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Chalmers Johnson, Dismantling the Empire; America's Last Best Hope (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010), 212pp.Chalmers Johnson, Dismantling the Empire; America's Last Best Hope (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010), 212pp.

           If you can't read Chalmers Johnson's "Blowback" trilogy — Blowback; The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2000), The Sorrows of Empire; Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2004), and Nemesis; The Last Days of the American Republic (2006), this collection of essays provides an adequate summary of his dire analysis. The essays were originally written from about 2004–2009, so they are a bit dated and some times repetitive, but they still convey Johnson's signature wallop. "Blowback" is a term originally used by the CIA in reference to the unintended consequences of our government's covert activities, such as the 9-11 disaster.

           You don't have to agree with Johnson that George Bush was a "sophomoric ignoramus," that he was "likely the single worst president in the history of the American republic," or that we should abolish the CIA ("a personal, secret and unaccountable army of the president"), but he does make you wonder how our country can sustain what he calls "Baseworld" — a half million soldiers and dependents on a thousand bases in 175 countries around the world. We now live in a permanent war economy that is impossible to dial back, which is to say that we have chosen the "suicide option." There's an inherent contradiction and hypocrisy, says Johnson, in trying to have both a domestic democracy and a foreign imperialism. In his view, we are likely to lose both, as we drift into insolvency and end not with a "nuclear bang" but with a "financial whimper."

           Nor should we place much hope in the timid efforts of Obama. There is one glimmer of hope in "the possibility that journalism can help citizens perform elementary oversight of our government." Indeed, many of these essays are like extended reviews of books that Johnson finds compelling, like Steve Coll's study of Afghanistan, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, or Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA. There are also two historical examples for contemplation. Britain repudiated reckless and unsustainable imperialism in favor of a much smaller democracy. Rome, on the other hand, chose imperialistic empire and paid the consequences. When you get to the last three pages of this book and Johnson's "10 Steps Toward Liquidating The Empire" it all feels not only compelling and deeply discouraging, but downright futile.

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