Tom Engelhardt, Field of Nightmares. Filling the Empty Battlefield.

Chalmers Johnson's book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire was published in March 2000, and just about no one noticed. Until then, blow-back had been an obscure term of CIA trade-craft, which Johnson defined as the unintended consequences of policies that were kept secret from the American people. In his prologue, the former consultant to the CIA and eminent scholar of both Mao Zedong's peasant revolution and modern Japan labeled his Cold War self a spear carrier for the empire.After the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, he was surprised to discover that the essential global structure of that other Cold War colossus, the American superpower, with its vast panoply of military bases, remained obdurately in place as if nothing whatsoever had happened. Almost a decade later, when the Evil Empire was barely a memory, Johnson surveyed the planet and found an informal American empire of immense reach and power. He also became convinced that, in its global operations, Washington was laying the groundwork all around the world, for future forms of blow-back. Johnson noted portents of a twenty first century crisis, in the form of, among other things, terrorist attacks on American installations and embassies. In the first chapter of Blow-back, he focused in particular on a former protege of the United States by the name of Osama bin Laden and on the Afghan War against the Soviets, from which he and an organization called al-Qaeda had emerged. It had been a war, in which Washington backed to the hilt, and the CIA funded and armed, the most extreme Islamic fundamentalists, paving the way years later for the Taliban to take over Afghanistan. Talk about unintended consequences! The purpose of that war had been to give the Soviet Union a Vietnam style bloody nose, which it more than did. All of this laid the foundation for well, in 1999 when Johnson was writing, no one knew what. But he, at least, had an inkling, which on September 12, 2001, made his book look prophetic indeed. He emphasized one other phenomenon: Americans, he believed, had freed ourselves of any genuine consciousness of how we might look to others on this globe. With Blow-back, he aimed to rectify that, to paint a portrait of how that informal empire, and its historically unprecedented garrisoning of the world looked to others, and so explain why animosity and blow-back were building globally. After September 11, 2001, his book leaped to the center of the 9/11 display tables in bookstores nation wide and became a bestseller, while blow-back and that phrase unintended consequences made their way into everyday language.

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