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Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  2,137 ratings  ·  172 reviews
Now with a new and up-to-date Introduction by the author, the bestselling account of the effect of American global policies, hailed as "brilliant and iconoclastic" (Los Angeles Times)

The term "blowback," invented by the CIA, refers to the unintended results of American actions abroad. In this incisive and controversial book, Chalmers Johnson lays out in vivid detail the
Paperback, 2nd, 268 pages
Published 2004 by Holt McDougal (first published March 14th 2000)
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Apr 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book is remarkable. The guy is one of the United States foremost experts on China and Japan. The main thesis of the book is that because the US has not really adjusted its foreign policy to account for the collapse of the Soviet Union it is still essentially fighting the cold war. But fighting the cold war isnt really a good idea, particularly for the US, as it effectively gives an unfair economic advantage to East Asia. He claims that the US needs to better integrate both its foreign ...more
Feb 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Blowback was written before 9/11, the event that was to make the word known. It refers to the U.S. actions in the world that bring a response detrimental to the U.S., 9/11 being a the prime example. Americans like to think of the U.S. as a rational actor with good intentions in opposition to crazed people out to do us harm. It's what we are fed by our government and by our news media, but it's mythology. Blowback presents the truth, where foreigners are just as rational as we are and have ...more
Kym Robinson

Book Review -
Blowback by Chalmers Johnson.

Blowback is a book that many of us know about due to its relevance in the post 9-11 world. Because of this I had known about this book for some time before I was able to track it down and dig my paws into its pages. Johnson was a man who I had heard give interviews and seemed to be one of the 'go to guys' for the US anti-war movement. The book was published before that date and the terrible terror attacks which seemed to change much of the World.
Matt Shake
Oct 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is another book I read in college. In political science there are two basic philosophies: "realism" and "idealism." When I was young I used to lean more towards political idealism. This philosophy encourages people to do things out of ideological principle. But Johnson wrote this book from a realist perspective, and I liked it enough that it ignited a slow conversion for me. Realists basically encourage people to act out of self-interest. But I've noticed two shades of realism: cold, hard, ...more
Oct 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
Every year or so I tell myself that I need to be consuming policy books. Someone of my background really should be better versed in the available literature, after all. It would be good to broaden my intellectual horizons and see what sorts of theories are floating around out there. Then I pick up something like this and become hastily reacquainted with my reticence. I remember that the genre has basically made an art form of stringing together vaguely misleading and highly curated details into ...more
Satyaki Mitra
This book provides an insightful analysis of the flaws and ineptitude of American Foreign policy, principally with focus on the East Asian region. The author being one of the foremost scholars on East Asia, attempts to make his readers understand the dual and hypocritical role the US has been playing in East Asia, encouraging and even directly aiding dictatorships and inflicting unimaginable brutalities that are not much dissimilar from the policies the former USSR used on it's satellite states. ...more
Aaron Minks
May 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Any American with a grain of salt
Recommended to Aaron by: Michael Laney
Shelves: non-fiction
Chalmers book was more than thought provoking but maybe not quite live changing. The entire point of the book was convered early on and and Chalmers seemed to belabor it. It was a good point but hammered so hard and repeatedly that I did not finish. I got the point, appreciated it, learned from it, and set the book aside. Warning: Chalmers has a distinctly Anti-American bias. I'm not sure how he got it but it's fills the pages. To say that American involvement in foreign affairs more often leads ...more
Chris White
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A very interesting review of the influences of the American empire on the second half of the 20th century and early 21st. You reap what you sow.
G. Branden
Mar 06, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I recall, this is the first book I read after the September 11th attacks.

It was a good choice. Originally published in 2000, it saw a reprinting not long after I bought my copy--evidently I wasn't the only person impressed with Johnson's appearances on NPR at the time.

Essential reading for anyone who doubts that the United States constitutes an imperial power in the world (whether for good, ill, or both).

Johnson also makes the strongest case I've yet read for a civilian peacetime draft. The
Dec 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wakeup
Lots to recommend in this book: great perspective on America's economic and military bullying (though, largely focused on east Asia). Connects the dots between American policy abroad and the collapse of manufacturing and the middle class at home.

One thing I hate about books like this is confronting the depth of my own ignorance.
Mar 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read this book by flashlight while shivering in a leaking tent, during a weekend of torrential rain - and it held my attention!
Feb 03, 2012 rated it liked it
The first thing to know is that both the title and subtitle are misleading. This is a book almost exclusively about US imperialism in East and Southeast Asia. It rarely explores other regions or what's usually termed blowback. However, it's probably one of the best critical introductions to US foreign policy in Asia. Johnson's strength is in recounting the specificities of US foreign policy. It's not a pretty picture.

In case after case, Johnson demonstrates the negative impact of American
Chris Chester
Typically, reading books about the geopolitical moment more than five years after they were written is an exercise in futility, as conditions change and the collective consciousness comes to perceive world events in new ways. In this case though, it is actually because of its age that Blowback is so interesting, since Johnson penned this account of American imperial overreach before the psychological trauma of September 11, 2011 forever altered our perception of the world.

To be clear, there is
Sep 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-the-world
This is the second book I've read from Chalmers Johnson, and it was definitely another success. Technically, this is part of a trilogy of texts, and I read the second prior to reading this, though the books are not required to be read in any particular order. Taken together, the books paint a picture of a US in danger of losing its way, though by now it is more likely that it has already lost its way.

This book shows how the military structure and the defense agenda have divorced themselves from
Steven Peterson
Jan 30, 2010 rated it liked it
Blowback, according to author Chalmers Johnson, is a term invented by the CIA to (page ix) ". . .describe the likelihood that our covert operations in other people's countries could result in retaliation against Americans, civilian and military, at home and abroad." At another point, he notes that (page xi) ". . .blowback is another way of saying that a nation sows what it reaps." It results in unintended consequences of actions.

This is an angry book, with Johnson not pretending to take an
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire was written by Chalmers Johnson an American author and professor emeritus of the University of California, San Diego. He served in the Korean War, was a consultant for the CIA from 1967 to 1973, and chaired the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California, Berkeley from 1967 to 1972.

Blowback a term initially used in classified CIA documents, referred to the unintended consequences of covert action. "In a broader sense,
Joel Wentz
Oct 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
'Blowback' is both brilliant and deeply unsettling. Growing up as a millenial, and vividly remembering that day in high school when the twin towers crumbled, I have always had a vague intuition that America's actions and policies overseas seemed to be creating enemies. I also suspected that many of my peers felt the same way - we couldn't explain why, but we were definitely uncomfortable with how our country handled itself in other parts of the world.

Well, Johnson's
Apr 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant! Blowback=unintended consequences of secret policies of the US Government. The American people have given uncritical support to an array of operative including presidents in US Empire building.

Chalmers Johnson has somehow managed to avoid inclusion in the Horowitz hate monger list.
An incredibly thorough analysis of the foreign policy mess that is USA. The list is long.
Iran (1953)
Guatemala (1954)
Cuba (1959-present)
Congo (1960)
Brazil (1964)
Indonesia (1965)
Vietnam (1961-73)
Laos (1961-73)
Marissa Ovick
Jun 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Another book I reread once every couple of years. Always relevant.....
From Booklist
A veteran, and veteran academic on China and Japan, offers a serious indictment of the security system the U.S. organized in East Asia circa 1950 to contain the communists. Convinced the time has arrived to close down bases, bring troops home, and renegotiate extant security treaties, Johnson examines, from a highly critical, almost excoriating viewpoint, the American presence in Japan, Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan, the
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is essential reading for anyone trying to figure out what happened to the United States after World War II. We became an empire. We assumed a role that placed above international law. We decided which groups would control governments in countries where we had influence. The US military was one part of the effort, but so, too, was the CIA.

Economics played a key role in producing the blowback the sometime violent response to US intervention and domination that resulted. Chalmers
Aug 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, nonfiction
This book was written in 2000 and focuses mostly on blowback of US policies in East Asia, and only peripherally on policies in the Arab world. The term 'Blowback' is now pretty widely known: the long-term unintended consequences of policy decisions and covert actions.

Johnson begins by making the case that the US has been an imperialist power since the end of World War II. What other country has troops stationed in over 100 countries? How many of those countries have troops stationed in the US?
Aug 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
We often wonder why there is anger against the USA around the world. We are prevented from accurate analysis of our status and stature globally because the media filters out the truth of our actions and their effects on other nations. This leaves us clueless to the reality that we press upon other nations calling it benevolence at home, but serving up crushing hegemony overseas. Thisbook explains how this process has worked against our nation and created the insecurity we now face as we become ...more
Nov 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
A wonderful look at America's recent foreign policy in Southwest Asia. This book poses the question "Why do we have over 100,000 troops in Japan and Korea?" and answers it: There is no reason. Why is our defense budget almost $270 billion a year (2000 numbers)? Guess who has the next biggest military budget? Japan... at $47 billion, which dwarfs China's military budget, which is about $30 billion. Of course all of these numbers have increased over the years, especially with the onset of the "War ...more
Shea Mastison
Feb 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
This guy fundamentally misunderstands the nature of fiat currency and the essentially destabilizing effect that it has on the global economy. Contrary to what he may think, the boom and bust cycle will always be made worse by having a centrally planned economy. In the face of his passion, it's clear he doesn't want to understand this as why Japan has been stagnant for the last ten years or more; however, the problem is not cultural--it's endemic.
It's an okay read if you're a foreign
Kamil Salamah
Oct 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
An amazing history of America's involvement in Southeast Asia with all its associated consequences from social, culutral, political, military, economical, financial and human rights aspects.

Again, it is another piece of outstanding written material that tragically paints a trajectory for the Empire of the age that is most unfortunate due to the loss of the Dream of the Founding fathers of America. Once again the power of the military-industrial complex( warned against by many including
Chris Welch
Unbelievable. I thought I was pretty informed on the problems with US foreign policy. After reading this book I realize that I had such a small window of knowledge. This book has helped me to understand the underlying motivation behind US economic policies, the banking system and how the elite are dooming us all to the inevitable fall of our once great nation. This should be required reading for everyone! Chalmers knowledge of history and foreign policy are superb. I had to read a few passages a ...more
Mar 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating read that examines the many pies that the U.S. government has fingers in. "Blowback" is a term that refers to the negative occurrences that result from the actions of the CIA, and, boy, are there plenty of examples of blowback in this book. The most obvious example being 9-11, of course, but the author manages to cover a huge variety, from the decline of Detroit to the political situations of Iran, North and South Korea, Indonesia, Japan...
A great read in its own right, but as a
Dave Winter
Sep 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is THE definitive work on American foreign policy. The book explains how the CIA and its annexes take action without thinking of the consequences. For example, it was the CIA who established the Sha in the Iranian government in the 1950s, and now America is paying the price for it. This is part one in a three-part series, and is a necessary book for anyone who is interested in the tragedy that is American foreign policy.
Sean Rosenthal
Jun 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Interesting Quote:

"Military might does not equate with 'leadership of the free world'...An excessive reliance on a militarized foreign policy and an indifference to the distinction between national interests and national values in deciding where the United States should intervene abroad have actually made the country less secure in ways that will become only more apparent in the years to come."

-Chalmers Johnson, Blowback, 2000
Feb 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Punching a man in the face, or killing his family, is not the best way to make him your friend. This principle extends to foreign policy. The U.S., far from making friends, has made countless enemies. We will unfortunately reap future violence (terrorism) from this bitter harvest.

Johnson focuses on blowback from Asia, the area of the world on which he is an expert.
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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 ...more

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“It is time to realize, however, that the real dangers to America today come not from the newly rich people of East Asia but from our own ideological rigidity, our deep-seated belief in our own propaganda.” 9 likes
“The Nature of Political Terrorism The suicidal assassins of September 11, 2001, did not “attack America,” as political leaders and news media in the United States have tried to maintain; they attacked American foreign policy. Employing the strategy of the weak, they killed innocent bystanders, whose innocence is, of course, no different from that of the civilians killed by American bombs in Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.” 6 likes
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