Chalmers Johnson, RIP

Last night, antiwar historian Chalmers Johnson died after an extended illness. This note is from Tom Engelhardt, who was Chalmers’ good friend and editor of his books.

I’m sad to report that Chalmers Johnson died on Saturday. He was a stalwart of this site, writing for it regularly from its early moments. Without the slightest doubt, he was one of the most remarkable authors I’ve had the pleasure to edit, no less be friends with. He saw our devolving American world with striking clarity and prescience. He wrote about it with precision, passion, and courage. He never softened a thought or cut a corner. I dedicated my new book to him, writing that he was "the most astute observer of the American way of war I know. He broke the ground and made the difference." I wouldn’t change a word. He was a man on a journey from Depression-era Arizona through the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and deep into a world in which the foundations of the American empire, too, began to shudder. A scholar of Japan, one-time Cold Warrior, and CIA consultant, in the twenty-first century, he became the most trenchant critic of American militarism around. I first read a book of his – on Communist peasants in North China facing the Japanese "kill-all, burn-all, loot-all" campaigns of the late 1930s – when I was 20. I last read him this week at age 66. I benefited from every word he wrote. His Blowback Trilogy (Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire, and Nemesis.) will be with us for decades to come. His final work, Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope, is a testament to his enduring power, even as his body was failing him. To my mind, his final question was this: What would the "sole superpower" look like as a bankrupt country? He asked that question. Nobody, I suspect, has the answer. We may find out. "Adios," he invariably said as he signed off on the phone. Adios, Chal.

James Fallows has a short obituary for Chalmers at The Atlantic.

6 thoughts on “Chalmers Johnson, RIP”

  1. Chalmers Johnson opened my eyes to the waste and folly that is the American global empire. The Country owes him a huge debt of gratitude. My condolences on his family's great loss.

  2. This tears me up. I learned more from this man in three books than from twelve years of public instruction. My condolences to Tom, Mr. Johnson's friends, his family, and all who have benefited from his books over the years.

  3. I am very sorry to hear the news of Mr. Johnson's passing. I wish for more people to read his books. I am very grateful for his intelligent insights, his knowledge of history and his directness in his writings. Thank you so much Mr. Jonhson!

  4. Sadly, there are not many like him. According to friends of mine who are professors in the California State University system the Homeland Security Department is issuing a great deal of grants to departments such as journalism departments. You know what that means. Any wonder that news is controlled?

  5. That man was a good mentor to us all. He will be fondly remembered and sadly missed. Adios, brother.

  6. Chalmers Johnson’s later books grace my shelves and my mind. Some losses are irrecoverable, and Johnson is one of them. God speed you to a better, freer land, Mr. Johnson.

  7. It is very sad to hear of the passing of friend Chalmers Johnson. He has been an inspiration to me since 1967 and especially since "Blowback" was published. Always a gentleman, Johnson never gave an inch in his incisive analysis. He knew his gift and his place in history and lived it to the fullest. A great wit, prescient progrosticator and true patriot. Condolenses to his family and all who respected and admired a great man.

  8. My condolences to Chalmer's family for this devastating loss for us all. I first met Chalmers in 2001 the day after the attack on the Twin Towers when he agreed to talk about it and Blowback on my co-hosted
    radio program in Santa Barbara, California–No Alibis. It was a characteristically brave thing to do and he joined us on air over the years many times. I've taught him in my classes for years where his wisdom, knowledge and integrity was always an inspiring model for students. Johnson went from being, as he put it, "a spear carrier for empire" to being one of its most passionate critics. He will be missed and all those who cared for him must keep his voice alive.

  9. Many have now written about the American Empire, but Chalmers Johnson was the first one to educate me about our network of military bases throughout the occupied world. His writings remain invaluable as tools to support the anti-imperialist agrument. Condelences to to Johnson's family and friends.

  10. I agree with all the above. For those who do not yet know his work, even the 7minute video easily seen when you google his name is a wonderful introduction.

  11. in the late 60s, or maybe the early 70s, i would watch a public television show called "world press review", iirc. chalmers johnson presented the japanese press section. imagine my surprise decades later to see he had re-appeared on my screen as an excellent, irrefutable critic of american imperialism. this is a great loss.

  12. A great loss, and grim reminder of just what sheep our "good" citizens have become.. Chalmers Johnson is the man with the lantern in these times of the faux flicker of manipulated consensus…

  13. After reading Mr. Engelhardt's tribute, I'll make it my business to read Chalmers Johnson's books! He was obviously a great man. Rest in peace, Mr. Johnson. You obviously lived well!

  14. He certainly was a man, who represented the very best of America today. His voice will be missed, not only at home but also abroad.

    Rest in peace, Chalmers Johnson.

  15. I was so impressed after my second reading of Blowback that I wanted to express my thanks to Chalmers Johnson only to find out that he had died seven months ago.
    I am sad as he was an historical writer that I enjoyed reading equally as much as any novel, so impressed was I with his command of history and facts.
    I feel that I knew him through his other writings in other places and if I had to state anything as a final comment it would be that he and his writings represented everything l liked about the US, his real patriotism that didn't stop him from writing about the disgraceful happenings over the years, the mistakes made then and now still in train and continuing even more so than before.,
    But on the negative side, it has made me much more aware of the failings of successive US governments which are today under the control of a foreign state and now a country that seems to have lost all the things that people from other countries, as I am, admired, the sense of respect for the history of the early years, the quality of the founders of the USA, all the values generated now seemingly being eroded at a great pace and no one seems to give a damn.

    I will continue to read Chalmers books and understand more his sense of history and probably feel even more sad about the fact that a great man is no longer with us.

    Americans can justifiably be proud of Chalmers Johnson. He should be mandatory reading for every young American to better understand that not to do in the future. Alas, history does repeat itself under the control of a military complex and a foreign state, sadly.

    Thank you, Chalmers.

    from Australia

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  18. This tears me up. I learned more from this man in three books than from twelve years of public instruction. My condolences to Tom, Mr. Johnson's friends, his family, and all who have benefited from his books over the years.

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