Best of TomDispatch: Chalmers Johnson: Dismantling the Empire

In case you haven’t noticed other posts on this still muted, mind-numbing, god-awful subject, check out, for example, this and this and this.

Thanks to

August 7, 2011

Tom Englehardt: Chalmers Johnson died on November 20, 2010, but — for me at least — his spirit lives on in the most active of ways. In his last years at, he regularly chewed over the profligacy of the Pentagon, our unbridled urge for military spending, and our penchant for war-making and war preparations without end. He was convinced that we had long passed the point at which we were still a “republic,” that we had decisively opted for empire, and — long before the U.S. intelligence communitycame to that conclusion — that we were on the downward slide, helped along by what he called a “military Keynesianism” run amok.

One question he raised regularly in conversation, but never answered in print, was: What would it mean for the United States — i.e. a great military superpower — to bankrupt itself? After all, we aren’t Argentina. But if there was no obvious model to draw on, he never doubted one thing: if we didn’t change our ways and reverse course on empire, we would certainly be a candidate for debtor’s prison and a wreck of a country. In his last major essay, also the title of his last (and still unbearably relevant) book, he turned to the issue of “dismantling the empire,” knowing full well that it wasn’t on any imaginable Washington agenda.

Having just lived through one of the more bizarre months in the history of the former republic — what I recently termed “a psychotic spectacle of American decline” — it seemed to me that Johnson’s “dismantling” essay couldn’t be more timely, and so on this quiet Sunday in August, on the weekend the author of Blowback would have turned 80, I’m bringing it back from the TomDispatch archives. It was first posted on July 30, 2009, and it has only gained in relevance from the two years of debacle that have followed. If only I could bring Chalmers back as well. This country could use him right now. Tom

Three Good Reasons To Liquidate Our Empire
And Ten Steps to Take to Do So

By Chalmers Johnson

However ambitious President Barack Obama’s domestic plans, one unacknowledged issue has the potential to destroy any reform efforts he might launch. Think of it as the 800-pound gorilla in the American living room: our longstanding reliance on imperialism and militarism in our relations with other countries and the vast, potentially ruinous global empire of bases that goes with it. The failure to begin to deal with our bloated military establishment and the profligate use of it in missions for which it is hopelessly inappropriate will, sooner rather than later, condemn the United States to a devastating trio of consequences: imperial overstretch, perpetual war, and insolvency, leading to a likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union.

According to the 2008 official Pentagon inventory of our military bases around the world, our empireconsists of 865 facilities in more than 40 countries and overseas U.S. territories. We deploy over 190,000 troops in 46 countries and territories. In just one such country, Japan, at the end of March 2008, we still had 99,295 people connected to U.S. military forces living and working there — 49,364 members of our armed services, 45,753 dependent family members, and 4,178 civilian employees. Some 13,975 of these were crowded into the small island of Okinawa, the largest concentration of foreign troops anywhere in Japan.

These massive concentrations of American military power outside the United States are not needed for our defense. They are, if anything, a prime contributor to our numerous conflicts with other countries. They are also unimaginably expensive. According to Anita Dancs, an analyst for the website Foreign Policy in Focus, the United Statesspends approximately $250 billion each year maintaining its global military presence. The sole purpose of this is to give us hegemony — that is, control or dominance — over as many nations on the planet as possible.

We are like the British at the end of World War II: desperately trying to shore up an empire that we never needed and can no longer afford, using methods that often resemble those of failed empires of the past — including the Axis powers of World War II and the former Soviet Union. There is an important lesson for us in the British decision, starting in 1945, to liquidate their empire relatively voluntarily, rather than being forced to do so by defeat in war, as were Japan and Germany, or by debilitating colonial conflicts, as were the French and Dutch. We should follow the British example. (Alas, they are currently backsliding and following our example by assisting us in the war in Afghanistan.)

Here are three basic reasons why we must liquidate our empire or else watch it liquidate us.

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