Chalmers Johnson’s The Sorrows of Empire is not an easy, or a pleasant, book to read. In fact, it is a frightening and often tragic examination of a nation caught in the grips of its own lust for power, and the sorrows that result from the quest to conquer.
Johnson, the author of the best-selling Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, which detailed the resulting increase in terrorism and anti-Americanism due to America’s detrimental foreign policies, now offers up even more in-depth perspective on how the United States of America, once a free and respected republic, is now on the verge of becoming a militaristic empire dedicated to the hostile takeover of any country it deems desirable, or undesirable, as the case may be. By documenting American hegemony, which is on the increase, over the last few decades, and detailing with tons of statistics and research just how far our leaders have come in creating the exact opposite of what our founding fathers had hoped for, the author breaks your heart and offers little in the way of hope. America, it seems, has gone too far, and turning back now may not be possible.
First reminding us of the dangers of militarism as stated by such luminaries as George Washington and Eisenhower, Johnson gives us a quick lesson on American Imperialism and its root causes and initial tolls, taking us into the past to discover just when and where the roots of the military-industrial complex (a phrase Eisenhower coined) first took a deep hold on the American landscape. He then examines American involvement in the troubles of other nations, often troubles our own government created as means to an end. That end is a unilateral militarism that found even more fertile ground after the fall of the Soviet Union and then again after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, when more and more Americans allowed their liberties to be taken away without protest, and fewer and fewer Americans even cared to question the full impact of just what their own government was involved in. As this book so eloquently points out, empires can only be created when the populace is numbed, dumbed and scared witless enough to allow them.
As the lies, secrecy and hegemony expanded, so, too did our American presence in other countries in the form of military bases and outposts. This, as well as attempts at imposing globalization to futher set America in stone as The Empire, and an expanded influence as both peacekeeper and war-maker in other nations (mostly war-maker), contributed to the current sad and depressing state of affairs - our invasion of Iraq and the threats of further invasions to come (think recent “warnings” to Syria, et al). Seems we ignored both Washington and Eisenhower, and now we are doomed to pay the price of history repeating itself as the empire is about to implode once again.
Chalmers Johnson is not only a brilliant writer with a powerful eye for detail, but a masterful researcher and historian with a deep comprehension of military history and current foreign policy. He also seems to understand the basic human behavior behind the quest for dominance, and how that behavior is so often rooted in beliefs that appear to be “patriotic” and “pro-American,” thus making empire-building seem so attractive to so many.
But let this be a real warning to those of you contemplating picking up this book. The Sorrows of Empire does not make you feel good, tends to provoke some deep anger and outright rage against “the machine,” and offers little hope for a brighter future short of a complete revolution in which every American citizen hits the streets demanding that control of our government be turned back over to the people, the way it was intended to be. This is not a book for the weak of spirit, or those who wish to remain blissfully ignorant of the evils of empire and the destructive and outright dangerous attempts by our own elected officials to “take over the world.” Therein lies its incredible power. If you are brave enough to face the truth, Chalmers Johnson is willing enough to tell it to you.
Though this book did not brighten my heart with love and pride for my country or even make me feel as though there was a silver lining circling the dark and nasty cloud, it did do something even more effective than handing me a hankie or telling me the boo-boo was going to get better real soon. It empowered me with facts, research, ideas, history, reasons, truths and information. It made me less ignorant, and angrier than ever at my own government for its abuses against other countries, as well as those inflicted right here on homeland soil.
And in the end, that gives me more power than misplaced hope ever could. The ironic thing is, it also gives me hope.