An interactive and taboo-free journalism based in Japan

Welcome to TokyoFreePress Friday, March 24 2017 @ 05:11 AM JST

Who Said the Japanese Should Stay in the Same, Sinking Boat with the Americans?

Think of it as the eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the American living room: our long-standing 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.
- Chalmers Johnson, July 30, 2009

Chalmers Johnson died on November 20 at the age of 79.

In today's America infested with demagogues and ideologues, scholars and pundits who address issues strictly based on facts as Johnson did are an endangered species. That is why the news from California somehow prompted me to place an order for his last book with

Actually Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope is an anthology of 15 essays written in the period from January 2004 through July 2009.

For his uniquely down-to-earth approach focused on "political economy" of subject countries, Johnson was known to be a "contrarian" scholar, and sometimes dismissed as an "oddball" among mainstreamers. Because of the prejudice, very little is known about him in the U.S. and elsewhere. So let me first summarize here his lustrous educational background and multihued occupational career.

In the 1950s, Johnson earned a BA degree in economics and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley. During the Korean War, he was stationed in Japan as a naval officer. Later on, he taught at his alma mater, but at the same time he was a consultant for an affiliate of the CIA for some years.

Over time he developed a firm belief that it's imperative for serious researchers to receive the fullfledged education on the language and history of the subject country. This is exactly what differentiated him from other political scientists who always cut corners on their surface-scratching studies by neglecting the painstaking efforts to learn languages and histories.

How many Japan experts in the U.S., for instance, are discussing the subject country in an arrogant know-it-all attitude without comprehensive knowledge of the Japanese language and history?

To me talking about a country without knowing its culture inside out is something like an accounting-illiterate CEO trying to analyze the financial statements of his company. I find this "imperial hubris" all the more disgusting because of my personal experience with arrogant Americans in the last two and a half years.

Needless to say, one of the keys to understanding the message of this book is to refresh your definition of the word "imperialism." As usual not-too-many reviewers took Dismantling the Empire seriously on the ground that it's yet another manifestation of a wicked and unpatriotic ideology. Some even said it's totally unworthy of reading.

But now that you've known his bio, I hope you doubt that can be the case. In fact, those who read this book expecting to see all-too-familiar ideologies will be totally disappointed because the author only lets facts, some of them learned firsthand, tell their stories. In short his frequent reference to imperialism has nothing, whatsoever, to do with ideologies.

There's nothing new in the straightforward way Johnson defines the word. He says that imperialism is an international system where "militarily stronger nations dominate and exploit weaker ones."

As a political economist, Johnson primarily focuses on the financial aspects of imperialism. An essay dated July 2, 2009 puts the costs of maintaining "the U.S. Empire of Bases" at $102 billion a year. In another essay dated July 30, 2009, the author quotes Anita Dancs, an analyst for the website Foreign Policy in Focus, as saying the United States spends approximately $250 billion each year maintaining its global military presence." (I can't tell what the difference between the two figures represents, though.)

Johnson concludes that it's a "suicide option" to stay with imperialism which is "not only morally obscene, but fiscally unsustainable." As a former senior financial manager, I can't agree more.

Another keyword of the book is "blowback." Let's see how Johnson redefines the word that first appeared in a CIA postaction report in 1953. According to him, blowback does not simply refer to the unintended consequences of actions taken by the U.S. government, but more specifically to natural responses to such operations "that are kept secret from the American public and from most of their representatives in Congress."

The author presents a list of major countries that have given a blowback to the U.S. since 1953. Among other things, it's especially interesting to note that Japan isn't listed there. Johnson is absolutely right in deliberately excluding the "docile satellite" of the United States.

In the last 65 years, the U.S. has habitually played foul with Japan. So it's another miracle that America's Japan policy has never backfired. The bilateral relations haven't unfolded this way without reason.

Johnson was also known as an early "Japan revisionist" since the early-1980s when he was writing MITI and the Japanese Miracle. In those days he already coined a phrase "Cartels of the Mind" to describe the dark secret behind the economic and political miracle. So he is one of the very few Japan experts in the U.S. who know the reason why America hasn't faced a blowback from its Far Eastern ally.

In the last part of Dismantling the Empire, which was dated six months after Obama's inauguration, he specifically talks about "10 Steps Toward Liquidating the Empire." This is the only part I don't find really convincing primarily because a soul-searching step is missing there; I can't tell if it's Step Zero or Step 11.

The Americans, at large, have all taken it for granted that the world revolves around their country until the end of time, as did the Chinese 2.5 millenniums ago. The worst fallout from the Ptolemaic delusion is the fact that these people are totally incapable of introspection.

As it has become increasingly evident that the process of America's decline is no longer reversible, this "sophomoric ignoramus" resulting from their "infatuation with imperialism" has started taking a devastating toll on America's health. Unfortunately, though, very few Americans seem to have woken up so far to realize a serious self-examination should be Step Zero.

Especially it's deplorable as well as laughable to see these crisis-mongers in the U.S. inventing one crisis after another out of blowback. They do so simply because otherwise they would be out of work altogether.

Thank god, I still have a few good friends in America. One of them is a Montanan. He and I always take each other seriously and value differences. While awaiting the delivery of the book from, I asked him to tell me his take on the idea of dismantling the empire. As usual he gave me a frank and thought-provoking input.

The only sentences I had difficulty understanding go like this:

"If Japan were serious about removing U.S. military bases, there [would be] only one way to do it. That would require hard work, money and some years. Japan would have to prove that it has developed a hard capability to defend itself well and to generate serious working military relationships with the rest of Asia. Our leaders would not accept a few guns and boats. Without that proof, no American bases will close."

I'm always inclined to play devil's advocate when discussing fundamental issues like this one. So my outlandish questions are:

■ Why would Japan have to prove anything to anyone before choosing its own course?
■ What if the Japanese have no intention, deep inside, to defend itself? Indications are that they would rather see Japan become the 51st state of America or 24th province of China than fight against anyone.
■ Which country(-ies) is Japan supposed to defend itself against?
■ Why would Japan have to seek an approval by the President of the United States when it comes up with a plan?

Yet, I can leave it there for now because prior to this discussion we had agreed on other important things such as:

■ We won't find any ideological implication in the warfare of the 21st century although those crisis-mongers insist we will. Should a nuclear warfare break out sooner or later, it would not be fought between two ideologies or religions. That is basically why we grownups sometimes borrow war game software from our grandchildren or watch spectacular films starring Bruce Willis.
■ Obama would never tell American youth to come to the rescue of Japan and shed their blood to save the Japanese from shedding theirs.


Here's a good news today. As of 8 p.m., no Musdan missile has hit the city of Yokohama where I live, or any other Japanese city. The bad news is that the early election returns have indicated that incumbent candidate Hirokazu Nakaima most likely has defeated Yoichi Iha in the gubernatorial election in Okinawa. While both candidates oppose the current relocation plan for the U.S. Marine Corps' air station, the likely winner of today's poll is a disguised proponent of the security treaty.

Also it's a source of deep regret that the Kariyushi Club, formerly named the Ryukyu Independence Party, had once fielded a candidate but in the middle of the campaign his name disappeared from the list of the candidates for an unknown reason. He would have fared well judging from the results of the survey conducted by Lim John Chuan-tiong, professor at the University of Ryukyus five years ago.

Story Options


Trackback URL for this entry:

No trackback comments for this entry.
Who Said the Japanese Should Stay in the Same, Sinking Boat with the Americans? | 1 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Who Said Japan Should Stay in the Same, Sinking Boat with America?
Authored by: samwidge on Sunday, November 28 2010 @ 09:14 AM JST

You ask;
■ Why would Japan have to prove anything to anyone before choosing its own course?

The existence of the bases is by agreement. Japan could break the agreement in the same manner that other nations occasionally break theirs with each other and with Americans. You and I know that the consequences would not immediately be violent and everything might continue just fine.

America puts on pressure to maintain those bases because the answers to what-if questions seem quite bad. Though the bases are alleged to protect Japan, we view them in a far bigger sense -- What if Japan falls and the Chinese/Russians/North Koreans make our land completely and immediately indefensible.

People like Dr. Johnson know this likelihood but seem to reason that everything will be OK if somebody survives. It doesn't matter which Ideology (or lack of ideology) controls.

Modern pacifists seem to advocate a kind of blind trust. Such trust does not always work well. Failures in blind trust explain why we do not allow our children to go with strangers. Failures in blind trust explain why we do not encourage strangers to take up the extra space in our marital beds.

I know a retired Somali pirate who would like to be Japan's next supreme ruler. Please, do think his offer over.

You ask;
■ What if Japan has no intention, deep inside, to defend itself? Indications are that the Japanese would rather see Japan become the 51st state of America or 24th province of China than fight against anyone.

Exactly. You and I fear both of those possibilities. In America's wars we have taken over only three large regions that I can think of. Only one has (marginally) universal acceptance over the long term. We are unanimous in rejecting Japan as our state. We are unanimous in wanting Japan to be an independent democracy. Ditto for Canada and Mexico.

You ask;
■ Which country(-ies) is Japan supposed to defend itself against?

With your expertise, you can answer that far better than I. Japan could just give up certain islands and hand them over to the Russians. That would bring, "peace for our time."

You and I both know the example of Switzerland with its claim to neutrality and its massive defenses. That might be considered success of a sort but not a model for all nations.

When considered on a per-capita basis, Japan is more productive and does more for its people than any other nation I can think of. China would love to have that and has clearly considered war to get it. In the end, China is likely to win through capitalism rather than war. In that approach, there might be no loss. I was reminded recently of China's extraordinary poverty and suffering. That could be shared.

Some people consider that idea to be good. Then again...

A few of our people see nationalism as essential. It depends upon how you feel about it.

You ask;
■ Why would Japan have to seek an approval by the President of the United States to go ahead with a plan.

Japan doesn't have to ask the current president for anything. That is our current weakness. Other nations are exploiting that weakness right now.

Cartoonist, Michael Ramirez speculates on how far that weakness might take us with this:

The same cartoonist compares the Obama approach to travel security to keeping North Korea at peace with this drawing:

In fact, our new deficit means that we can no longer be active outside our borders and many of our most powerful elected officials want it exactly that way.

That opens up hundreds of thousands of new what-if questions. What if we can no longer send food to North Africa? What if we can no longer allow massive citizen financial support of Israel? What if we can no longer be of support to Taiwan? What if India wins the battle of capitalism over China, Japan, U.K., U.S. and Norway thence to gain economic control of the world?

What if sudden poverty causes inundation of America by immigrants and brings an end to our large-scale science?

Nature is alleged to abhor a vacuum. Humanity definitely abhors a vacuum of government.

What if the world becomes home to mindless, starving masses fighting neighbor-to-neighbor for last crusts of bread as the decaying planet goes dark?