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 TomDispatch.com, 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 community came 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.