Chalmers Johnson and his "Nemesis"

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Finally, a man and a book to challenge and change the “master narrative” of our times.

In early 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, I was putting the finishing touches on my portrait [The Sorrows of Empire] of the global reach of American military bases. In it, I suggested the sorrows already invading our lives, which were likely to be our fate for years to come: perpetual war, a collapse of constitutional government, endemic official lying and disinformation, and finally bankruptcy. At book’s end, I advocated reforms intended to head off these outcomes but warned that ‘failing such a reform, Nemesis, the goddess of retribution and vengeance, the punisher of pride and hubris, waits impatiently for her meeting with us.’ …

The United States today is like a cruise ship on the Niagara River upstream of the most specacular falls in North America. A few people on board have begun to pick up a slight hiss in the background, to observe a faint haze of mist in the air on their glasses, to note that the river current seems to be running slightly faster. But no one yet seems to have realized that it is almost too late to head for shore.

Like the Chinese, Ottoman, Hapsburg, imperial German, Nazi, imperial Japanese, British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Soviet empires in the last century, we are approaching the edge of a huge waterfall and are about to plunge over it.

Chalmers Johnson, Nemesis

Chalmers Johnson’s Nemesis is the third volume in an “inadvertent trilogy” — a sort of retirement gig, part of The American Empire Project, from an eminent UC Berkeley and UC San Diego scholar in Asian (especially Japanese) affairs.

Chalmers_Johnson

Chalmers Johnson [Photo: K.Amemiya, Courtesy of Henry Holt & Co]

The first volume, Blowback (2000), written just before 9.11, was an account of why something like the World Trade Center attack was bound to happen… an alternative answer to President Bush’s question, “Why do they hate us?” The term “blowback,” as he explained, is a CIA coinage that “does not mean revenge but rather retaliation for covert, illegal violence that our government has carried out abroad that it kept totally secret from the American public (even though such acts are seldom secret among the people on the receiving end).”

His second volume, The Sorrows of Empire, surveyed the vast US military establishment largely hidden from budgetary review or popular conversation: 700-plus US bases in roughly 130 countries abroad, “over two hundred military golf courses around the world, some seventy-one Learjets and other luxury aircraft to fly admirals and generals to such watering holes…” In sum, as he wrote, “As militarism, the arrogance of power, and the euphemisms required to justify imperialism inevitably conflict with America’s democratic structure of government and distort its culture and basic values, I fear that we will lose our country.”

And now, Nemesis announces that we are approaching a destination.

Chalmers Johnson and his book will be mis-classified by some as leftist, even anti-American. To my eyes and ears his Jeremiad has a classic, old-fashioned and middle-American accent. The “empire is the issue” crowd in fact spans right and left — from the late Susan Sontag and Gore Vidal through Norman Mailer to Senator Robert Byrd and Pat Buchanan. I observe that it’s only the mushy middle of the public conversation and the mainstream media that avoid the evidences of empire and the common-sense misgivings about a foreign policy of force and domination, and open contempt for “the opinions of mankind.”

The dire prophecy that Chalmers Johnson is forcing us to confront late in Bush II and the Iraq debacle comes, in fact, from a consensus of the Founding Fathers and from James Madison in particular, quoted by Johnson at some length.

Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the executive is extended… War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasuries are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them…”

James Madison, from Political Observations , April 20, 1795.

Chalmers Johnson’s full title is Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. Oddly enough, he does not quite despair of changing course and rescuing our birthright.

Thomas P. M. Barnett, a very different analyst of American power and possibility in The Pentagon’s New Map and Blueprint for Action, will join the conversation.

Thomas Barnett

Blogger, Thomas P.M. Barnett:: Weblog

Senior Managing Director, Enterra Solutions

Former strategist for the Office of the Secretary of Defense

Former professor, Naval War College

Author, The Pentagon’s New Map and Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating

Extra Credit Reading

Paul Starobin, Beyond Hegemony, National Journal, December 1, 2006: “It could be that the current anxiety over whether America has “peaked” is just another spasm in a regularly occurring cycle. In 1970, with the United States bogged down in Vietnam, President Nixon worried that America looked like “a pitiful, helpless giant.” Seventeen years later, in the wake of the Ronald Reagan revival of a big-stick America, Paul Kennedy came out with his ominous-sounding book. Now, like clockwork, amid concerns that George W. Bush has overstretched the imperial fabric, the baying is again heard that America’s “primacy” days are drawing to a close. Call it the 17-year angst.”(via OliverCranglesParrot)

Joseph Heller, Nately’s Old Man, Catch-22, Month DD, YYYY: “‘America is the strongest and most prosperous nation on earth,’ Nately informed him with lofty fervor and dignity. ‘And the American fighting man is second to none.’ ‘Exactly’, agreed the old man pleasantly, with a hint of taunting amusement. ‘Italy, on the other hand, is one of the least prosperous nations on earth. And the Italian fighting man is probably second to all. And that’s exactly why my country is doing so well in this war while yours is doing so poorly.’” (via OliverCranglesParrot)

Donald Douglas, Chalmers Johnson and America’s Imperial Decline, Burkean Reflections, January 31, 2007: “Much of what Johnson denounces is the Bush administration’s advocacy of executive branch supremacy in the realm of national security, manifest, for example, in the adminstration’s early policies on the detention and torture of enemy combatants. But Johnson goes too far in making his case, essentially equating the Bush administration’s excesses with the totalitarianism of Hitler’s Nazi regime.”

William Greider, The End of Empire, The Nation, September 23, 2002: “You can’t sustain an empire from a debtor’s weakening position–sooner or later the creditors pull the plug. That humiliating lesson was learned by Great Britain early in the last century, and the United States faces a similar reckoning ahead.”

Jane’s Information Corp, On imperial overstretch, Jane’s, August 6, 2003: “The USA remains the biggest military power in the world, but it is beginning to experience the classic symptoms of imperial fatigue.”

Suzy Hansen, The decline and fall of the American empire, Salon, December 2, 2002: “According to Kupchan, a professor of international relations at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, it isn’t radical Islam that we should be most concerned about. It’s our friends across the Atlantic, the European Union, that pose the greatest threat to American primacy.”

Wang Jisi, The End of Empire, The Study Times, December 10, 2003: “.The domestic roots of America’s hegemonism are deep and solid. Before the U.S. falls from its hegemonic height, in order to shake its hegemonic thinking, we must eradicate America’s unitary ideology of freedom, change America’s nationalism and conceptual framework, make them believe that there are social systems and life styles in the world that are more admirable than America’s.”

14:58

It reminds you of the Roman Republic as it is portrayed in the series “Rome” on Home Box Office these days. It’s the way democracies die. It’s when people forget what they are about to lose. It never comes back once you lose it. We’re talking bascially about a one-way street, and one of the one-way streets is the way we are dependent upon our military aparatus.

Chalmers Johnson

22:44

We’re roughly at one-third the number of troops abroad today that we were at the height of the Cold War in 1968. And nobody called it an empire then. I’m at a loss, in terms of magnitude, for explaining how Dr. Johnson can describe us as being that much more dependent, when by historial averages . . . our military burden is lighter than it’s ever been.

Thomas Barnett

31:28

So it’s not a problem of the United States not being able to find friends, or be invited into these kinds of situations. The real problem we face is that we’re invited into some many of them.

Thomas Barnett

32:41

Every day I imagine an Iraqi man my age — 75 years old — saying to his son, “Son, your mother and I have talked it over. For the sake of our dignity, for the sake of our self-respect, go out and kill an American tonight.”

Chalmers Johnson

46:00

References to Ecuador and Paraguay and how they’d be happy if our bases were pulled are kind of fanciful, because we don’t have any bases there. So you have to be clear about where we actually are versus what kind of myths Dr. Johnson is weaving for you.

Thomas Barnett

Comments

53 thoughts on “Chalmers Johnson and his "Nemesis"

  1. Thursday! That’s too soon! I can’t read a trilogy tonight! ;-D

    Looking forward to it.

    Like any addict, this imperial nation will bottom out and be forced to face itself.

    So much of our culture is based on addiction. Even the financial models for business planning. It all stems from the addiction to power over another, rather than empowerment of the self. Since power over another is an illusion, we keep seeking more of it to satisfy a craving. More nations, more oil, more houses, more clothes, more chocolate…

    nd like any addict, we can’t be bothered with where it all comes from or how it got here. We simply have to have it.

    Blowback sucks, doesn’t it?

  2. “The United States today is like a cruise ship on the Niagara River upstream of the most specacular falls in North America.” Whose on deck chair duty?

    Favorite historical analysis of empire Nately’s Old Man

    Put this over in the pitch-a-show, seems germane to here: Beyond Hegemony

  3. I read BLOWBACK when it first came out in paper, before 9/11. I worked in a bookstore and tried to get everyone to read it, but most people weren’t interested. And this was in Harvard Square. I remember that a man said to me, “I’ve tried to become interested in these things, but they just don’t interest me.” On 9/11, I didn’t know about the World Trade Center until I was on my way to work. On the subway I saw the front page of the Herald that read AMERICA ATTACKED. I thought, Well, here it is. I’m glad he’s going to be on OS, even though reading him or listening to him, my heart is always pounding and I’m thinking, Oh God, we’re f*cked!!

    If you want to listen to him before the show, on lannan.org, you can hear him reading from THE SORROWS OF EMPIRE followed by an interview.

  4. Wow, a Japanese scholar on ROS! Chris, please ask Chalmers Johnson:

    1) about Abe’s (the Japanese prime minister) neo-nationalism and whether between this bent and the the need to keep serving US imperial masters, he thinks Japan has any hope of forging better non-economic relations with its neighbours, and

    2) what he thinks about using the occupation of Japan as an instructive example of the “good” the US can do in the world (many neo-conservatives and others have tried to justify Operation Iraq Liberation with this historical comparison).

    I’ve lots more questions I’d like to ask him about Japan, but they don’t relate to the topic of the show. How about asking him to come on again to talk specifically about Japan.

  5. Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded,

    That’s simplistic.

    Our liberty today is the result of our willingness to go to war against our colonial masters, the British. African Americans today owe their liberty from slavery to the bloodiest war in US history. Hundreds of millions of European today were liberated from the NAZIs in a horrific war. Likewise the residents of Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

    Sometimes war is an enemy of liberty; sometimes it’s a friend of liberty. The important thing is to use judgement about when to ‘cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war’, and then to do it very well and very thoroughly.

  6. It’s a highly speculative and ambiguous what if of a question, but if the US didn’t have bases forward in the roughly 130 countries, what would these nation’s armed forces and military ambitions look like?

  7. “It’s a highly speculative and ambiguous what if of a question, but if the US didn’t have bases forward in the roughly 130 countries, what would these nation’s armed forces and military ambitions look like?”

    Every US dollar bill has a portrait of George Washington. We should pass a law to add a his famous instructions in his Farewell Address to his portrait on every dollar bill . . .

    Avoid Foreign Entanglements

  8. Empire is a dirty word for most Americans. Other countries have colonies and empires: Spain,Britain, France, Russia, …….Rome. Not us. We are better than that, have transcended that vulgar model, or so we like to think.

    We, of course , gained our independence from one of these, thankfully, probably the most benign empire in history. We, and many other of Britain’s former colonial have fared much better post independence than the rest. We tend to see ourselves almost unequivocally as a force for good in the world, and until the debacle in Iraq, could claim that we did not physically occupy another country and its people. This is of course technically/literally true, however, the modern notion of empire needs to be updated to fit the realities of the world that we live in. Boots on the ground are far less important in the 21st century than navies, ICBM’s, economies, and mass culture, each of which help a nation to influence/control events around the world,and guarantee access to overseas markets and energy supplies. Whether we acknowledge this fact or not, most of the rest of the world tends to see us as the 2 thousand pound gorilla, unable to resist the temptation of throwing its weight around, meddling in affairs of other countries of which we and many of our elected/unelected officials know little or nothing.

    Sadly, the days of the respected/benevolent empire as embodied by the Marshall Plan seem to be far behind us.The earned good will that resulted therefrom has been nearly completely dissipated/squandered through the clumsy missteps of our current cabal of neoconservative empire builders, who as

    Chalmers Johnson would argure, have done much to hasten the demise of the Imperium that they so cherish.

    Mark Borowsky, M.D.

  9. Good point: The Marshall Plan in Europe and MacArthur’s plan to rebuid Japan

    are examples of the Good we can do. Its seemed under Clinton that the military would be refashioned for humanitarian efforts.

    An Interesting Twist: We(i.e.our Government) is encouraging Japan to repeal Article 9 of its constitution(which denounces war and preparation for war)

    Chamers Johnson,as a Sinologist, might be asked able the implication this repeal. What is the meaning of Article 9(which McArthur wrote) and its implication of Repeal?

  10. Empire is a dirty word for most Americans. Other countries have colonies and empires: Spain,Britain, France, Russia, …….Rome. Not us. We are better than that, have transcended that vulgar model, or so we like to think.

    Keep in mind that most of those other countries have also transcended that vulgar model BETTER than we have.

    Most of them have divested themselves of all the trappings of empire that involved white men in European capitals ruling over brown and yellow men in far away places. The few remnants of empire that Britain has are places that WANT to stay protected and connected to them, e.g., the Falklands and Gibraltar. In the 1960′s the UK tried to push Anguilla out of the fold and into a union with independent St Kitts. A riot ensued and the Royal Navy was forced to land troops from the frigate HMS Salisbury to restore order, and after years of negotiations the British agreed to accept Anguilla as a dependent colony.

    France still has French Polynesia, but it’s not clear how much longer that will last given that Tahiti just elected a pro-independence leader. Other than that and a few African backwaters France has very little influence in the world. Russia and Spain have no really significant colonies in the classical sense and Rome is ancient history.

    But the US has troops all over the place. We also have Puerto Rico which we can’t seem to divest ourselves of because they don’t apparently WANT independence. Hawaii also has a tiny independence movement, but with 60% of the island’s economy coming from Washington they can’t afford to leave.

  11. Please note that almost exactly four years to the day that Robert Byrd said that we were on the verge of a momentous invasion and there was total silence in the Senate. There is still silence in public discourse. Americans seem easily distracted by celebrity hijinks and absurd simplifications of the complexity of the world we live in. Why is it impossible to have a public discussion of what our taxes are funding and what our country is becoming?

  12. I just heard Tom Barnett claim that back in 1968 no one was calling America an empire. It’s my understanding that open discussions of the American Empire began back in the 1890s. Surely, during the cold war, America had more reason to be called an empire than the Soviets; the Soviets grabbed nations that were their geographical neighbors, a terrible but at least understandable tactic for a nation that had been invaded several times in previous decades. American “influence” extended all over the globe during that period, especially into Central and South America.

  13. Who are “we” Thomas Barnett keeps talking about? Enterra Solutions?

    Office of the Secretary of Defense? Naval War College?

  14. Kudos to Mr. Johnson for putting a significant dent in the power serving myth of America as the ‘city on a hill” And Kudos also to “Opensource” for featuring a guest that national ostensibly public radio would never touch.One significant reason why the empire thrives at the expense of democracy is because the media plays along. Noam CHomsky calls it “manufactured consent”.Perhaps that is why we often hear criticism of the tactics employed by Bush and the military but we seldom hear any question of their motives stated and otherwise.For example, after Bush lied us into Iraq, the media still takes him at his word when he claims we’re there to “bring democracy to the Mid-east.” As long as corporate media and a corrupt “public” media are allowed to frame the parameters of debate, and distract us with “American Idol and “Survivor”,the public will remain blissfully unaware of American Empire till it comes crumbling down upon them.

  15. Mr. Barnett has Jack Weston’s voice timbre. Just an odd observation that struck me while listening…doesn’t mean anything…probably sounds even better waxing hegemony with Hugh Hewitt.

  16. We – taxpayers – were spending $33 BILLION per year on intelligence every year – EACH AND EVERY YEAR – in the 30 years BEFORE September 11.

    The same people who’ve been yelling about ‘getting the government off the backs of the people’ (in the immortal words of a popular former president) with massive tax cuts for the wealthy and our biggest corporations, always decry our government as being soft on the poor and spending too much on social programs and government giveaways.

    What did we get for the money? Why aren’t these self-same conservatives screaming about the decades of waste, the outcome being 9/11, and the additional 2.0 Billion USD we are now spending every few weeks in Iraq?

    Something does not jibe.

  17. I just heard Tom Barnett claim that back in 1968 no one was calling America an empire. It’s my understanding that open discussions of the American Empire began back in the 1890s.

    It’s YOUR understanding? It’s EVERYBODY’s understanding! If barnett said that then he doesn’t know what he’s talking about! (It’s a good thing I listen to these shows on podcast – listening to them live would make me apoplectic!)

    Someone should remind Barnet about Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White man’s Burden”, written in 1899 about our joining the colonial club with our acquisition of the Philippines . . .

    Take up the White Man’s burden—

    Send forth the best ye breed—

    Go send your sons to exile

    To serve your captives’ need

    To wait in heavy harness

    On fluttered folk and wild—

    Your new-caught, sullen peoples,

    Half devil and half child

    . . .

  18. To maintain a global empire requires massive resources. These resources must be either coming from others or being generated here at home.

    On the home front, we have just had two straight years of negative savings–the rate’s last dip into negative territory was in 1933. We have had no appreciable increase in median income since the early 70′s. We are faced with two major inflationary pressures: double deficits and rising energy costs due to growing shortages and the requirement to transition to more ecologically friendly sources. We have gutted our industrial base. We are heavily dependent on imported oil from increasingly unstable regions.

    Abroad, we are currently “seeking” unprecedented Production-Sharing-Agreements from the country with the second largest petroleum reserve while we occupy them–it is being called the classic oil grab.

    So after all the verbiage is set aside, what we are doing in Iraq is fighting and attempting increase our wealth.

    jon

    Connecting the dots: From human behaviors to Ecosystem decline

    http://StudentsForTheEarth.org

  19. GOLF COURSES! It’s the PERFECT export for the 21st Century- especially to the “Sand Trap” countries of the Middle East! The Gaza Strip could be One Big Fairway, with a little more water… I tellya, this could be the (whispers) “Plastics” for the next 50 years! Come on, guys- let’s Rock ‘n Roll!!! ^..^

  20. I believe what the guest speaker is saying as well as what the posts say. but I still want to know … if not us who? There always seems to be top dog in terms of the history. Indeed history is full of examples of empires that rise and fall. All of them had bad points and good points some more than others on both counts. But if you believe the premise that there will always be a hegemonic power then I would rather have our kind of empire than one we would’ve had under the former Soviet Union, present day China (if you think our civil rights are trampled on imagine if China was the sole world power) or Germany or Japan if they had won WWII. With all of the mistakes, problems and challenges that the United States has had… hasn’t it been better for the world to have our kind of empire rather than the ones mentioned above?

    ~R C

  21. What an invigorating discussion. I listened to most of it barely repressing a smile, trying not to hammer my knee in agreement with the admirable Chalmers Johnson. As for Tom Barnett, what sort of sleight-of-truth was he attempting by referring to Iraq as “post-war Iraq”? The war is over? Is this the “good news” he alluded to, Jehovah’s Witness-style? News to me, and to most of the rest of the world, I imagine. And what of his claim, “We don’t face the threat of nuclear armageddon”? We can parse the meaning of “armageddon” till the cows come home, but the doomsday clock is ticking, and fast, as the Union of Atomic Scientists will tell anyone who cares to listen. Interesting too Johnson’s decline in status over the course of the hour. Barnett intitally referred to Johnson, rather ostentatiously given how he’d been introduced, as “Dr.”, but by program’s end he’d been downgraded to “Mr.” Great show, many thanks.

  22. I read Chalmers great book on MITI many years ago but had not followed his writing since. Now I will have to read his works on empire. How refreshing for someone with his insight and experience to tell it like it is. It was interesting to hear his take on the US occupation about-face in Japan. He also raised the important issue of Article 9. The possibility of it being written out of the Japanese constitution has many people over here worried. If you are interested, you can read more about the movement to resist any change at this link.

    http://www.9-jo.jp/en/index_en.html

  23. if not us who? There always seems to be top dog in terms of the history.

    that’s not really true. The only worldwide top dog in history was the British Empire. Before that, top dogs were always regional, e.g., Rome, China, etc.

  24. Wow, Johnson really shows that age and experience can still produce a moron. Everyone here that lapped up all his nonsense need to read some more books by people currently in the game. “Not clear what would have happened in the Balkans” if America had intervened earlier”??? What genocide was this fool watching? People around the world would be happy if America just went home? Tell that to elderly South Koreans who know first hand what REAL oppression is about. Chalmers, there’s a golf course calling for you, go play.

  25. jfriley1: Why not stop pissing down your own leg and try and explain in more measured and considerate (also to yourself) terms what it is you’re trying to say. Surely you’re not in the habit of ridiculing old men? You sound like you might know something. Why not share it, without all the rebarbative rhetoric?

  26. “Not clear what would have happened in the Balkans” if America had intervened earlier”??? What genocide was this fool watching? People around the world would be happy if America just went home? Tell that to elderly South Koreans who know first hand what REAL oppression is about.

    The fact that there are SOME people who have benefitted from American intervention does not indicate that it is in America’s interest to intervene in the general case. In the early 1950′s we were the only power in the free world with any capacity to intervene AND we had a force structure based nearby to Korea because of our occupation of Japan.

    As for the Balkans – they represent a good example of where we should NOT commit combat forces. If you look at the force structure actually employed there, there was very little, if any, that the EU states did not possess: armor, combat aircraft, infantry, most logistics, etc. They have tanks, C-130′s, F-16′s, etc. It’s true that don’t have F117′s but those were not, strictly speaking, necessary. The Balkans are in the EU’s backyard and US involvement should have been nil to at most, token.

    The purpose of our military (or ANY nation’s military) forces is to defend national security. Period. They exist to meet force with superior force and to a carry a big enough stick to discourage potential adversaries to think twice.

    Since World War II our military forces have been nothing but political playthings, not allowed to carry out the basic function of any military, which is to defeat the enemy. US forces have seen combat in Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, Kuwait, Iraq, Lebanon (twice!), the Balkans, and several other places. With the exception of tiny little operations like Grenada, all of these have resulted in stare-downs across new borders (Korea, Kuwait) or disgusting, embarassing failures or unfinished, unstable quagmires like Somalia, Lebanon, Vietnam, the Balkans and Iraq.

    Korea is probably the only conflict since WWII we had any likelihood of resolving successfully in the conventional sense, because in principle we could have conquered all of Korea right up to the Yalu river. But when the Chinese came across, the political stomach for raising the sort of forces required to repell them and reunite Korea under one, democratic government was lacking, so soon after WWII, and trying to do it under a UN mandate, and so the war ended in a stalemate, with the northern half of Korea living ever since under a crazed tyranny.

    Korea should have been a lesson to us because all subsequent wars followed a similar pattern with a similar lack of satisfying resolution. We need to rethink the MISSION of our military and only enter wars where that mission can be carried out to a successful conclusion. Vietnam, Iraq, Somalia, the Balkans, and Lebanon, are all places where, for one reason or another we should never have set foot.

  27. I think we’re being too cavalier with the word “empire”. Wikipedia has a comprehensive definition at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire . The U.S. was more of an “empire” after the Spanish-American War than today (q.v. plnelson’s comment above with the Kipling excerpt). Note that the Phillipines were afforded self-governance as a commonwealth in 1935 — and were recognized as a fully independent state following World War II. Rome exacted tributes from its satellite states, and the Soviets were far more expeditionary in their conquests than Mr. Hendrickson notes above (and far more brutal — Mr. Hendrickson’s use of the word “grabbed” in relation to Soviet foreign policy is apt).

    Semantics aside, the bottom line is do we believe America should exert its influence in the world (benevolently or otherwise), or should we follow the Victorian England edict of “splendid isolationism”? As a fervent proponent of globalization, I believe in the former. This will obviously be at a cost, just as America’s “manifest destiny” had a devastating impact on the nomadic tribes of Native Americans in the 19th century. Those that persist to this day had to sacrifice their culture in exchange for a modicum of sovereignty and peaceful coexistence; those that did not were (with few exceptions) obliterated.

    We’re in a similar battle today — but with far more dire consequences. Many thanks to OpenSource for bringing these two thinkers together.

  28. Semantics aside, the bottom line is do we believe America should exert its influence in the world

    The only legitimate purpose of ANY nation’s foreign policy is to “exert influence” toward the result of advancing its citizens’ prosperity, security, and freedom. This is just as true for the US as it is for Iran, Norway, China, or France.

    The old adage that “nations don’t have friends, they only have interests” is very true and I FULLY expect the US government to exert all its efforts toward advancing our national interests. The question is whether a policy of repeatedly getting into stupid, unwinnable wars, and finding ourselves with military bases, treaties, agreements, torture-for-contract arrangements, and other relationships with virtually every regime on earth actually advances our interests.

    As an environmentalist I’ve repeatedly fought with Republicans who think that every public health or envioronmental law or regulation should first PROVE its benefit with a cost/benefit analysis. If they truly believe in that then I suggest a similar criterion be applied to every overseas military base, treaty, or intervention, and that once the benefit value has been reached by the cost it be automatically terminated on the spot.

  29. As an outsider, living under US occupation in Japan, I can’t claim to know the depth of belief many American’s hold about the “goodness” of their nation. No doubt it’s profound. In these posts are some examples. Russ Clark asks, rhetorically, if US imperialism is not better than any other and jfriely1 points to the Balkans as proof. National pride, a super-size-me helping of speeches about equality, freedom and democracy while growing up and a fatty diet of Hollywood heroic endings explains in part why all the historical “mistakes” can be overlooked or dismissed.

    That America, as a super power, throws it’s weight around the globe and acts mainly in the interests of its ruling classes (plnelson might disagree) is expected, though not appreciated by many people around the world who have suffered bloody “benevolence”.

    Why not then just state it like it is? We need your resources! We want to open up your market to our goods and services so we can profit! We are more powerful so we can make the rules and disregard international laws and agreements. Cheney comes the closest to this kind of in-your-face honesty and most Americans can’t stomach it.

    That’s why Chalmers Johnston puts it so clearly when he says the US needs to lose its empire to save its democracy. You can’t have it both ways and just continue to sell an expansionist plate as a nutritionally just and noble happy meal.

  30. That America, as a super power, throws it’s weight around the globe and acts mainly in the interests of its ruling classes (plnelson might disagree)

    Yes he does.

    “The ruling classes” aren’t the ones filling up their 14 MPG SUV’s every day at the pump or leaving every light in their trophy house on at night, or displaying enough Christmas ornaments in their yards to keep the local coal-burning powerhouse humming along all night. Nor are the “ruling classes” the ones who festoon their yards and houses with American flags to celebrate our bombing of Baghdad at the start of the current quagmire, nor are they the ones that keep the slave-labour factories in China tootling along so the shelves of every Walmart and Target in America can keep filling their boundless maws. Nor are the ruling classes the ones who don’t worry about global warming or massive personal or government debt because they expect at any moment to be enRaptured into Heaven, leaving the rest of us to fend for ouselves in the mess they’ve left here.

    But fear not. In Japan you are a lot closer to the future than you think, because when it comes to consuming resources and producing global environmental mayhem, the torch is about to be passed. In the next few years China will exceed the US in just about every metric relevant to the topic. They’ve already passed us in several key categories.

  31. plnelson, nice try, but it ain’t gonna fly. While I don’t think those who buy the package are innocent or lack responsibility, you need to consider who entices them and doesn’t provide relevant information in an understandable form so that they can make better decisions–the ruling classes. Every day, the people you refer to are bombarded with advertisements from corporate, political and religious marketers. If they have not been educated somewhere to be critical and skeptical of the message and the messenger, the result is as it is.

    As for the ruling classes, they use even more energy and were just as keen to go to war or rolled over when they had the chance to stand against. As for debt, they need not worry as they own most of the wealth.

  32. you need to consider who entices them and doesn’t provide relevant information in an understandable form so that they can make better decisions–the ruling classes

    But YOU can see through all of that. Do you have a metal plate in your skull to prevent the ruling classes from beaming remote-control thoughts into your head?

    As I said in another thread on ROS, it’s interesting how people who subscribe to the idea that the masses are just helpless sheep incapable of taking responsibility for their decisions (including meta-decisions) always exempt themselves from the sheep herd.

    If they have not been educated somewhere to be critical and skeptical of the message and the messenger, the result is as it is.

    But no one educated ME in skepticism. How come I knew enough to see through the vacuous claims Bush used to support the Iraq war? How come I’ve never been convinced that I “need” a Lincoln Navigator to drive 4 miles to the grocery store to shop for a family of two? This takes some special education? Did I miss that class? Do I have to retake it?

    People CHOOSE to be “bombarded” with those ads. I have never ONCE come home to find a TV network executive in my livingroom with a gun in his hand, trying to force me to turn on my TV and watch it. Maybe things are different in Japan – maybe NTV executives are more aggressive about promoting worship at the electronic shrine, but you know, with budget cutbacks at US TV networks, I’m afraid their “enforcement” program is lacking.

    But, as I said, look to the west – the US is about to be eclipsed in all things consumptive by the Peoples Republic of Consumer Capitalism in the next few years. The Great Walmart of China is about to give everyone a few lessons in this subject. And nobody on earth will miss that class!

  33. Yet, plnelson, some people don’t buy everything being sold by the corporate, political and religious 3 marketeers. In terms of shopping, some people control their urge to splurge while others justify their unnecessary purchases by seeing these desire fillers as needs or rewards. How do you explain this? Is it simply DNA or innate character? Are people socialized to find satisfaction and meaning in excessive consumption? Is it an inability to resist pleasure? Is it an inability to connect our actions and the effects they have? Something else?

  34. In terms of shopping, some people control their urge to splurge while others justify their unnecessary purchases by seeing these desire fillers as needs or rewards. How do you explain this?

    People are making rational choices within their value systems and according to their goals. I value reading, painting, writing poetry, designing software, and other activities. Someone else might not enjoy those things, but they might find watching the Simpsons or “Lost” to be a great way to spend an evening. When I chop firewood for my stove, or build a cast-concrete retaining wall for my hillside garden that makes me feel strong and masculine and vital; for another guy it might by driving a Hummer. I save my money for retirement and live frugally, someone else may reason that the future is too uncertain and so they should live for today. That might also inform their decisions about federal deficits or global warming.

    When it comes to news and information sources, I read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal; I read the Atlantic Monthly, The Economist and the New Yorker and Scientific American. Other people may prefer Fox TV. One is not “better” than the other – we have different goals. I prefer the mental stimulation of competing viewpoints and in-depth detail. Other people find that stressful and tiresome and prefer to be soothed by hearing things that don’t challenge them.

    I’m not “resisting the pleasure” of watching TV anymore than they are “resisting the pleasure” of reading Scientific American. We are all individuals, and individuality is the hardest things for collectivist philosophies like Socialism, Communism, and religious conservatism to accept. A few years ago the Prime Minister of Malaysia characterized individualism as antithetical to “Asian values” and said it was a peculiar western affectation. It isn’t, of course. When I was in Japan I met plenty of eccentric, individualistic Japanese, even though everyone thinks of Japan as exerting huge pressure to conform. But individualism IS a threat to regimes that would limit the liberty of their citizens.

  35. pln, in your post above you mix ‘individuality’ with ‘individualism’. There’s a distinction, a vital distinction, that’s lost on many if not most Americans:

    “Individualism—I’m out for myself—differs from individuality—I’m myself, and my society benefits from that uniqueness.” —Irshad Manji

    Too many Americans conflate individualism – an ideology dedicated to the perpetuation of selfishness – from individuality – a gift to both the individual person and to the person’s society.

    The American Right has succeeded ideologically for a couple of decades now because it claims to be dedicated to protecting individual liberty. The Right champions the “rugged individualist”, conveniently overlooking that, in most decent democracies, individualists are not granted carte blanche to exploit other individuals.

    Decent democracies rein in the exploitative excesses our 18th century constitutional environment allows to flourish in the 21st century USA. (And, yes, the Constitution creates the environment that the body politic inhabits.)

    Most other modern Western democracies are founded on more than mere individual liberty, giving equal tripartite emphasis to “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity”. The American Right doesn’t seem to care much for the second and third legs of that triad. They cede that domain to the Democrats, who talk up ‘Equality’ but without much sense of how to articulate it into a winning position. Meanwhile, Fraternity (and Sorority, or better yet, the awkward but righteous ‘Siblinghood’) is a nearly meaningless concept in American politics. And to our detriment. I’d rather live in a society that understands itself to be an extended family of individuals rather than a society of individuals first, with little if any sense of responsibility to the rest of the ‘family’. Again, read the lovely distinction given above from Irshad Manji (and leave it to a Canadian to nail it so effortlessly).

  36. PS to PLN: I ought to have mentioned that until I discovered Manji’s book last year, I was just another of the millions of Americans unable to distinguish between individualism and individuality. Thank goodness for Canada!

  37. And I dreamed I saw the bombers

    Riding shotgun in the sky

    And they were turning into butterflies

    Above our nation

    We are stardust

    Billion year old carbon

    We are golden

    Caught in the devils bargain

    And we’ve got to get ourselves

    Back to the garden

    — Joni Mitchell

  38. “Individualism—I’m out for myself—differs from individuality—I’m myself, and my society benefits from that uniqueness.” —Irshad Manji

    That may be Manji’s definition, but we don’t have to accept it.

    To me, individualism is the ethos (an ism is an ethos) that says that in the balance between the individual and collective, the individual should prevail. Individualism is the opposite of collectivism. Individualism has nothing to do with who the individual is “out for”. The individual could be out for himself, or for another individual, or for for abstract principal, or for the larger collective. The point is that it should be up to him.

    The American Right has succeeded ideologically for a couple of decades now because it claims to be dedicated to protecting individual liberty.

    Check again. It’s not just the political right. I’m a member of the ACLU and we ALSO fight for the individual. We’ve defended NAZI’s and the Klan against whole communities who wanted to ban them. We’ve defended pornographers and religious minorities. This is not a left-right issue.

    Meanwhile, Fraternity (and Sorority, or better yet, the awkward but righteous ‘Siblinghood’) is a nearly meaningless concept in American politics.

    Good. Because in the societies that you think are more enlightened, like Europe, that sense of “fraternity” has resulted in bans on any free expression that might rock the boat. Muslims are not allowed to wear headscarves, antisemites are not allowed to deny the Holocaust, and people are not allowed to publish cartoons that make fun of Mohammed. YOU might think that’s fine, but I think it’s tyranny.

    I run a website where I publish sexy pictures of naked models. In some counties I’d be arrested for this stuff. Here, I remain at large.

  39. The American Right has succeeded ideologically for a couple of decades now because it claims to be dedicated to protecting individual liberty

    There is also another flaw in that statement. The American right is opposed to gay marriage, flag burning, abortion, extramarital sex, smoking majijuana, the kind of photos I put on my website, and whole lot of other expressions of individual choice. So I think you’d be very hard pressed to make a general case that the American right endorses individualism, or even that it claims to.

    In general, it’s my view that any extreme philosophy, be it extreme right, extreme left, or religious extremism, tends to endorse collectivist thinking, i.e., where the tastes, values, or will, of the group are imposed on the individual, because it’s a good way to keep people in line, and extremists are always concerned with keeping people in line. Dissenters, whether they dissent by their words, or dissent by their actions, choices, and lifestyles, are dangerous to such enterprises.

  40. Nick’s comments are so rich in response-potential I can’t help double-referencing them . . .

    Meanwhile, Fraternity (and Sorority, or better yet, the awkward but righteous ‘Siblinghood’) is a nearly meaningless concept in American politics.

    Another thing about this whole “family” (brother, sister, etc) metaphor is that real families are voluntary. I come from a big family, and I’m very fond of most of them, sort of fond of others, and few I’m not crazy about at all. I’m under no obligation to send Christmas cards to the ones I don’t like or bail them out of jail or anything. My degree of association or interaction with my family is voluntary.

    But “fraternity” the way you’re using it implies an actual, enforcable obligation. Rather like the way a Muslim woman needs the permission of her brother or father or someone to date a man. So it’s a perversion of the concept of fraternity for political ends.

    It’s a little bit like the way the left has recently started using the concept of “stakeholder” as a kind of parallel to “shareholder” in trying to extract concessions and obligations from companies. Companies are of course, beholden and obligated to their shareholders. So the left has introduced the idea of “stakeholder” to try to create a new set of obligations for companies. Stakeholders are employees, local communities, mom-and-pop businesses that depend on business from the corporation, local governments that depend of the taxes the company pays, etc, etc. It’s just a semantic game trying to turn a set of voluntary choice-based relationships into binding ones.

  41. Value systems and goals! Where do these come from? That’s the point I am addressing, plnelson, when I talk about the 3 marketeers. It may be rational within a nicely packaged box, but what if that box does not fit into a round ecological hole? What happens when an individual’s (and a nation’s) liberty to jumbo bite is at odds with what is available? This raises issues of equality and ‘siblinghood’, that Nick mentions, as well as posterity.

    In an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, Al Gore talked about his documentary and the slide that brings the most feedback: the one that shows how in all scientific peer review journals no articles of 928 over a 10 year period disagreed with the scientific consensus on global warming, but in the msn (NYT, LAT, WSJ, WP, etc.), articles over a 14 year period gave equal weight to the scientific conclusion and the corporate view that humans played no role. In this example we find evidence for the way corporate media helps foster the irrational “rational choices” plnelson attributes to what can only be seen as a selfish and exploitative form of liberty.

  42. In this example we find evidence for the way corporate media helps foster the irrational “rational choices” plnelson attributes to what can only be seen as a selfish and exploitative form of liberty.

    I disagree that they’re irrational.

    I’d be very surprised if the vast majority of car drivers did not believe that CO2 contributes to global warming, and did not know that cars produce CO2.

    That does not mean that driving a car is irrational. Rationally, the economic impact and inconvenience caused by, say, finding alternate transportation or making big lifestyle instead of say, buying a Hummer is huge at the level of the individual, compared the the miniscule, immeasurable reduction of global warmingwhich that individual Hummer causes. So the individual IS acting rationally to buy his Hummer even if he is 100% confident it contributes to global warming.

    So Gore’s point about the ratio of scientific opinion versus op-ed opinion is irrelevant to the basic logic of how individuals make decisions. If you want people to get behind reductions in global warming, or any other environmental or humanitarian depradations you have to find a way to make the cost of that depradation LOGICALLY exceed the benefit the individual enjoys from it.

    Good luck. I don’t think it’s going to happen because global warming is a the result of every individual behaving rationally at the individual level even if the emergent phenomenon that results is not too nice. Short of coercive measures I don’t see how you you can change the inherent logic at the individual level.

  43. Wow, I have always considered myself relatively intelligent and forward thinking. You all make that previous personal assertion questionable at best.

    Nice to be here and able to contribute my irrelevant ramblings to a forum of people that seem to actually want to rationally comment upon and question extremely important issues, as opposed to the typical blog these days that consists of “diz songe is da *&it”

    Hi all, I’m glad to be here and when I have done putting you all on a pedestal I will add some attempted deep thought followed by strong gusts of humor. Cheers

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