Author of Blowback, The Sorrows Of Empire and Nemesis: The Last Days Of The American Empire, Chalmers Johnson has literally written the book on the concept of American Hegemony. A former naval officer and consultant of the C.I.A., he now serves as professor Emeritus at UC San Diego. As co-founder and President of the Japan Policy Research Institute, Mr. Johnson also continues to promote public education about Asia's role in the international community.
Where are you from?
I was born in Buckeye, Arizona, in 1931 and spent my childhood years in Phoenix and in Aberdeen, Washington, while my father served in the Navy during WWII. After the war my family moved to Alameda, where I attended high school. I then went to the University of California at Berkeley, majoring in Economics. After a stint in the Navy during the Korean War, I returned to Berkeley with the GI Bill and began studying Japanese and political science. I had begun learning Japanese while stationed in Japan, and after several years of university study I also took up Chinese.
Which teacher had the biggest impact on your life?
My graduate work at Berkeley was in the department of political science but the professor who influenced me most deeply was Joseph R. Levenson, who taught Chinese history. He was a brilliant lecturer and his writing about Chinese history made a deep impression on me. He was on my dissertation committee and recommended that it be published (Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power, Stanford, 1962). Other professors at Berkeley who influenced me included Hannah Arendt, Lewis Feuer, and Sheldon Wolin.
Who are your favorite writers?
Among my favorite fiction writers are Joseph Conrad, George Orwell, and John LeCarré.
What are your hobbies and outside interests?
Starting as a teenager and well into my twenties, I was an avid airplane "buff." Together with William T. Larkins I helped found the American Aviation Historical Society, which publishes a journal that is still ongoing. My research interests gradually shifted from airplanes to more academic subjects such as China and Japan and the causes of revolution.
One hobby that has remained with me since my early twenties is a love of opera. My favorite composers include Rossini, Verdi and Wagner. If I had my life to live over again, I would pay closer attention to my mother's efforts to teach me to play the piano. On the other hand, my life-long battle with rheumatoid arthritis might have made that an exercise in frustration. The world needs good listeners as well as performers.
What is your favorite quote?
Attached to my refrigerator door are two of my favorite sayings. One is by W. H. Auden: "Among those whom I like, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh." The other saying is by an unknown (to me) poet: "Expect nothing; Live frugally on surprise."