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

Sunday, November 28 2010 @ 04:37 AM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto

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 amazon.com.

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 amazon.com, 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.



POSTSCRIPT:

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.

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