Nemesis The Last Days of the American Republic

American Empire Project

Chalmers Johnson

Metropolitan Books




368 Pages



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In his book Blowback, Chalmers Johnson linked the CIA's clandestine activities abroad to disaster at home. In The Sorrows of Empire, he explored how the growth of American militarism and the garrisoning of the planet have actually jeopardized our safety. Now, in Nemesis, the final volume in what has become the Blowback Trilogy, he shows how imperial overstretch is undermining the republic itself, both economically and politically.

Drawing comparisons to the Roman and British empires, Johnson explores in vivid detail just what the unintended consequences of our dependence on a permanent war economy are likely to be. Nemesis details the world of secrecy surrounding Capitol Hill, from government-sanctioned domestic spying, to unacknowledged CIA prisoners, to the dubious budgeting that backs it all up. Johnson documents the crippling militarism that has left what was once the greatest industrial power in the world producing mainly weaponry, and the corruption of a toothless Congress that is undermining the checks and balances so crucial to American democracy. In his stunning conclusion, Johnson suggests that a coming financial bankruptcy could herald the breakdown of constitutional government in America—a crisis that may ultimately prove to be the only path to a renewed nation.


Praise for Nemesis

"When Johnson mines the recent history he has studied and experienced firsthand, the results are bracing . . . Johnson's important new book is something with which anyone who aspires to a worthwhile opinion about this country's future must now contend on terms at least as thoughtful as the author's."—Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times

"A well-written, detailed and stimulating display of the radical anti-imperialist critique of American foreign policy . . . Nemesis is good in sounding the alarm. Countervailing reactions are now clearly under way once again, and Johnson's book is a primer on much that needs to be done."—Patrick Morgan, The San Diego Union-Tribune

"Nemesis provides fascinating information about the Department of Defense's practices, many of which have received little Congressional oversight and no public scrutiny. Relentless and resourceful, Mr. Johnson draws on obscure publications like The Orbital Debris Quarterly News to blow the whistle on the Pentagon's vast network of military bases, Status of Forces Agreements, and weapons designed to destroy the surveillance satellites of other countries."—Glenn C. Altschuler, The New York Observer

"Johnson, a leading American political commentator on East Asia, has in recent years turned his attention to his homeland. Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic is his most searing commentary to date on the current state of US politics. It describes how the US constitutional system of checks and balances, invented in the 18th century, is now regularly violated by a presidency that has become imperial . . . Johnson's book is a sober reminder that the US has become an empire."—Stephen Graubard, Financial Times

"Is there anything historically unprecedented about the Bush administration's military adventurism, intense secrecy and fearmongering? . . . Chalmers Johnson, a former Navy man, cold war consultant to the CIA and emeritus professor at the University of California, San Diego, helps us unravel this mystery by breathing new life into an old myth . . . Nemesis is a serious contribution to current debates, richly repaying careful study."—Stephen Holmes, The Nation

"A staggering tale of American hubris, Nemesis details the world of secrecy surrounding Capitol Hill from government-sanctioned domestic spying, to unacknowledged CIA prisons, to the dubious budgeting to back it all up. Johnson documents the crippling militarism that has left what was once the greatest industrial power in the world producing mainly weaponry, and the corruption of a toothless Congress that is undermining checks and balances so crucial to American democracy."—AlterNet: Best Progressive Books of 2007

"Johnson's writing is often describes as ‘polemic, but that doesn't capture the heartfelt concern that underlies his distress about our country . . . Whereas many of us have grown numb to White House outrages, Johnson's indignation at the administration—its torture memos, its contempt for the freedom of public information, its defacing of established treaties—is vivid . . . Each of Johnson's erudite chapters both enlightens and disturbs."—Mark Engler, In These Times

"Chalmers Johnson, a patriot who pulls no punches, has emerged as our most prescient critic of American empire and its pretensions. Nemesis is his fiercest book—and his best."—Andrew J. Bacevich, author of The New American Militarism

"Nemesis, the final volume in the remarkable Blowback trilogy, completes a true patriot's anguished and devastating critique of the militarism that threatens to destroy the United States from within. In detail and with unflinching candor, Chalmers Johnson decries the discrepancies between what America professes to be and what it has actually become—a global empire of military bases and operations; a secret government increasingly characterized by covert activities, enormous 'black' budgets, and near dictatorial executive power; a misguided republic that has betrayed its noblest ideals and most basic founding principles in pursuit of disastrously conceived notions of security, stability, and progress."—John Dower, author of Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

"Chalmers Johnson's voice has never been more urgently needed, and in Nemesis it rings with eloquence, clarity, and truth."—James Carroll, author of House of War

"Nemesis is a stimulating, sweeping study in which Johnson asks a most profound strategic question: Can we maintain the global dominance we now regard as our natural right? His answer is chilling. You do not have to agree with everything Johnson says—I don't—but if you agree with even half of his policy critiques, you will still slam the book down on the table, swearing, 'We have to change this!'"—Joseph Cirincione, Senior Vice President for National Security and International Policy, Center for American Progress

"Nemesis is a five-alarm warning about flaming militarism, burning imperial attitudes, secret armies, and executive arrogance that has torched and consumed the Constitution and brought the American Republic to death's door. Johnson shares a simple, liberating, and healing path back to worthy republicanism. But the frightening and heart-breaking details contained in Nemesis suggest that the goddess of retribution will not be so easily satisfied before 'the right order of things' is restored."—Karen Kwiatkowski, retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel

"Last fall a treasonous Congress gave the president license to kidnap, torture—you name it—on an imperial scale. All of us, citizens and non-citizens alike, are fair game. Kudos for not being silent, Chalmers, and for completing your revealing trilogy with undaunted courage."—Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst; co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

"A paean—perhaps premature, perhaps overdue—for a republic-turned-empire. For those of a blue-state bent, the midterm election of 2006 may seem to have changed things for the better. But political scientist and liberal commentator Johnson isn't biting. ‘I believe,' he writes, ‘that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have led the country into a perilous cul-de-sac, but they did not do it alone and removing them from office will not necessarily solve the problem.' The problem, writ large, is the post-World War II transformation of America into a super-state served by client governments around the world whose citizens, for various reasons, may not be happy about the association. (Hence the "blowback" of which Johnson has written at length elsewhere.) Secretively seeking to further America's unacknowledged imperial aims, government officials authorize actions that do not befit a republic supposedly ruled by checks and balances. Take former CIA head William Casey, for instance, who ‘saw political Islam and the Catholic Church as natural allies in covert actions against Soviet imperialism.' It was Casey, in Johnson's assessment, who was responsible for the United States' strange-bedfellows alliance with the Islamic fundamentalists who morphed into the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Talk about blowback—but there's more, the author shows, as he examines imperious American ‘status of forces agreements' here; the Bush administration's mishandling of international events there; and the eerie resemblances between our time and that of Augustus Caesar. A sobering read, though Johnson offers a solution to America's imperial woes: Follow Britain's lead and jettison both empire and the world-policeman role. Given the alternatives, it seems an idea worth exploring."—Kirkus Reviews

"The third book in a series begun with Blowback, which predicted harsh comeuppance for the post-cold war American ‘global empire,' and The Sorrows of Empire, which continued Johnson's thesis with a lambasting of American militarism pre- and post-September 11, this book continues the author's broad condemnation of American foreign policy by warning of imminent constitutional and economic collapse. In a chapter analyzing ‘comparative imperial pathologies,' Johnson reminds readers of Hannah Arendt's point that successful imperialism requires that democratic systems give way to tyranny and asserts that the U.S. must choose between giving up its empire of military bases (as did Britain after World War II) or retaining the bases at the expense of its democracy (as did Rome). Johnson also predicts dire consequences should the U.S. continue to militarize low Earth orbits in pursuit of security. To some extent a timely response to recent arguments in favor of American empire, such as those of Niall Ferguson in Colossus, this account also reiterates Johnson's perennial concerns about overseas military bases, the CIA, and the artifice of a defense-fueled economy."—Brendan Driscoll, Booklist

"Like ancient Rome, America is saddled with an empire that is fatally undermining its republican government, argues Johnson, in this bleak jeremiad. He surveys the trappings of empire: the brutal war of choice in Iraq and other foreign interventions going back decades; the militarization of space; the hundreds of overseas U.S. military bases full of 'swaggering soldiers who brawl and sometimes rape.' At home, the growth of an 'imperial presidency,' with the CIA as its 'private army,' has culminated in the Bush administration's resort to warrantless wiretaps, torture, a 'gulag' of secret CIA prisons and an unconstitutional arrogation of 'dictatorial' powers, while a corrupt Congress bows like the Roman Senate to Caesar. Retribution looms, the author warns, as the American economy, dependent on a bloated military-industrial complex and foreign borrowing, staggers toward bankruptcy, maybe a military coup. Johnson's is [an] . . . effective indictment of some ugly and troubling features of America's foreign policy and domestic politics."—Publishers Weekly

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Nemesis is the last volume of an inadvertent trilogy that deals with the way arrogant and misguided American policies have headed us for a series of catastrophes comparable to our disgrace and defeat in Vietnam or even to the...

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  • Chalmers Johnson

  • Chalmers Johnson, president of the Japan Policy Research Institute and professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego, has written numerous books on Japan and Asia, including Miti and the Japanese Miracle and Japan: Who Governs? He lives near San Diego.

  • Chalmers Johnson K. Ameiya