James Leroy Wilson's blog

Monday, June 12, 2006

Brian Lamb Interviews Chalmers Johnson

C-Span boss Brian Lamb has, with Booknotes and now Q&A, delivered the best interview show on television. Last night I stumbled upon his interview with Chalmers Johnson, author of Blowback and Sorrows of Empire. I see that the Sampler has a raw transcript, and you can watch the show here. My favorite part:
I was wrong on Vietnam. I – in retrospect, as I’ve said I knew too much about communism, which is what I was specialist in, I was Chairman of the Center for Chinese Studies at this time but I wasn’t a specialist on people like a George Bundy or Robert McNamara.

LAMB: Who were they?

JOHNSON: Well that is to say that President Kennedy’s National Security Advisor and the Secretary of Defense, under Lyndon Johnson; people who ran the Vietnam War and I was – I made a mistake, a classic mistake. I believed – I had argued strongly in print after my one and only visit to Saigon in 1962, this was a civil war and we shouldn’t get involved in it but I then took an erroneous view that you still hear today, having gotten involved this is war we shouldn’t lose. Well, no that was an error and I was also irritated at the time, no doubt about it, by the student demonstrations. They struck me as pampered little brats who didn’t really know what they were doing. I was very proud of the University of California. I thought they were damaging the university at the time and so, I guess there was another issue that when we talk about the Vietnam War, one seems to think that this was the only issue out there. It was a period of enormous change in America and at this time, I was very much caught up with racial integration in America. I had many students in the Black Panther Party who were students at my university. That being the case, Lyndon Johnson became a kind of hero because of the Great Society, the Civil Rights Act, things of this sort and we tended not to pay as much attention to what he was doing in Vietnam, as I should have and was wrong.

LAMB: When did you change your mind on Vietnam?

JOHNSON: Oh, after I changed my mind, generally and that came with something truly unusual, namely, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. I regarded the Soviet Union as a menace. I still do. I believe that it was something that had to be and I – I mean I was specialist in the subject and I traveled extensively in the Soviet Union in 1978 at the height of the (INAUDIBLE) and things of this sort but when the whole raison d’être (ph) of the Cold War ended that is they’d collapsed, they’d imploded, they disappeared I was truly shocked by the American government’s reaction. Instantaneously, we set out to find a replacement enemy, well, China, drugs, terrorism, whatever to keep the military industrial complex working, to maintain the huge – I mean we’re talking about 737 debts on the Pentagon’s account, military bases located around the world at the present time; I was shocked by this. I – it led me, as a professor of international relations, to begin to ask, was the Cold War just a cover or something deeper for an American imperial project, probably, to replace the British Empire that went back to World War II and I strongly suspect that is the case. That – and particularly, in East Asia where I worked, it looked very much like we were on the wrong side of issues of national liberation in China, in Vietnam and Southeast Asia (INAUDIBLE) thing after another.

I guess, then the other thing that led me really to shift my views (INAUDIBLE) indeed, people have said over the years, well you’re being inconsistent. My answer on that is a famous crack by John Maynard Caines (ph), when he was accused of being inconsistent. He said well, when I get new information I change my position. What, sir, do you do with new information and the new information I got was the remarkable American reaction to the collapse of the Soviet Union. There was no peace dividend. There was no moving back into the United States.

Then, also, I’ve spent most of my life studying Japan, working with issues concerned with Japan and Northeast Asia but I’d never been at Okinawa until 1996 and the governor there, a retired professor (INAUDIBLE) had invited me to come down after a very serious incident in 1995 when two Marines and sailor abducted, beat and raped a 12-year-old girl. It set off the worst demonstrations against the United States since the security treaty had been signed. I had never been to Okinawa and like many others; it’s a Japanese version of Puerto Rico. It’s a territory that is discriminated against. It was acquired in the late 19th Century by the Japanese Empire. It has 38 American military bases on an island smaller than Kauai, in the Hawaiian Islands, with living cheek by jowl with 1,300,000 Okinawans. I was – I took on Mr. Ota’s (ph) offer, visited Okinawa and was simply appalled by what I saw. The signs of mélange; we’d been there since the battle of Okinawa in 1945. It was obvious – I mean these troops reminded me of then, the Soviet troops that were in East Germany and didn’t want to leave. They were living better in East Germany than they would back in Russia, after the wall came down. Well, our people were living better than they would in Oceanside, California next door to Camp Pendleton. That led me to start looking at bases. I thought at first good, cold warrior (INAUDIBLE). This is just exceptional. The press doesn’t get down. It’s off the beaten track. Its – people have forgotten about it. It’s a (INAUDIBLE) World War II. As I began to study our bases around the world, our military empire, I discovered, no, I’m sorry to say, it’s all too typical.

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