I met Chalmers at his home in San Diego when he kindly agreed to make a film for the Campaign for America’s Future conference because he was unable to be there in person. We spent the morning talking and filming, and then shared lunch together. Johnson, who served in the Navy in the Pacific, was once Chairman of the Department of Political Science at UC Berkeley, and as a consultant to the CIA asserted clearly that he was a convinced cold warrior. He did not like the Soviet Union and what its authoritarian methods could mean for mankind. He spoke of the naivete of American free market ideology in the face of state/private combinations like he had written about in his book “MITI and the Japanese Miracle” in the early 1980s. He saw the same challenge emerging as China developed. He spoke of vital writing from the likes of Jeremy Cahill, Naomi Klein, and the films of Eugene Jared and Alex Gibe.
Chalmers Johnson remains the individual in my experience who was the most direct, lucid and clear-minded presenter I have ever encountered. The sound and film team that accompanied me were in awe of his will, his mind and his clarity as we drove back to LA from San Diego after the lunch. Chalmers was spellbinding.
In recent years, as the American political economy veered into ominous terrain Dr. Johnson wrote a series of books on the precarious challenge of American Empire and the difficulties of preserving balance and democratic decency at home as the lure of empire drove our country off course. The old saying about empire that "To rule the waves you have to waive the rules" was evident to Chalmers as we expressed concerns that were reminiscent of the final speech of President Eisenhower. He wrote three books during the Bush-Cheney years airing his concerns about the military industrial complex, black budgets and more. The three books are “Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire” (2000), “The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic” (2004) and “Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic” (2006). A man who had worked in intelligence and against the USSR turned his attention to the excesses of the United States of America because that is where he felt the danger was.
Chalmers Johnson shared with us his brilliant mind. He also shared with us a rarer gift: courage. His clarity and purpose were not coincidence. They were reflections of that courage. He was owned by no one and was calmed near the end of his life by the awareness that he had reached a place where to help mankind he felt he had to be strong and clear and undaunted by criticism.
He was giving the gift he knew he was meant to give us. I saw a calmness in that sense of purpose and we discussed it openly at lunch. How he got to that place of courage is remarkable. His written work was outstanding. But as he passes, the image of his life that I most cherish is that of a man who uncompromisingly looked at society and the world, at the structures of power, and It is an example for all young scholars and public intellectuals. Chalmers Johnson provided a great deal of illumination and public good. Let us all honor his life by striving to emulate his powerful example.