Blowback: The Cost And Consequences of American Empire plus War And Conflict In The Post-Cold War, Post-9/11 Era
March 13, 2003 1:43 AM   Subscribe

Chalmers Johnson is an provocative proponent of the American Empire theory, indeed. Here are excerpts from his Blow Back: The Cost And Consequences of American Empire

I heard Johnson interviewed on Episode II, War And Conflict In The Post-Cold War, Post-9/11 Era of The Whole Wide World

The Cold War and its central conflict - the physical and ideological battles between the United States, the Soviet Union and their proxy states - imposed a certain logic and consistency on the world. Take that away and add the bloody wars in the Balkans, Africa and the Middle East in the ‘90s as well as the terror attacks and warnings of more recent times and you get a very confused picture of a world at war. Is this breaking storm in Iraq about oil, democracy, freedom, empire, culture, water, diamonds, modernizing Islam or nation building in the Middle East? Some, one or all of these things?

It was an excellent program and well worth your listen, either by RA now or mp3 later. (From listening to the radio)
posted by y2karl (15 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Here's an excerpt from a speech essentially paraphrasing Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire given by Mr. Johnson before the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. that was Published: Apr 28 2000 by

Every now and then a new word emerges from the labyrinth of our secret services for which we might be thankful. The American press has recently started to use the term "blowback." Central Intelligence Agency officials coined it for internal use in the wake of decisions by the Carter and Reagan administrations to plunge the agency deep into the civil war in Afghanistan. It wasn't long before the agency was secretly arming every mujahideen volunteer in sight, without considering who they were or what their politics might be -- all in the name of ensuring that the Soviet Union had its own Vietnam-like experience. The American public may believe that the destabilization of the Soviet Union was worth 1.8 million Afghan casualties, 2.6 million refugees, and 10 million land mines left in the ground there -- but it does not yet know about all the "blowback" its Afghan adventure also unleashed.

Not so many years later, these Afghan "freedom fighters" began to turn up in unexpected places. Some of them bombed the World Trade Center in New York City, murdered several C.I.A. employees on their way to work in Virginia as well as some American businessmen in Pakistan who just happened to become symbolic targets. The Afghans also support Osama bin Laden, who was once a prime C.I.A. "asset" back when our national security advisers thought giving guns to religious fundamentalists was a great idea.

In this context, "blowback" came to mean the unintended consequences of American policies kept secret from the American people. In fact, to C.I.A. officials and an increasing number of American international relations pundits, "blowback" has become a term of art acknowledging that the unconstrained, often illegal, invariably secret acts of the "last remaining superpower" in other people's countries can result in retaliation against innocent American citizens. The dirty tricks agencies are at pains never to draw this connection between what they do and what sometimes happens to the people who ultimately pay their salaries. So we are supposed to believe that the bombings of American embassies in East Africa in 1998, the proliferation of sophisticated weapons around the world, or the crack cocaine epidemic in American cities are simply examples of "terrorism," the work of "unscrupulous arms dealers," "drug lords," "ancient hatreds," "rogue states" -- anything unconnected to America's global policies.

posted by y2karl at 1:43 AM on March 13, 2003

Now, I realize this comment is more than a triple post--but it's not an FPP, nyah, nyah, nyah, and these things scroll offscreen so fast and it's a worthy topic still, so...

here's an excerpt or two from War is a Force That Gives us Meaning

reviews: flakmagazine. Excerpts: Spirituality & Health & Amnesty Now and Interview:

I bring up Hedges's name here because at one point in his segment, he talked about the devastated emotional state of the Serb soldiers who'd massacred the Muslim men and boys of Sebrenica, immediately after the act. It was incredible to hear.

Kanan Makiya is another familiar name to some of us, having written on the need for democracy in Iraq long years before the first Gulf war, let alone any Homo Warbloggeri Blowhardicus who crawled forth from the post-9/11 rhetorical slime and took up the cause Iraqi democracy in, oh, just the last three weeks. In the interview on The Whole Wide World, he tries to put on a brave face about the war but there is this whole Is the US selling out the Kurds again? thing so obviously on his mind.

All this and Seamus Heavey, too! Check it out, dudes and dudettes.
posted by y2karl at 1:44 AM on March 13, 2003

Y2, you've posted more content in two minutes than most bloggers do in two years.
I'm not going to call you out for Double, Triple, or Merkle Post, invoke Godwin's Law (I know you've mentioned Hitler in there somewhere), or even claim a Self-Link (you are Chalmers Johnson, aren't you?)

So I'll just declare that you have broken The Fifth Rule.
posted by wendellseviltwin at 2:08 AM on March 13, 2003

Bad call--as a concept, taking myself seriously is honored far far more in the breach than the observance, let alone taking myself too seriously. You wouldn't even think of making that bogue claim if you could see the Harpoesque hand horn I bought at the garage sale last Saturday.
posted by y2karl at 2:57 AM on March 13, 2003

I promised myself I'd try to be nice, but I haven't seen such a soft-ball set-up since the last Larry King Live...

...if you could see the Harpoesque hand horn I bought at the garage sale...

Some people could do worse than to emulate Harpo Marx more often.

Forgive me, mathowie, for I have committed the mortal sin of thread derailment (soon to replace Gluttony on the Seven Deadly list)
posted by wendellseviltwin at 4:02 AM on March 13, 2003

Two quotes from the Hedges interview:

"But when you get into combat, it’s venal. It’s dirty. It’s confusing. It’s humiliating, because you feel powerless . . . most importantly, you feel fear in a way that you’ve probably never felt fear before. And anyone who spends a lot of time in combat struggles always with this terrible, terrible fear -- this deep, instinctual desire for self-preservation."

"I think war is probably the supreme drug. War -- first of all, it is a narcotic. You can easily become addicted to it. And that’s why it’s often so hard for people who spend prolonged times in combat to return to peacetime society."

Does anyone else sense some inconsistency?
posted by shoos at 4:51 AM on March 13, 2003

paragraphs immediately after each of those you posted:

In wartime, you learn you’re not the person you want to be -- or think you were. You don’t dash out under fire to save your wounded comrade. Occasionally, this happens, but most of the time you’re terrified. And that’s very, very sobering. And it’s a huge wake-up call. It shows you that the images that you’ve been fed, both about war, and that you have created for yourself, are wrong.

War has a very dark beauty, a kind of fascination with the grotesque. The Bible called it "the lust of the eye" and warned believers against it. War has a rush. It has a hallucinogenic quality. It has that sort of stoned-out sense of -- that zombie-like quality that comes with not enough sleep, sort of being shelled too long. I think, in many ways, there is no drug, or there are no combination of drugs that are as potent as war, and one could argue as addictive. It certainly is as addictive as any narcotic.

The statements are not exactly exclusively contradictory in context.
posted by y2karl at 5:03 AM on March 13, 2003

And this excerpt from the Amnesty International link expands on the topic as well:

War and conflict have marked most of my adult life. I have been in ambushes on desolate stretches of Central American roads, locked in unnerving firefights in the marshes in southern Iraq, imprisoned in the Sudan, beaten by Saudi military police, deported from Libya and Iran, captured and held for a week by Iraqi Republican Guards, strafed by Russian Mig-21s in central Bosnia, shot at by Serb snipers and shelled with deafening rounds of artillery in Sarajevo that threw out thousands of deadly bits of iron fragments. I have seen too much of violent death. I have tasted too much of my own fear. I have painful memories that lie buried most of the time. It is never easy when they surface.

And yet there is a part of me that remains nostalgic for war’s simplicity and high. The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it gives us what we all long for in life. It gives us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our news. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble. And those that have the least meaning in their lives—the impoverished refugees in Gaza, the disenfranchised North African immigrants in France, even the lost legions of youth that live in the splendid indolence and safety of the industrialized world—are all susceptible to war’s appeal.

posted by y2karl at 5:09 AM on March 13, 2003 [1 favorite]

I am happy at long last to discover that all the ills of the world are the direct result of the country I have till now claimed as my own. And, as Bill M. said on tv last evening, America has Britain and Spain on its side, living proof that we are not now nor have ever been involved in empire building.

For all lthe good things, bad things, neglected things we do or fail to do, the US is like most of the industrialized world involved in globalization. This may or may not be good but it is a reality.

Things might be so much better had Russia won the cold war and made available all the fruits of a system that has worked so well over the years in that garden spot.
posted by Postroad at 5:11 AM on March 13, 2003

Homo Warbloggeri Blowhardicus who crawled forth from the post-9/11 rhetorical slime

Thanks, that was great! One for the MeFi hall of fame.
nofundy loves y2karl's literary stylings and his superb post.
Heck, nofundy loves y2karl period.
posted by nofundy at 5:18 AM on March 13, 2003

Looking at it purely from a biological point of view, fear can trigger the release of adrenalin and other powerful chemicals into the body and that in itself is an addictive process for some, thus "adrenalin junkies".

Thanks for the links y2karl, I enjoyed The Whole Wide World program, particularly Hedges insights into the nature of war and its participants.
posted by Onanist at 5:19 AM on March 13, 2003

And, as Bill M. said on tv last evening, America has Britain and Spain on its side, living proof that we are not now nor have ever been involved in empire building.

Jesus Christ, who are you kidding--we have military stationed all over the world in how many countries? All we can do well any more is fight wars--and we're the hyperpower. Why are we feared and hated? Well, duh...
The sad truth is that to the rest of the world, we are the new Soviet Union. We will have hundreds of thousands of troops in Iraq for years, decades even, just like everywhere else. Look at Germany, look at Okinawa.

Chalmers Johnson talked about having his particular epiphany on Okinawa, looking at the country club golf courses used by Marine families and thinking how their situation resembled nothing so much as Russian troops and their families in the Warsaw pact countries during the Cold War--living at a level of luxury unobtainable at home for the price.

Chalmer, of course, sees our relationships with our client states in East Asia as a mirror to the Soviet Union's with the countries of the Warsaw Pact. Those Russian troops really resented having to move home after things fell apart.
posted by y2karl at 5:55 AM on March 13, 2003

Shoos, Onanist, Karl - Heads up: "Becoming Evil" vs. "Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed". See: human and primate tendencies for 1) disinhibiting (or conditioning) factors which ennable normal, "healthy" individuals to committ mass killing, 2) environmental/social triggers for altruistic instincts.
posted by troutfishing at 8:20 AM on March 13, 2003

Jesus Christ, who are you kidding--we have military stationed all over the world in how many countries?

I read that particular comment as deep sarcasm (though I don't know if that's how "Bill M." meant it, whoever he is) - after all, Britain and Spain were the two biggest empire-builders of the colonial age. They ought to know one when they meet one.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:30 AM on March 13, 2003

This Bill M., I think.
posted by allaboutgeorge at 2:31 PM on March 13, 2003

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