the person who committed them was not: Eichmann was banal and detached, but not demonic. Arendt referred to Eichmann as a “desk murderer” and Johnson does not hesitate to use those words to describe Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. All three have a level of detachment from the deeds they order, and, let’s face it, they are boring people: ideologues to be exact. Rumsfeld, Bush and Cheney are push-button homicide artists. But, unlike Eichmann, they never see those they have killed or really even admit to the numbers they have displaced and murdered.

Johnson’s book does not make you like America. And, it gives little hope that we can recover what we had before WW II. He uses Rome as a recurring theme in his book and has enough knowledge of the similarities to make a case. Like his two other books “Blowback” and “The Sorrows of Empire” Johnson brings a deep knowledge of the events that have shaped our history and how we have tilted towards a country that continually produces enemies, but refuses to admit or even discuss that we had anything to do with creating them. Johnson quotes Simon Jenkins, former editor of the Times of London who wrote on the day after 9/11, “The message of yesterday’s incident is that, for all its horror, it does not and must not be allowed to matter. It is a human disaster, an outrage, an atrocity, an unleashing of the madness of which the world will never be rid. But it is not politically significant. It does not tilt the balance of world power one inch. It is not an act of war. America’s leadership of the West is not diminished by it. The cause of democracy is not damaged unless we choose to let it be damaged.” Johnson’s theme in this book is that we let 9/11 worsen our state of militancy by suspending the Constitution and committing ourselves to a posture in the world that no one supports. Johnson would argue that we are already in a state of dictatorship and that retreating back will be virtually impossible. The eleventh hour has already struck. You may argue with Johnson about the true state of our country, but you cannot argue with the fact that acts of terror and espionage have and are being created in our name that we know nothing about. Why is Hugo Chavez of Venezuela so anti-American? We tried to overthrow his government in 2002 and we will surely try again. Add that to the fact that the strategy of the IMF has been to subjugate the poor people of South American countries, some of whom were far more prosperous on their own than they were under the guidance of the IMF, which, since Ronald Reagan, has been nothing more than a tool for introducing the free market economy into countries, leading to enhanced corporate profits while diminishing the economic prosperity of the middle class and the poor. That folks, is America at work in our name. All of Johnson’s books are highly readable and informative. He reveals a depth of knowledge about our military and government that you cannot find from any other source. So, I have nothing but high praise for Johnson’s books. The trilogy is worth a trek.

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