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

4.15  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,156 Ratings  ·  77 Reviews
"Impressive . . . a powerful indictment of U.S. military and foreign policy."
-Los Angeles Times Book Review, front page

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." In this important national b
Paperback, 400 pages
Published January 6th 2005 by Metropolitan Books (first published January 1st 2003)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,623)
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Oct 10, 2010 Trevor rated it really liked it
The sorrows, indeed. I’ve finally gotten to listen to the second part of this fascinating trilogy and am now sorry that I listened to them out of order. They are the kind of books that really do stay with you.

I’ve given up hoping people will actually be able to do something about Neo-colonialism, there is now, of course, no hope that things will change anytime soon. The thing that amazes me is how self-satisfied we tend to be about the suffering that happens in the world. It is as if poverty wa
Jun 21, 2013 Christopher rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
A harsh and critical look at U.S. foreign policy and current cultural atmosphere. While much of Johnson's book seems like the unashamed, far-left kooky America bashing, I believe that he has hit onto something that few Americans would like to admit: that the presidency and the military exercise far more power in our country than is healthy for a democratic-republic like ours. For example, his two chapters titled " "The Institutions of American Militarism" and "Surrogate Soldiers and Private Mer ...more
Dec 03, 2013 David rated it really liked it
The recently deceased Chalmers Johnson was a former CIA man turned apostate from the American Imperial project. This book is an account of the American Empire, its flaws and weaknesses. It's rather well-documented, to the point where one wants to skip some of the details. Johnson also adopts, with the zeal of a convert, some of the nostrums of the Left.

That said, this is a well-documented and largely accurate account of where we are, which is in a very bad place. We failed to take account of wha
Patrick McCoy
Sep 27, 2011 Patrick McCoy rated it really liked it
Chalmers Johnston’s latest current affairs book, The Sorrows of Empire, is about American militarism and the secrecy surrounding it, as well as imperialism. In the prologue he says:

If I overstate the threat, I am sure to be forgiven because future generations will be so glad I was wrong. The danger I foresee is that the United States is embarked upon a path no unlike that of the former Soviet Union during the 1980s. The USSR collapsed for three basic reasons-internal economic contradictions dri
Aug 16, 2007 Jeff rated it did not like it
Bascially, this is a tedious argument for isolationism and unilateral withdrawal from the world, since we are at the heart of all the planet's problems (at least according to Chalmers) and that most of our problems stem from our military and the economic and political forces tied up in the "military-industrial complex."

The problem with the argument is not that one can't make a reasonable case for such a position; it is that Chaulmers does not. For example, he translates the global web of America
Oct 15, 2009 Eric rated it really liked it
Amazing book about militarism in the United States. You'd think that after the U.s.s.r. fell we'd have spent less money on the military. uh, no. We have something like 1,000 military bases around the world where the laws of their locations do not apply. The last two chapters are about economic Globalization in the 90's and military globalization in this decade. I never really understood the concept of globalization and why people rallied against it and the IMF and the world bank. The last two ch ...more
Apr 26, 2016 Clif rated it really liked it
In 2004, early in the endless war in which the United States is now engaged, Chalmers Johnson set out to write an overview of the American Empire, one characterized not by colonies around the world, but by a network of military bases and an economic system (globalization) that forces all countries except the United States to adhere to the rules of neoliberalism.

Simply put, this book is about the results of neoconservatism in pushing American military power, and neoliberalism pushing American eco
Elliott Bignell
Apr 11, 2015 Elliott Bignell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finally got around to reading this polemic long after the Bush Presidency was over, when you might think its message less urgent. Be not fooled, as Johnson's model of US Empire and the sorrows which ride in its wake is rooted in history going back to the 19th Century and not merely a reaction to a single Administration.

Johnson's horsemen ride in the traditional team of four: Perpetual war and the terrorism it provokes as a response, erosion of democracy and constitutional rights with a Pentago
Mike Scarbrough
Aug 29, 2014 Mike Scarbrough rated it really liked it
This is a very good book, number two in the "Blowback" trilogy. It is sad to witness the shameful behavior of Empire, but we are here nonetheless. Will human beings ever get to the point where exploitation and hegemony are not business as usual for those in power?

This book is not a sweet bedtime story. It is an insightful and rigorously documented exposition of the United States' soul-less plundering and pillaging of nearly everyone else on earth, whether by sneaky CIA induced coup, IMF/World
Joseph Montuori
Aug 20, 2014 Joseph Montuori rated it really liked it
Johnson's thesis is simply that the United States government has, in fact, established an empire, largely in the post-Second World War period.

It's aim is to secure and maintain military, strategic, and economic control over resources and trade desired by the U.S. He also reveals the high degree of secrecy and subterfuge the U.S. Government uses to hide or mask the number, size, and extent of U.S. Military influence and control within our government and within foreign states. His evidence is met
Mar 24, 2008 Jon rated it it was amazing
Lots of essential facts about the military expansion of the US empire, written by a former conservative turned anti-imperialist.
Noelle Campbell
Mar 30, 2010 Noelle Campbell rated it did not like it
Horrible waste of an hour. Not even good enough propaganda to read the entire first chapter.
Oct 17, 2014 Cara rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most depressing books I've ever read. Sorrows of Empire, indeed.
Martin Rose
Dec 03, 2013 Martin Rose rated it liked it
First, this was an excellent overview of ascending American militarism and its effects; Chalmers Johnson died in 2010 and it's worth noting that to take such a bird's eye view of an entire empire across several generations and within the context of an entire globe is no small task. What people may not readily understand is we, as the reading public, benefit in volumes from Chalmers Johnson's ability to see these problems in their gestalt -- and in a broader understanding of Chalmers Johnson's wo ...more
Apr 13, 2011 Gary rated it liked it
I'll say one thing for Chalmers Johnson's writings - they certainly make me think and challenge my assumptions. Johnson is an unrepentant critic of American militarism and imperialism and he makes a convincing case that the U.S. is on the way down because of these factors. I do take issue with how, at the start of the book, he seemed to cherry-pick statistics about U.S. armed forces stationed overseas, making it sound like every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine in uniform was little more than ...more
Oct 18, 2013 J.P. rated it really liked it
This is the second book in Chalmers Johnson's "Blowback" trilogy. I'd say that it's on par with the first entry, "Blowback", & it does more than just rehash the same issues. He does not ignore the problems of the military & the actions typical of Empires that the U.S. takes but he doesn't repeat himself. He focuses on the issues of militarism, the belief in "American Exceptionalism", events & lies that lead to the second Gulf War & how 9/11 was just the convenient excuse they nee ...more
May 03, 2008 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: blame America first-ers, masochists, people who are too happy
Chalmers Johnson lays out the thesis that America now maintains, through its foreign policy, economic policy, and military deployment, a new kind of empire, on the order of ancient Rome or the British empire. The book is very long on exposition and explanation, and describes our military footprint on the world (nearly 800 bases in 130 countries!) and their size, expense, and location cannot be explained as defensive. Johnson uses the word "militarism," which he defines generally as the use of fo ...more
Sep 03, 2015 Pabgo rated it it was amazing
Anybody who questions the concept of American Imperialism can put those to rest by reading this book. Although dated by more than a decade, events transpiring since only add to the case made by Mr. Johnson. The last few pages allow Mr. Johnson to ponder how this situation may be rectified, but, sadly, we had yet to see the Citizens United ruling, and a military budget that grew to twice the size he was talking about then! Sadly, the solution now seems even further away...
Mar 11, 2010 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
This book is concerned with the rise of the American empire and its consequences on the nation. I found this to be much more interesting than his book "Blowback," but it does get long in sections as he lists the location and histories of American military bases around the world and recounts the buildup to both Iraq wars.

In the end, he predicts four things that will result from the empire--the last is the most frightening--economic collapse.

I was most intrigued by the section on oil in the Caspi
Oct 05, 2014 Andy rated it really liked it
The book is a little dated because it was written in 2004. It would be very interesting to see an updated version incorporating the events of the second Bush term and the first 6 years under Obama. All in all I thought the topic was interesting and the analysis seemed solid. It provides a clear and insightful look at the problems we face because of our current refusal to engage in pragmatic and realistic foreign policy.
Kristen Lemaster
Nov 29, 2012 Kristen Lemaster rated it liked it
So full of information, incredible historical anecdotes, and interesting quotes from powerful people. The first half is very readable and entertaining, then as more information is injected into the book, it gets pretty heavy and slow, but still worthwhile. Johnson is brilliant, very critical of the military-industrial complex and America's self-proclaimed role as the New Rome, and most importantly, hopeful that we can change the duplicitous, dangerous nature of American militarism so that we don ...more
Mar 14, 2014 Nick rated it really liked it
This book is particularly useful for detailing U.S. military bases all over the world, in the context of a mythical "hesitant imperialism."
Mazen Alloujami
Jun 04, 2014 Mazen Alloujami rated it it was amazing
Very interesting study on the sliding of the USA politics from democracy to imperialism, with some interesting prognosis and warnings.
Jeff Carpenter
Dec 20, 2015 Jeff Carpenter rated it it was amazing
Chalmers Johnson is the best ammunition to have in a political discussion about the U.S.A.
Apr 16, 2012 Hollowman rated it really liked it
One is not an America or USA basher/hater for reading and recommending Johnson's books. He -- like Zinn, Chomsky and Vidal -- want to protect their homeland from opportunistic exec-level intellectuals (= certain upper-level politicians in govt. and/or corporate execs [often they are one and the same!]) with either deliberate imperialistic agendas ... and/or self-interest agendas that result in imperialistic consequences. It gets complicated! But the results are not: expensive wars and 1000+ mili ...more
Aug 27, 2008 Dansez rated it liked it
Interesting back story of how the tail continues to wag the dog.

I imagine very few Americans know or care how the Okinawans were treated during the military occupation of the island.

Secrecy has only increased since this book was written.

Just one facet of the transformation of Americans from citizens to consumers. Citizens are involved, informed and have an impact on their government. Comsumers choose between the brands of pablum presented and swallow, swallow, swallow.

"Taste Great"
"Less Filling
Dec 17, 2007 Sargon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An eye opener filled with facts yet very interesting and easy to read. A bit on the liberal slide, this book is still solid as the offer presents numerous examples of American imperialism in the guise of militarism. By setting up military bases in various countries, the US 'provides' services to the host country (rape, theft, pollution, and protection) and in return receives control. In order to protect from non conforming citizens of host countries, the US needs to expand its network of bases s ...more
May 30, 2009 Lee rated it it was amazing
Chalmers Johnson lectured in a class of mine in grad school at USD. He's an unassuming man with an intellect that pulls from experience and exhaustive research. I find him in a similar vein as Noam Chomsky. While critics could call him out, his meticulous indictment of US foreign policy and militarism flows with logical expansion of an empire for purposes of obtaining the spoils of war. If your not into this kind of thing it will be difficult to read, but if you like connecting the dots, Johnson ...more
Sep 02, 2007 Christopher rated it liked it
I haven't read anything that has both angered and frightened me like this book has. The basic premise is a comparison of modern day America with the Roman Empire during its ascension and eventual decline. The problems and pitfalls of maintaining a global empire, including the military-industrial complex are highlighted. Not a fast read, and not particularly uplifting, but worth it if you have the stomach to consider that we may very well be headed in the same direction as the Romans, and for the ...more
Jan 21, 2014 Nick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: current-events
As a person who has spent almost their entire adult life working within the military industrial complex this was a very difficult book to read. Written in 2003 what is most astonishing is the reality that is described within the book is apparent today. A good lesson in diplomatic history. Mr. Johnson's writing is cogent and appropriate for our time. We should only ignore what is written here at our own peril.
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Chalmers Ashby Johnson was an American author and professor emeritus of the University of California, San Diego. He fought in the Korean war, from 1967-1973 was a consultant for the CIA, and ran the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California, Berkeley for years. He was also president and co-founder of the Japan Policy Research Institute, an organization promoting public education a ...more
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