The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic

Article excerpt

Chalmers Johnson, The Sonows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 2004.

Reviewed by Victor Meladze

The awareness that the United States' economy and democratic foundations have been hijacked by the U.S. military-industrial complex and that the nation is in danger of demise is shared by a growing number of scholars and lay persons alike. In The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, Chalmers Johnson fortifies this perspective with wealth of evidence that the United States has transformed into an Orwellian-like global military dictatorship, with an unscrupulous power elite subculture, that has driven America beyond the historical and geopolitical parameters where averting a mathematical end is possible. America, according to Chalmers, is strapped to a war economy and is inextricably bound to historical laws of mortality- much like ancient Rome and all past militarized empires.

Unlike some scholars, such as Bacevich (Washington Rules, 2010), who have traced the roots of U.S. militarization and imperialism to the Second World War, Johnson argues that the seeds of America's current global military dominance were planted in the early nineteenth century. Johnson cites the genocide that was perpetrated against Native Americans by the U.S. government and the usurpation of Latin America within its spheres of influence as reflective of the early stems of later U.S. global expansionism. According to Johnson, the steady depletion of America's democratic principles and the advent of the "imperial presidency" have been a long time in the making. Johnson accurately marks the rise of the U.S. global military hegemony in the infernal days of the Second World War. He also notes that the U.S. population's fear of the Soviet Union in the post-Second World War era was exploited by the elements of the nation's power structure. The Cold War was fueled, according to Johnson, by the collective need to contain the spread of Communism and facilitated the unprecedented expansion of U.S. military presence around the globe.

Johnson, like many scholars, advances the view that the U.S. government and its far-flung national security apparatus (i.e., Pentagon and U.S. military establishment) is in collusion with profit-driven big oil organizations, multinational corporations and private contracting firms. According to Johnson, this vast network of elite power players, private sub-groups, governmental agencies and the U.S. military have created an insular and secretive world that is dangerously uninhibited by the constraints of international law. Although Johnson's work is woefully bereft of psychological, psychoanalytic and psychohistorical theories on why America's elites have formed an alternate sub-culture (i.e., separate narrative/"group illusion," delegated enemies/affies, laws and legal privileges) from the U.S. society he does utilize the sociological perspective of Max Weber on the dynamics of bureaucracies. Johnson quotes from Weber's classic work Economy and Society (1922) to explain the elite group mind set:

"Every bureaucracy seeks to increase the superiority of the professionally informed by keeping their knowledge and intentions secret. Bureaucratic administration always tends to be an administration of `secret sessions': insofar as it can, it hides its knowledge and actions from criticism.... The concept of the `offidal secret' is the specific invention of the bureaucracy, and nothing is so fanatically defended by the bureaucracy as this attitude In facing a parliament the bureaucracy, out of sure power instinct, fights every attempt of the parliament to gain knowledge by means of its own experts or interest groups.... Bureaucracy naturally welcomes a poorly-informed and hence a powerless parliament - at least insofar as ignorance somehow agrees with the bureaucracy's interests."

According to Johnson, Weber's sociologically-based assessment of the bureaucratic group-mind parallels the machinations of today's U. …