In This Review

Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire
Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire
By Chalmers Johnson
268 pp, Metropolitan, 2000

Johnson was an early revisionist who called attention to the special state-guided character of Japanese capitalism. He now brings this revisionism to a much wider canvas. In this book, he charges America with running a global capitalist empire -- comparable to the Soviet Union in its foolish assumptions and overstretched reach and deserving a similar fate. Although he offers opinions about American policy everywhere, Johnson's particular focus is on Asia. He views allies like Japan as American stooges and equates Japanese prime ministers with the former leaders of East Germany. He finds American hubris responsible for practically everything he dislikes. For instance, Johnson asserts that the CIA installed former Indonesian leader Suharto in Indonesia in 1965-66 and that the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency removed him in 1998. (Neither claim is true.) Nor does he give America credit for anything that has gone right, like progress toward democracy in states such as South Korea, Taiwan, or the Philippines. In contrast to a work like Gleysteen's, Blowback reads like a comic book. Even otherwise sympathetic academics will wince at how Johnson turns so many Asian leaders into caricatured marionettes.