In Memoriam

Chalmers Johnson

Chalmers Johnson, emeritus professor at UC San Diego's School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS), and chair of the Center for Chinese Studies at UC Berkeley from 1967-1972, died November 20, 2010.

He was a complex person: a Depression boy; a lieutenant junior grade assigned to a Navy "rust bucket" without a name at the end of the Korean War; a student of the radicalization of Chinese peasants under the Japanese "loot-all, kill-all, burn-all" campaigns of the late 1930s; a staunch anticommunist nonetheless capable, in one of his many books, of slipping into the mindset of a World War II Japanese communist spy; a supporter of the US war in Vietnam and the rescuer of the State Department China hand John Service after anticommunist witch hunts had destroyed his livelihood; a valued consultant to the CIA and an eminent scholar of Japanese state capitalism.

In 1995 he visited the Japanese island of Okinawa for the first time and was shocked by the US bases there ("the American Raj," he called it), and from that moment he turned his back on our "unacknowledged empire." He recanted former positions – "In retrospect, I wish I had stood with the [Vietnam] antiwar protest movement. For all its naivete and unruliness, it was right and American policy wrong" – and labeled himself sardonically a "spear-carrier for empire."

Johnson's Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, published in 2000, picked up a CIA term, "tradecraft" ("the unintended consequences of policies that were kept secret from the American people"), and put it into our vocabulary. In that book, he all but predicted a 9/11-like fate for the U.S.

He is survived by his wife, Sheila Johnson, an international expert on women and aging in Japan, and a sister, Barbara Johnson.

Excerpted from articles in the following publications.