Man on the Streets

Posted February 14, 2008 in Man on the Streets

Call it Gray Power, the Geriatric Revolution or Geezers Against the Military Industrial Complex—whoever they are, they make noted author, historian and anti-imperialist Chalmers Johnson a rock star. What form of imperialism is Johnson railing against? The kind fomented by the United States of America.

“Imperialism is a true form of tyranny,” says the 76-year old wheelchair-bound Johnson to his devoted following. “There is never any consent.” The only solution? “The American people must dismantle the empire.”

Johnson, a former CIA analyst and foreign affairs expert, is the author of a series of books known as the Blowback trilogy, the latest being Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, detailing how American military hegemony around the world has contributed to a host of international and domestic ills, none the least of which is a rapidly declining economy, pushed to the limit by defense spending that Johnson says will top one trillion dollars in the next fiscal year.

“That’s one thousand billion, more than all other [nations in the world] defense budgets combined,” alleges Johnson. “I guarantee you can’t imagine it.”   

If this sounds like the stuff you’d hear at a liberal college campus, you’d be right. Dr. Johnson was the first spring semester speaker at Pitzer College’s “Dining With Democracy” series. (The “Dining” label is a bit of a misnomer—there’s no meal offered, just political rhetoric). 

However, the crowd assembled in Pitzer’s Avery Auditorium was packed to the gills not only with fresh-faced revolutionary tyros determined to overthrow the system and stick it to the man, but also their elderly counterparts who dominating the front section—the same Claremont activists, no doubt, that spend every Friday afternoon at the intersection of Arrow Highway and Indian Hill Blvd. exhorting commuters to honk their horns in protest of the Iraq war. (A form of expression that Claremont police department has recently ruled to be “unlawful use of a horn” and is now issuing citations for).

These are Johnson’s people, the ones who have made Nemesis a New York Times Bestseller—although Johnson says the newspaper declined to review the book itself, in part because “they are scared out of their wits.”

In an interview with the IE Weekly before the speech, Johnson disarmingly (no pun intended) elaborated on his writings, the new threat posed by Russia, congressional corruption, the failings of the Iraq “surge” and the gross negligence of the media in reporting the atrocities of the war.  

“In January the military dropped 100,000 pounds of bombs on a target southwest of Baghdad. That’s as much as the Nazis dropped at Guernica. I saw it mentioned in the penultimate paragraph of a New York Times article . . . the Air Force is dropping bombs like there’s no tomorrow. No one is reporting it.  The media is certainly part of the problem. That’s why I’m writing a book.” 

As for the recent championing of the success of the Iraq “surge” strategy, Johnson says, “It’s an achievement of propaganda.”

(For a fuller elaboration on the Iraq bombing, go to

To Johnson, the political effect of the Military Industrial Complex is of a completely corrupt Congress which vacated its essential functions as the gatekeepers of oversight.

“In the state of Washington you have two of the most liberal female senators in the nation. Just say ‘Boeing’ and they turn into bloodlusting fascist hyenas!”  

Johnson repeats this claim in his speech in Avery, to great effect. He often veers from his prepared text to throw out an amusing bon mot, which the devotees gobble up like Thanksgiving turkey. But he rarely goes too far off message. He repeats the same themes endlessly: “Full spectrum dominance,” “New Rome,” “Military Keynesism,” etc. He insists the American public must step up to the plate and hold the president and Congress accountable, but he doubts they will ever receive enough cogent information to do so.

“The Bush administration has put the public to sleep. There are two things that keep the public oversight on fighting war [on a high level]. Taxation and conscription. That’s why there’s no anti-war movement. If someone is drafted, they are extremely interested in what’s going on.”  

Johnson fears there isn’t much that can be done. If people truly believe they can change the course of an imperial state by choosing a new president, “they are seriously deluded,” he says. Johnson has stated in the past that even the Democratic presidential nominees are too much in the thrall of the idea of an imperial presidency. However, in the end Johnson did come out in support of Barack Obama, in part because of the positive image Obama projects to the rest of the world.  

Whether Pitzer College co-eds will take to Johnson’s exhortations and pressure the status quo for change is yet to be determined. What’s not in question is the allegiance of the geriatric set, the only ones in the audience who caught Johnson’s Walt Kelly’s Pogo reference in regards to what he portrays as the imminent dissolution of the United States.

“We have met the enemy, and they are us.”

A podcast of Chalmers Johnson speaking is available at



Be the first to comment!

You must be logged in to post a comment.