Monday, July 19, 2010


In a series of books that began with Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, Chalmers Johnson warns us about the political and military challenges that would face America at the beginning of the 21st century.

Writing before 9/11, Johnson argued that the United States needed to begin the process of disengaging from many of its global commitments, or we would begin to face serious repercussions around the world - both militarily and financially.

Then 9/11 happened.

After 9/11 Johnson came out with The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, where he describes the full entrenchment of the militarists throughout the U.S. government.

The real problem is not that these militarists are military hawks, pushing for more weapon programs. They have always been around. Instead, Johnson argues, the problem is their hyped up post-9/11 influence, and their new found ability to manipulate military budgets, while classifying everything that crosses their desks as "top secret". At the end of the day, American democracy - and the promises of transparency - suffer.

Finally, Johnson came out with Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006).

In it Johnson writes about militarism, imperial hubris, national security secrecy, secret armies, and executive arrogance that have worked to undermine the promises of the Constitution. He compares the U.S. to ancient Rome and asks why we don't (or haven't yet) learned the lessons of history.

I bring the Johnson Trilogy up because of this Washington Post article.

Drawing on information provided by Washington insiders, including a few "Super Users" who have access to the most sensitive security briefings, the Washington Post's initial report provides a stunning look at how out of control our America's militarism has become. According to the Post article, one Super User recounted how, for his initial briefing, he was escorted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small table and told he couldn't take notes. Program after program began flashing on a screen, until he finally yelled ''Stop!" in frustration.

He simply couldn't take it all in. "I wasn't remembering any of it," he said. Among the findings include:

* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counter terrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the U.S.

* Nearly 1 1/2 times the number of people who live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

* In the D.C. metropolitan area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since 9/11. They occupy the equivalent of three Pentagons.

* Many security and intelligence agencies do the exact same work, creating redundancy and waste.

* 50,000 intelligence reports are issued each year--amongst 1,000 a week--that even senior officials admit cannot possibly be digested.

Whether we're facing, as Chalmers Johnson argued, the last days of the Republic, is yet to be determined. But one thing is clear. Rather than streamlining our defense priorities 9/11 has only served to privatize security, put it's users on steroids, while vastly expanding our military budgets.

How bad has it gotten? According to CIA Director Leon Panetta, the levels of spending since 9/11 are not sustainable. "Particularly with these deficits, we're going to hit the wall ..." Yet, no one can say that we're safer today than we were before 9/11. Still, the national security crazies say we need to spend more. Great.

Chalmers Johnson's discussions on blowback, secrecy & militarism, and the last days of the American Republic all seem to be wrapped up in the Post's series this week. Be sure to read it. The Washington Post will be running these articles throughout the week.

Stay tuned.

- Mark

UPDATE: Click here for additional figures, and discussion.

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