Friday September 09, 2016

The Sorrows of Empire

Photo credit: HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AFP/Getty Images

Photo credit: HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AFP/Getty Images

Listen to Full Episode 53:59

The American Empire has been called everything from a "reluctant empire" to "a colossus with attention deficit disorder".  As we near the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, IDEAS revisits an interview with academic Chalmers Johnson who suggested that failure in Iraq might mark the beginning of the end of the American Empire. Producer Mary O'Connell explores the discussion further with historian Alfred McCoy. **This episode originally aired September 11, 2014.

Historian Alfred McCoy has written a dozen books and is one of the editors of Endless Empire: Spain's Retreat, Europe's Eclipse, America's Decline. The book is a collection of writings from twenty leading historians on four continents who sift through the tea leaves of past empires, looking for emerging patterns that may apply to the decline of the American Empire. These academics are part of a growing group who refer to themselves as "declinists". They warn, "As the American century of global dominion draws to a close, the signs of geopolitical change are gathering like thunderbolts on the horizon."

In 2012, The National Intelligence Council, ­ the top analytic organization within America's vast intelligence community, predicted that by the year 2030 the U.S. empire would be over. The multi­-trillion dollar cost of foreign wars in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, along with countless other interventions has created "imperial overstretch". The Council also notes a poorly performing U.S. educational system, a waning middle­-class, and China's leap onto the world stage as contributors to the decline of the American Empire.


Participants in the program:

  • Chalmers Johnson, author of Blowback; The Sorrows of Empire; and Nemesis. He was a professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego. Chalmers Johnson died in 2010.

  • Alfred McCoy, historian, University of Wisconsin, Madison. Author of a dozen books, including, Endless Empire; A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror; and Policing America's Empire.


Reading List:

  • The Sorrows of Empire by Chalmers Johnson, Metropolitan Books, 2005.

  • The Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945 ­ 1960 by Christopher Simpson, Oxford University Press, 1995.

  • Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, by Nick Turse, Metropolitan Books, 2013

  • Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, by Niall Ferguson, Penguin Books, 2005.

  • Endless Empire: Spain's Retreat, Europe's Eclipse, America's Decline, edited by Alfred W. McCoy, Josep M. Fradera, Stephen Jacobson, University of Wisconsin Press, 2012.

  • American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy, by Andrew J. Bacevich, Harvard Press, 2004.