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

American Empire Project

Chalmers Johnson

Metropolitan Books



Trade Paperback

400 Pages



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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." Here, Johnson thoroughly explores the new militarism that is transforming America and compelling its citizens 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 the deep war-mongering roots of 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 also 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 more 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.


Praise for The Sorrows of Empire

"Exhaustive . . . Johnson, an Asia scholar and onetime consultant for the CIA, [produces] voluminous research on the many United States military and intelligence outposts unknown to most Americans, and weaves a frightening picture of a military-industrial complex grown into exactly the powerful, secretive force that Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against—made more dangerous by an aggressive executive branch, creating a state of perpetual war and economic bankruptcy. His assessment is chilling."—Serge Schmemann, The New York Times Book Review

"Johnson devotes most of his book to examining the numerous foreign bases (which have proliferated since the end of the Cold War), the often legitimate reasons for their initial establishment, the outrages that American servicemen from them perpetrate on their hosts, as well as the comforts and benefits of empire and militarism that prevent their abandonment. Johnson believes that the initial post-Cold War base expansion was aimed at supporting America's century-old economic imperialism, now called 'globalization.' But with the election of the 'boy emperor' and the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, 'the United States shifted decisively from economic to military imperialism,' which undermined international law and organizations, weakened democracy at home, replaced truth with propaganda, and courted financial ruin. Johnson's superbly researched book is also an angry [one]. But who can blame him?"—Walter C. Uhler, San Francisco Chronicle

"A scathing and scary indictment of America's military expansion to all corners of the globe."—John Wilkens, The San Diego Union-Tribune

"[An] enormously useful study."—Ronald Steel, The Nation

s26"Every page of The Sorrows of Empire burns with fierce indignation at the sacrifice of American rights, values, and economic well-being in the name of conquest and empire. Johnson has produced a blistering critique of the Bush Administration's militaristic foreign policy and its dangerous infatuation with high-tech weaponry. Everyone who cares about the survival of American democracy should read Johnson's stunning indictment."—Michael T. Klare, author of Resource Wars

"Johnson's relentless logic, authoritative scholarship, and elegantly biting prose distinguish The Sorrows of Empire, like all his other work. Anyone who reads it will have a much sharper sense of the costs of America's new world-girdling commitments—and I hope it is widely read."—James Fallows, author of Breaking the News

"Johnson has given us a polemic, but one soundly grounded in an impressive array of facts and data. The costs of empire are our sorrow, he contends. He anticipates a state of perpetual war, involving more military expenditures and overseas expansion, and presidents who will continue to eclipse or ignore Congress. He documents a growing system of propaganda, disinformation, and glorification of war and military power. Finally, he fears economic bankruptcy as the president underwrites these adventures with a congressional blank check while neglecting growing problems of education, health care, and a decaying physical infrastructure. The Sorrows of Empire offers a powerful indictment of current U.S. military and foreign policy. It also provides an occasion to consider the constitutional values of our republic."—Stanley I. Kutler, The Los Angeles Times

"Johnson is a legendary scholar who gave Americans the first deeply authentic understanding of modern Japan's unique economic system. In this cri de couer, he asks us to understand ourselves—to grasp, before it is too late, that America's modern militarist empire threatens to destroy the democratic republic. His hanalysis is powerful and dreadfully persuasive."—William Greider, author of The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy

"For American patriots, there is no more important book to read today than The Sorrows of Empire. Chalmers Johnson reveals the corrupting weight of America's grand architecture of empire, the hundreds of foreign bases and formidable military capacity, maintained not by the enthusiasm of informed citizens but by the ability of the government to shroud its actions and assets in secrecy. Like Rome, the United States today is struggling with the consequences of a permanent global military engagement, from which self-dealing political elites derive great benefits, at the expense and ultimately the survival of America's heretofore resilient republic."—Steven C.Clemons, Executive Vice President, New America Foundation

“Johnson's searing indictment of America's flirtation with an imperial foreign policy should be required reading for all concerned citizens. He describes an array of adverse consequences that add up to nothing less than a betrayal of America's heritage. One need not agree with all of his arguments to conclude that Sorrows of Empire is an extremely important and disturbing book.”—Ted Galen Carpenter, Vice President, Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute

"In Blowback, published before 'September 11,' Chalmers Johnson introduced us to a chilling code word for our times. The Sorrows of Empire is even more sobering, for it associates the United States with a dynamic most Americans still find unmentionable—our ever-deepening militarism, with all the sorrows of perpetual war and moral as well as political and economic bankruptcy that inevitably accompany this. Here, all of a piece, is a scholar's critique and a patriot's cry of anguish over the relentless erosion of once-cherished ideals—a dark vision presented with unflinching courage."—John W. Dower, author of Embracing Defeat, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

"Johnson's new book is a stunner. He blows away the Defense Department's cover story that our empire of military bases exists to support humanitarian intervention. Along with these bases comes a mania for newer weapons, untested and unneeded . . . Something funny is happening on the way to the American forum: citizens are discovering they have an empire they never wanted—paid for in casualties, with civil liberties the first victim."—Patrick Lloyd Hatcher, U.S. Army Colonel (retired), author of The Suicide of an Elite: American Internationalists and Vietnam

"In his prescient 2000 bestseller, Blowback, east Asia scholar Johnson predicted dire consequences for a U.S. foreign policy that had run roughshod over Asia. Now he joins a chorus of Bush critics in this provocative, detailed tour of what he sees as America's entrenched culture of militarism, its 'private army' of special forces, and its worldwide archipelago of military 'colonies.' According to Johnson, before a mute public and Congress, oil and arms barons have displaced the State Department, secretly creating 'a military juggernaut intent on world domination,' and are exercising 'preemptive intervention' for 'oil, Israel, and . . . to fulfill our self-perceived destiny as a New Rome.' Johnson admits that Bill Clinton, who disguised his policies as globalization, was a 'much more effective imperialist,' but most of the book assails 'the boy emperor' Bush and his cronies with one of the most startling and engrossing accounts of exotic defense capabilities, operations, and spending in print."—Publishers Weekly

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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-
Read the full excerpt


  • Chalmers Johnson

  • Chalmers Johnson, president of the Japan Policy Research Institute, is a frequent contributor to the London Review of Books and The Nation. His previous books include the national bestseller Blowback, as well as MITI and the Japanese Miracle. Johnson lives near San Diego.
  • Chalmers Johnson K. Ameiya