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


"Impressive . . . a powerful indictment of U.S. military and foreign policy."

-Los Angeles Times Book Review, front page

In the years after the Soviet Union imploded, the United States was described first as the globe's "lone superpower," then as a "reluctant sheriff," next as the "indispensable nation," and in the wake of 9/11, as a "New Rome." In this important national bestseller, Chalmers Johnson ...

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

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"Impressive . . . a powerful indictment of U.S. military and foreign policy."

-Los Angeles Times Book Review, front page

In the years after the Soviet Union imploded, the United States was described first as the globe's "lone superpower," then as a "reluctant sheriff," next as the "indispensable nation," and in the wake of 9/11, as a "New Rome." In this important national bestseller, Chalmers Johnson thoroughly explores the new militarism that is transforming America and compelling us to pick up the burden of empire.

Recalling the classic warnings against militarism-from George Washington's Farewell Address to Dwight Eisenhower's denunciation of the military-industrial complex-Johnson uncovers its roots deep in our past. Turning to the present, he maps America's expanding empire of military bases and the vast web of services that support them. He offers a vivid look at the new caste of professional militarists who have infiltrated multiple branches of government, who classify as "secret" everything they do, and for whom the manipulation of the military budget is of vital interest.

Among Johnson's provocative conclusions is that American militarism is already putting an end to the age of globalization and bankrupting the United States, even as it creates the conditions for a new century of virulent blowback. The Sorrows of Empire suggests that the former American republic has already crossed its Rubicon-with the Pentagon in the lead.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Chilling . . . a frightening picture . . . of the spread of American military and economic control over the world." -The New York Times Book Review

"Original and genuinely important . . . The role of the prophet is an honorable one. In Chalmers Johnson the American empire has found its Jeremiah. He deserves to be heard."

-The Washington Post Book World

"Trenchantly argued, comprehensively documented, grimly

eloquent . . . Worthy of the republic it seeks to defend."

-The Boston Globe

The Washington Post Book World

Original and genuinely important . . . The role of the prophet is an honorable one. In Chalmers Johnson the American empire has found its Jeremiah. He deserves to be heard.
The Washington Post
The role of the prophet is an honorable one. When a nation falls into sinful ways, angry words and dire prognostications may be necessary to reawaken the people to the truth. In Chalmers Johnson the American empire has found its Jeremiah. He deserves to be heard; but the proper response to his gloomy message is not despair, but thought followed by action. — Andrew J. Bacevich
The New York Times
This book is a cry from the heart of an intelligent person who fears the basic values of our republic are in danger. It conveys a sense of impending doom rooted in a belief that the United States has entered a perpetual state of war that will drain our economy and destroy our constitutional freedoms. — Ronald D. Asmus
Kirkus Reviews
A Ciceronian indictment of our nation's transformation from lone superpower to imperial bully. "Like other empires of the past century," writes Japan Research Policy Institute president Johnson (Blowback, 2000, etc.), "the United States has chosen to live not prudently, in peace and prosperity, but as a massive military power athwart an angry, resistant globe." In the absence of rivals such as the Soviet Union and with the ascendance of an administration driven by crony capitalism, which spells an end to the cherished ideals of free enterprise and the leveling influence of the free market, the American state has become an analogue to ancient Rome. It employs, Chalmers writes, "well over half a million soldiers, spies, technicians, teachers, dependents, and civilian contractors in other nations," extending Fortress America's reach to every corner of the globe and, not coincidentally, enriching civilian enterprises that have been favored by insider trading within the Pentagon and State Department (think Halliburton) with fabulously lucrative contracts. Indeed, writes Johnson, there are something like 725 American bases abroad-probably many more, for that number is only what the Department of Defense acknowledges-with more added as client states in Central Asia and Eastern Europe join the American fold. What does this all mean? Perhaps a permanent military dictatorship one day, to extend the Roman model even farther. Certainly increased alienation between the US and the rest of the world, which is unlikely to shed tears when future iterations of 9/11 occur. What can be done? "There is one development that could conceivably stop this process of overreaching: the people could retake control ofthe Congress, reform it along with the corrupted elections laws that have made it into a forum for special interests, turn it into a genuine assembly of democratic representatives, and cut off the supply of money to the Pentagon and the secret intelligence agencies." Fat chance. And so, Johnson concludes this deeply unsettling essay, "the United States is probably lost to militarism." Agent: Sandra Dijkstra/Sandra Dijkstra Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805077971
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/28/2005
  • Series: American Empire Project Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 336,492
  • Product dimensions: 8.26 (w) x 5.38 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Chalmers Johnson, president of the Japan Policy Research Institute, is a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times and The Nation. His previous books include the national bestseller Blowback, as well as MITI and the Japanese Miracle. He lives near San Diego.

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Read an Excerpt

From The Sorrows of Empire:

- The 725 U.S. military bases acknowledged by the Department of Defense do not include the many used for communications espionage, control of the world's oil supply, or those that are simply too embarrassing for the government to speak about openly (such as the fourteen permanent bases being built in Iraq).

- The United States maintains about 347,000

soldiers, airmen, and marines at military bases in 140 of 189 member states of the United Nations.

- The American military budget is so large that the next-highest military budget in the world-

Russia's-is only fourteen percent of our own.

- Ninety-three percent of the American budget dedicated to international affairs is allocated to the military and only seven percent to the State Department.

- The Congressional Budget Office projects federal deficits over the next five years of more than $1 trillion, on top of an already existing government debt in February 2003 of $6.4 trillion. Military operations in Iraq so far have cost $143 billion; reconstruction will run from between $50 and $100 billion.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: The Unveiling of the American Empire 1
1 Imperialisms, Old and New 15
2 The Roots of American Militarism 39
3 Toward the New Rome 67
4 The Institutions of American Militarism 97
5 Surrogate Soldiers and Private Mercenaries 131
6 The Empire of Bases 151
7 The Spoils of War 187
8 Iraq Wars 217
9 Whatever Happened to Globalization? 255
10 The Sorrows of Empire 283
Notes 313
Acknowledgments 367
Index 369
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2004

    Brilliant expose of US empire

    This unusually important book, based on huge research and historical knowledge, shows how the modern US empire is destroying the American Republic. The USA has 500,000 soldiers and support staff billeted abroad at 725 permanent bases in 38 countries. A key role for these forces is to control oil and gas pipelines. In the key oil-producing regions of the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, there are bases in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Egypt, Djibouti, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, plus six secret bases in Israel. The proposed Trans-Afghan oil and gas pipelines run south from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan, to Pakistan¿s port of Gwadar. In Eastern Europe, Camps Bondsteel and Monteith in Kosovo bestride the proposed Trans-Balkan pipeline, which would run from Georgia through Bulgaria to Albania¿s port of Vlora. Camp Sarafovo is in Burgas, home to Bulgaria¿s biggest oil refinery, and the camp at Constanta dominates the centre of Rumania¿s oil industry. In Colombia, several hundred US `advisers¿ are fighting not against drug runners, but to protect Occidental Petroleum¿s oil and gas interests in Arauca province. The US government has twisted the `war against terrorism¿ into a war for world domination, scarred by its own state terrorism. In Afghanistan, its bombing killed 5,000 civilians directly, and another 20,000 indirectly, by disrupting relief efforts and medical care. In January 2002, US forces took 27 villagers prisoner, tortured them for several days, and then shot some of them (Washington Post, 11 February 2002). None were Taliban or Al Qa¿ida members. The USA¿s illegal occupation of Iraq inevitably causes similar atrocities. Johnson shows how the US ruling class is moving towards fascism, marked by perpetual attacks on Bush¿s hit list of 60 countries. At home, corporatism, vast military spending, corruption, destruction of liberties and Goebbelsian propaganda, all feed the drive to fascism. Johnson sums up, ¿Imperialism is the single greatest cause of war, and war is the midwife of new imperialist acquisitions.¿ And America needs a revolution for democracy: as Johnson writes, ¿A revolution would be required to bring the Pentagon back under democratic control, or to abolish the CIA.¿

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2003

    strong case against American imperialism

    Before 9/11 in BLOWBACK, Chalmers Johnson anticipated dire consequences and negative active reactions to the American U.S. foreign policy that has run roughshod over much of the world, but especially Asia. In his latest cautionary book, Mr. Johnson pulls no punches as he accuses the Bush crowd of global militarism using a 'private army' of Special Forces to keep the American colonies ¿in line¿. Referring to Presidents like Eisenhower, Mr. Johnson makes the case that the military-industrial complex has already happened, but is really a federal government-industrial complex. He insists that the State Department, EPA, and Interior, etc. have been silenced by the war machine and the oil magnates. ¿Preemptive intervention' is just a fake way of covering the administration¿s belief that the USA is the New Rome.' <P>Though he takes the clever Clinton to task as a disguised imperialist, Mr. Johnson spends much of his criticism on Bush bashing. The author insists that the ¿boy emperor' and his merry men (and a few women) are destroying the nation with their illusions of grandeur policies. This segment of THE SORROWS OF EMPIRE is the strength of the book as Mr. Johnson lays out powerful evidence with astounding and absorbing details of outlandish defense overkill with related scenarios and incredible spending that Everett Dirksen could not imagine. However, the book lacks substance on what can be done besides booting out the current Congress perhaps because the author feels we have crossed the Potomac. Still the case for American imperialism endangering the future of this country is strongly made. <P>Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2009


    simply great book in my opinion!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2008

    The End of America as we Know It

    As the USSR imploded, and China emerged as another power, America has ballooned in its military budgets and secrecy while fighting the much-hyped 'war on terror.' Chalmers Johnson examines the astounding level of involvement of American espionage efforts against the Third World in its efforts for petroleum, with the internationalist efforts of Clintonian globalism. After the 9/11 attacks, however, as he asserts, the radical neoconservatives returned power from the State Department and Congress to the Defense Department and CIA against 'rogue states,' unilateral attacks, and sectarian favoritism, while increasing anti-American militancy is apparent and rivals like the EU, Russia going into a czarist mode, India, a particularly radical strain of Sunni Islam after the Iraq war--our worst debacle in history-, and China are vying for power. As we are currently the biggest military power yet the largest debtor nation, something must occur to balance this hegemony. China is rising, but its autocracy makes it unstable, a fact Mr. Johnson avoids. He also inserts that it is America's fault for Japan's increasing protectionism against China, which clearly a lie. China is their ancient rival, and China will pay them back for what they did to Nanking in World War II.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2005

    Attacks the Effect Rather Than the Cause

    While Mr. Johnson presents a meticulously researched account of our imperial empire, how it came about, and who profits from it, he fails to identify the philosophy that underlies the entire edifice ¿ worship of state power. He shows this by decrying militarism and imperialism on one hand, then extolling the ¿virtues¿ of economic fascism on the other. Mr. Johnson believes that a man can be cut in half, one part politically free the other half an economic slave to the state, which determines his earnings, who he contracts with and why, and how much of his earnings he¿s allowed to keep. This is an absurd position for him to take, and does much to undercut the force of his otherwise devastating attack on state power as expressed through imperialism. In the end, it seems that Mr. Johnson is all for an overbearing, powerful state, as long as it attacks it own people economically (and hence politically), yet stays within its own borders. He fails to see any connection between socialism and foreign adventures. That is a shame.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2005

    Military Giant with Economic Feet of Clay?

    Chalmers Johnson, a pessimist, attempts to convince us that the U.S. is moving too far in the direction of militarism and empire-building, which is disadvantageous for four reasons: 1. Johnson predicts a state of perpetual war, leading to more acts of terror against Americans whatever their location in the world. Perpetual war is in fact nothing new because the world has probably never been at peace completely with itself since man has existed. Johnson also forecasts that in order to keep America at arm¿s length, some countries will feel an increasing need to possess weapons of mass destruction. As Natan Sharansky points out in the Case for Democracy, one of the key techniques that the fear society uses to keep itself in power is to export terror outwards by creating external enemies and disguising its domestic failures in the process. Johnson rails against the policy of preemptive war or anticipatory self-defense in the war against terror, because this policy gives an undesirable impression of déjà vu. Johnson wrongly draws a parallelism between our reaction after 9/11 and the surprise attack of Imperial Japan against Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Johnson confuses the aggressor and the victim with one another. Furthermore, Johnson seems to underestimate the promises of soft power combined with hard power to overcome the lasting legacy of the apparently desirable, falsely attractive status quo in dealing with some states, which have shown little concern for Democracy and the Rule of Law both internally and externally. Alliance-building within the free world will remain one of the essential tools for convincing some societies to adopt capitalism and democracy, which is in the best interest of their leadership and populations. 2. Johnson also complains that militarism and imperialism are increasingly undermining our democratic institutions. Johnson points out that the Executive, and especially the Pentagon and the associated military-industrial complex, is growing in power at the expense of the Congress and the Judiciary. To Johnson¿s point, the Executive has admittedly committed some errors since the beginning of our organized counterattack against domestic and international terrorism. However, Johnson seems to underestimate the strength of our institutions. The Congress and the Judiciary are far from public stooges of the Executive and have repeatedly reminded the Executive about the limits of the exercise of its power in time of uncertainty. 3. Furthermore, Johnson associates militarism and imperialism with the manipulation of the truth through systematic propaganda, disinformation and official lying. Johnson gives several unconvincing examples in an attempt to make us believe that we get closer to a fear society. The author seems not to know the multiple differences existing between a free society and a fear society. Whoever has ever spent some time in multiple fear societies, will not be convinced by such argumentation. No democratic government, including ours, can be totally transparent for security reasons. However, the fourth power, the Press, which is far from being subservient to the Executive, has regularly obliged our government to disclose information that it did not feel comfortable to tell in the first place. 4. Finally, Johnson fears that militarism and imperialism could lead to economic bankruptcy, the least dangerous of the four sorrows in his mind. This is probably Johnson¿s best argument because the Congress and the Executive are going to be faced with tough choices down the road. Defense and homeland security expenditures are expected to increase at the expense of almost everything else. Changing demographics are compounding the complexity of these delicate budgetary arbitrages. Johnson also points out that unlike Imperial Britain, the U.S. does not run huge account surpluses. Our trade deficit was US$617.7 billion in 2004, an increase of close to 42% over our trade de

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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