[Marxism] Charlmers Johnson - formerly conservative, now moved leftward

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Nov 15 04:17:16 MST 2005

The familiar story of former leftists moving to the right in middle
age is one we've all heard a zillion times. More encouraging are the
movements of former establishment figures to the left. The reasons
such people make such moves vary widely, but they should be seen as
reflecting better possibilities for the days ahead, just as we can
see the movement of former leftists to the right as reflecting what
could happen if movements and struggles don't reverse the course of 
social and political development as it now appears headed. I have
made copies here of several pages from two recent books by one of
these figures whose thinking should encourage us all. Please forgive
any typos because I copied this material by hand.

Chalmers Johnson was what is known as a cold-war liberal who signed
up for the national security estblishment after World War II and
remained a part of the intelligence establishment for many years.
Like others in his part of the intellectual world, he's become so
worried about the consequences of Bush's foreign policy movies and
their domestic political and economic consequences, he's taken the
time to look back over the history of the twentieth century in an
effort to grasp the full dimensions of what has taken place.

In his wonderful 2000 book BLOWBACK, The Costs and Consequences of
American Empire, Chalmers Johnson explained how he began to realize
that all of his academic training and book-learning had led him to
misunderstand what was happening in the world around him and so he
talked himself into being a supporter of the US war on Vietnam,
doomed to failure as he finally realized, some years later. He'd
been one of those professors opposed to the anti-war movement which
had swept the campuses in the 1960s and 70s. He wrote this:

"I knew too much about the international Communist movement and not
enough about the United States government and its Department of
Defense. I was also in those years irritated by campus antiwar
protesters, who seemed to me self-indulgent as well as sanctimonious
and who had so clearly not done their homework. One day at the hight
of the protests, I went to the universityh library to check out what
was then available to students on Vietnamese communism, the history
of communism in East Asia, and the international Communist movement.
I was surprised to find that all the major books were there on the
shelves, untouched. The conclusion seemed otvious to me then: these
students knew nothing about communism and had no interest in
remedying that lack. They were defining the Vietnamese Communists
largely out of their own romantic desires to oppose Washington's
policies. As it turned out, however, they underood far better than 
I did the impuses of a Robert McNamara, a McGeorge Bundy, or a Walt
Rostow. They grasped something essential about the nature of
America's imperials role in the world that I had failed to perceive.
In retrospect, I wish I had stood with the antiwar protest movement.
For all its naivete and unriliness, it was right and American policy

Johnon's thinking has deepened in the aftermath of September 11 and
the policies of aggressive international unilateral interventionism
which were unleased by the Bush administration in its aftermath. This
has caused many thoughtful people in the business of advising the
government to look more deeply into the causes and consequences of
Washington's imperialist approach to the world. Johnson doesn't blame
the rightist republicans, either, as those who think simply reforming
the Democratic Party is what's needed. Quite the oppositie. In
Johnson's next book, THE SORROWS OF EMPIRE: Militarism, Serecy and
the End of the Republic (2004) Johnson traces US interventionism back
over a century. His main interest isn't Cuba, so he provides detailed
case histories of other areas where US military interventionism has
resulted in deeper hostility toward the United States, which I won't
try to trace here. He does devote a few short pages to Cuba and
you'll find it of interest as an indication of how he approaches such
issues. In addition to the general opposition to imperialism which he
lays out, the racist aspect, that is, Washington's decision not to
annex Cuba was linked, in part, to not wanting to absorb the island's
black population, was particularly striking, it seemed to me. 

"In the United States, the first militariest tendencies appeared at
the end of the nineteenth centure. Before and during the
Spanish-American War of 1898, the press was manipulated to whip up a
popular war vever, while atrocities and war crimes committed by
American forces in the Phi8lippines were hidden from public view. 
As a consequences of the war the United States acquired its first
colonial possessiona and created its first military general staff.
American "jingoism" of that period -- popular sentiment of boasatful,
aggressive chauvinism -- too its cue from similar tendencies i
imperial Engliand. Even the term JINGOISM derived from the refrain of
a patriotic British music-hall song of 1878, taken up by those who
supported sending a British fleet into Turkish waters to counter the
advances of Russsia.

On the night of Febuary 15, 1898, in Havana harbor, part of the
Spanish colongy of Cuba, a mysterious explosion destroed and sank the
battleship USS MAINE. The blast killed 262 of its 374 crew members.
The MAINE had arrived in Havana three weeks earlier as part of a
"friendly" mission to rescue Americans caught up on an ongoing Cuban
insurrection against Spanish rule. Its unspoken missions, howerever,
were to practice "gunboat diplomacy" against Spain on behalf of the
Cuban rebels and to enforce the Monroe Doctrine by Warning other
European powers like Germany not to take advantage of the unstable

The official navy investigations concluded that an external blast,
probably caused by a mine, had ignited ond of the battleship's powder
magazines, though Spain maintined that it had nothing to do with the
sinking of the MAINE. Later analysts, including Admiral Hyman
Rickover, have suggested that spontaneous combustion in a coal bunker
may have been the cause of what was likely an accidental explosion.
Though the navy raised and subsequently scuttled the MAINE in 1911,
what happened to it in 1898 remains a puzzle to this day.

But there was no puzzle about the reaction to the news back in the
United States. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt
instantly declared the sinking to be "an act of dirty [Spanish]
treachery." The French ambassador to Washington advised his
government that a "sort of bellicose fury has seized the American
nation." William Randolph Hearst's NEW YORK JOURNAL published
drawings illustrating how Spanish saboteurs had attached a mine to
the MAINE and detonated it from the shore. Hearst then sent the
artist Fredric Remington to Cuba to report on the Cuban revolt
against Spanish oppression. "There is no war," Reminston wrote tho
his bosos. "Request to be recalled." In a famous reply, Hearst
cabled, "Please remain. You furnish the pictures. I'll furnish the
war." And so they both did. Thanks to Hearst's journalism and that of
Joseph pullitzer in his NEW YORK WORLD, the country erupted into
righteous anger and patriotic fervor. An April 25, 1898, Congress
declared war on Spain.

On May 1, Admiral George Dewey's Asiatic Squadron, forced to leave
the British colony of Hong Kong because of the declaration of war,
attacked the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay and won and easy victory.
With Filipino nationalist help, the American's occupied Manila and
began to think about what to do with the rest of the Philippine
Islands. President William McKinley declared that the Philippines
"came to us as a gift from the gods," even though he acknowledged tha
he did not know precely where they were.

During the summer of 1898, Theodore Roosevelt leflt the government
and set out for Cua with his own personal regiment. Made of of
cowboys, Native Americans, and polo-playing members of the Harvard
class of 1880, Roosevelt's Rocky Mountain Riders (known to the press
as the Rogh Riders) would be decimated by malaria and dysentery on
the island, but their skirmishes with the Spaniards at San Juan Hill,
east of SAntiago, would also get their leader nomiated for a
congressional Medal of Honor and propel him into the highest elected
political office.

Peace was restored by the Treaty of Paris, signed on December 10,
1898, a treaty that launched the United States into a hitherto
unimaginable role as an explicitly imperialist power in the Caribbean
and the Pacific.

The treaty gave Cuba its indepeendence, but the Platt Amendment
passed by the U.S. Congress in `901 actually made the island a
satellite of the United States, while establishing an Emerican naval
base at Guantanamo Bay on Cbua's south coast. Senator Orvill Plllatt
of Connecticut had attached an amendment to the Army Appropriateions
Bill, specifying conditions under which the United States would
intervent in Cuban domestic affairs. His amedment demanded that Cuba
not sign any treaties that could impair its sovereignty or contact
any debts that could nto be repaid by nromal revenues. In addition,
Cuba was forced to grant the United States special privileges to
intervent at any time to preserve Cuban independence or to support a
government "adequate for the protection of libe, property , and
invidicual liberty." The marines woula land to exercise these
self-proclaimed rights in 1906, 1912, 1917, and 1920.

In 1901, the United States forced Cuba to incorporate the Platt
Amendment into its own constitution, where it remained until 1934 --
including an article that allowed the United States a base at
Guantanamo until both sides should "agree" to its return, a
stipulation the American government insisted upon on the grounds that
the base was crucial to the defense of the Panama Canal. The Platt
Amendment was a tremendous humiliation to all Cubans, but its
acceptance was the only way they could avoid a permanent military

Even though the Canal Zone is no longer an American possession,
Guantanamo Bay remains a military colony, now used as a detention
camp for people seized in the U.S.-Afghan war of 2001-02 and he Iraq
war of 2003. (Because Guantanamo is outside the United States, these
prisoners are said to be beyond the protection of American laws, and
because the Bush administration has dubbed them "unlawful
combatants," a term found nowhere in international law, it is argued
that they are also not subject to the Geneve Copnpventions on the
treatment of prisoners of war. On October 9, 2002, the U.S.
government dismissed the comandant at Guantanamo, Brigadier General
Rick Baccus, for being "too soft" on the inmates.") The United States
did not directly annex Cuba in 1989, only because of its pretensions
to bein an anti-imperialist nation, its desire to avoid assuming
Cuba's $400 million debt as well as Cuba's largely Afro-American
population, and Florida's fears that, as part of the country, the
island might compete in agriculture and tourism.


There is plenty in the world to occupy our military radicals and
empire enthusiasts for the time being. But there can be no doubt that
the course on which are are launched will lead us into new versions
of the Bay of Pigs and updated, speeded-up replays of Vietnam War
scenarios. When such disasters occur, as they--or as-yet-unknown
versions of them--certainly will, a world disgusted by the betrayal
of the ideealism associated with the United States will welcome them,
jjst as most pdople did when the former USSR came apart. Like other
empires of the past centure, the United States has chosedn to live
not prodently, in peace and prosperity, but as a massive military
power athward an angry, resistant globe.

There is one development that could conceivably stop this process of
overreaching: the people could retake controlf of Congress, reform
its along with the corrupted elections laws that have made it into a
forum for special interests, turn it into a genuine assmbly of
democratic representatives, and cut off the supply of money to the
Pentagon and the secre intelligence agencies. We have a strong civil
society that could, in theory, overcome the entrenched interests of
the armed forces and the military-industrial complex. At this late
date, however, it is difficult to imagine how Congress, must like the
Roman senate in the last days of the republic, could be brought back
to life and cleansed of its endemic corruption. Failing such a
reform, Nemesis, the goddess of retribution and vengeance, the
punisher of pride and hubris, waits impaitiently for her meeting with

Let's hope that there are more people like this who are re-thinking
their own world view in light of recent events.

Walter Lippmann, CubaNews

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