Johnson, Chalmers. NEMESIS: The Last Days of the American Empire. 2006. Metropolitan Books. USA.

NEMESIS: In Greek mythology,/ the goddess of retribution,/ who punishes human/ transgression of the natural,/ right order of things and/ the arrogance that causes it.

So begins this detailed account and analysis of USA foreign and military policy which the author believes carries the seeds of its own destruction. Johnson is a prolific writer of history and political criticism and a scholar of Asian affairs. He is president of the Japan Policy Research Institute.

NEMESIS is the third of a recent series which includes Blowback and the Sorrows of Empire. This volume takes up the state of USA policy following its disastrous response to the 9/ 11 events. He says that as he watched these post 9/ 11 events, “it became apparent to me that, even more than in our past empires, a well-entrenched militarism lay at the heart of our imperial adventures. It is a sad fact that the US no longer manufacturers much – with the exception of weaponry.”

He might well have added, “and money”. The USA has a massive national debt because of its bloated military spending which it finances with the use of the USA dollar as an international currency and through foreign lending.

He develops this issue in the last chapter of the book, where he says that even “ a severe reduction in our numerous deficits… would still not be enough to save the republic, because of the unacknowledged nature of our economy – specifically our dependence on military spending and war for our wealth and well being. ” A well being that for many citizens of the imperial nation are out of reach or slipping away, for the that very reason.

Before he gets to his conclusion, Johnson gives us a sweeping and well referenced thesis on USA militarism. He says that the incomplete list of military bases abroad – about 860 – leaving out secret and espionage bases and other facilities – serve the purpose of “Force Projection” or “the maintenance of American military hegemony over the rest of the world.”

The scale on which these bases and operations are developed and dominate the policies and jeopardize the sovereignty of other nations is staggering. Even as I write 20,000 USA troops will land in Australia for joint manoeuvres enthusiastically embraces by a pro–USA policy government. Will Canada be the next host to such blatant military aggression?

The USA military is not just satisfied with world domination. Johnson details the development of space domination with some surprising revelations about just how shaky and vulnerable this domination may be. He calls space, “the ultimate imperialist project”, one that carries many possibilities of mythological retribution, even from small, under developed powers or nations. The ease of developing destructive space technology coupled with the USA”s refusal to be constrained by international law and agreements make the situation ever more fraught with danger.

In his final chapter, Johnson issues many warnings about the predictability of the end of empire including the incredible lack of public information, participation and discussion on USA policy by its citizens. He sees the secrecy and disregard for democratic openness to be a major factor along with the constant dismantling of constitutional rights of the people and its institutions. A violation verging on dictatorship which is, by one definition, “a system that puts a ruler above the law”.

Johnson illustrates the decline of the USA by revealing the massive military spending required to maintain this empire. “The official 2007 Pentagon budget is $49.3 billion – not including the costs of current wars.&rdquot; He says that, “As of 2006, the overall costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since their inception stood at about $450 billion”. No wonder the USA dragged its willing lackeys like Canada into these wars and maybe the debt incurred has caused the Canadian dollar to rise steadily against the USA dollar, even as our military forces die and kill in Afghanistan.

This is an important book for anyone who wants to understand the USA foreign policy and the actions of its political leaders, but it is pretty scary stuff, even though Johnson has some hope that common sense and decency may yet prevail in our southern neighbour.

He writes, “In NEMESIS, I have tried to present historical, political, economic and philosophical evidence of where our current behaviour is likely to lead. Specifically, I believe that to maintain our empire abroad requires resources and commitments that will inevitable undercut our domestic democracy and in the end produce a military dictatorship or its civilian equivalent.” And “We are on the cusp of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire.” Johnson sees himself in the role of a prophetic voice, like his hero, Hotsumi Ozaki, who tried to warn his Japanese rulers of their fate. Ozaki was hanged as a traitor for his efforts. This is not the fate Johnson wants, but he concludes by saying, “but I am as certain as Ozaki was that my country is launched on a dangerous path that it must abandon or else face the consequences.” We need many million Chalmers Johnsons – let´s hope this book creates them.

Filed under Book Reviews, Chalmers Johnson