Ye Olde Natural Philosophy Discussion Group

Reviews and comments on
Chalmers Johnson:
Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic [2007]

      This book is the third in a series of exposures by Chalmers Johnson of the role played by American imperialism in the world today, and the effects this empire is having not only on the rest of the world but on this country as well. The first two volumes, Blowback and The Sorrows of Empire, were not read by us as a group, though a few of us have read one or both of them. Chalmers Johnson (who died a year or two ago) was not a Marxist or a radical; in fact at one time he was an consultant to the CIA. Nevertheless, for a prominent American writer to even admit that there is such a thing as American imperialism and an American empire is highly unusual. And, indeed, most Americans just cannot come to terms with that reality—let alone do much of anything to oppose it. This, I’m afraid, was more or less true of our group too, with one or two exceptions (including Scott, the compiler of these notes!) Two of us gave the book a rating of 8 on a scale of 0 to 10, and everyone else gave it a much lower rating. Our group average was 5.3.

      Rosie was unable to attend the meeting due to illness, but sent in this mini-review. (She did not give the book a numerical rating.):

My review of Nemesis:
He gives mountains of facts that seem to be well documented. He foresaw the trouble we were going to get ourselves into as a nation.
He cited many many interesting incidents that the general public was and is still unaware of. I buy his explanations of how past actions and decisions would cost us our global leadership, our financial stability and our political system. I agree with his description that our military endeavors and a good bit of our government undertakings are jobs programs. I wish he had been more specific about how to ‘give up our empire’ as Britain did, but I guess he agrees with Scott that it is a hopeless cause. Tho I wasn’t wild about his tone, I think this book is a worthwhile read for just about anyone.

      John, who recommended this book to our group, liked it a lot. He appreciated the comparison of the U.S. empire with that of Rome, though he wondered just how accurate that analogy is in every respect. He noted that the book has lots of facts and statistics, which serve to back up the opinions expressed. John was impressed by just how enormous the U.S. expenditures are to maintain all its hundreds of bases around the world. Despite the comments about the “imperial presidency” John doesn’t see any personal dictatorship by the President. But overall he thought the book was wonderful, with lots of concrete examples.

      Kirby said he read the first two chapters and they upset him so much (because they are true) that it really bothered him. So he skipped a couple chapters, then read the rest of the book. He felt the book had lots of facts, but no unifying narrative. Kirby noted the information in the book about the Iraq embargo and how this led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. But he grew tired of Johnson for always dumping on America and not blaming Saddam Hussein for anything. Kirby thought the book was somewhat unfair to George W. Bush, portraying him as damned if he did anything, and damned if he didn’t. Kirby disagreed about there being serious problems with crowding of junk in the geosynchronous orbits. He thought the worries by Johnson about any future military coup were unjustified, and even that the book was slanderous about such things. In sum, Kirby thought that important issues were being raised in this book, but that Johnson did a very bad job of properly discussing them. He felt that Johnson is awful in comparison to Noam Chomsky, for example.

      Forrest read the first 100 pages only. For him the book was just a string of facts and he couldn’t tell what the point of it all was. He remarked, “I need a thesis to consider.” Forrest started to mistrust the author because of a string of smaller things. For example, he felt that it was a misstatement to say that all the Middle East countries have turned against us. He also disagreed with Johnson’s Keynesian analysis (specifically of the effect of “military Keynesianism” on the economy). Forrest added “I didn’t trust the story he was building up.”

      Barbara only read to page 30, so didn’t feel she should give the book a rating. She said she couldn’t stand to read any more about U.S. war actions and the effect this had on people.

      Kevin didn’t read the book from beginning to end either, though he agreed it was on a very important topic. He felt the book was primarily in response to the Bush (Jr.) administration, and was now somewhat dated. But Kevin pointed out that the Obama administration is pursuing essentially the same foreign policies and wars as did Bush, though with a slightly increased emphasis on diplomatic efforts. He felt that the author had severe biases against Bush. Kevin said Eisenhower’s speech about the dangers of the military-industrial complex has proven to be quite prescient. He views political-economic reasons as driving the defense budget, on the part of the political class. He added that “We’re bankrupting ourselves.... These excess military expenditures have to stop.” While Kevin said he might recommend the book to others, overall he felt that it was not definitive, and that the material in it is not new.

      Ron said that Kevin had expressed most of what he wanted to say. He commented that the author does bring up a lot of things that most people don’t know.

      Rich agreed with Kirby that this is a pretty depressing book in that it describes in detail a pretty depressing situation. He said the book is important though it is flawed. “I don’t agree with us going into other countries and setting up governments.”

      Scott was rather annoyed with the reception that our group gave this book. It didn’t seem to him that people got the main point: that there is this terrible force in the world, U.S. imperialism, that believes it has the right to control and exploit the entire world, and is willing to use perpetual wars and mass murder in order to do so. This anti-imperialist perspective is something that Scott has championed for decades, and it was disheartening for him to see that even when a mountain of facts were put forward by Chalmers Johnson to show that this is the real situation, and even though Johnson himself is putting forward this information from only a liberal bourgeois perspective (more amenable to others in the group than is Marxism), it is still not being truly grasped. Even three months later Scott is still in a bit of a snit about this. Yes, there are plenty of problems with Nemesis; in fact Scott himself has very sharp criticisms of it, including its naive bourgeois perspective. But he hoped that this book might lead to a deeper recognition of the basic political situation of the world today, as dominated and screwed up by U.S. imperialism, than it seemed to be able to accomplish.

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