More Johnson talk.
Laura Secor's review ["Foreign Discomfort," April] favors rhetorical tactics over a critique based on fact and logic. Johnson's remarkable statistic of 725-plus U.S. military bases worldwide, for example, is merely something "Johnson tells us," followed by the reviewer's absurd accusation that Johnson can't tell the difference between the military's pampered elite and its grunts.
Secor reveals her own uncritical acceptance of America's weapons driven foreign policy when she criticizes Johnson for a selective discussion of "human rights and democracy." Her case in point: Johnson's failure to praise "the U.S. defeat of a decidedly anti-democratic regime in Afghanistan." He's supposed to celebrate the ascendancy of Abdul Rashid Dostom and his warlord ilk? Three cheers for record-level opium production, nongovernmental-organization flight, the slaughter of unarmed POWs, and an Afghan president who risks his life if he ventures beyond the Kabul city limits! I can't think of a more fitting example in favor of Johnson's argument.
I'm not surprised to see hatchet jobs on Johnson's book in the American media. I just didn't expect one to appear in my favorite magazine.
Fountain Valley, CA
I WAS APPALLED BY SECOR'S review of The Sorrows of Empire. It's hard to believe she and I read the same book, as I note places where her descriptions are opposite to what the author writes.
For example, Secor asserts that Johnson sees "'no legitimate purpose for the military's existence." This misses the very point of the book. Johnson focuses on the distinction between the military and militarism. He notes that until the rearmament of America after World War II, our country had always fought wars with "citizen soldiers." A full-time military, necessary for conducting the Cold War, gave rise to the military-industrial complex.
Instead of focusing on the bloated defense industries, Johnson highlights the development of a "society within a society" that is the full-time military establishment. It is that separate, decidedly unequal aspect of American society, summarized by the word "militarism," that Johnson is warning us about. If Secor wants to engage in a serious debate with Johnson, she should give arguments as to why the evidence he has presented does not add up to the development of a dangerous American militarism.
Johnson specifically describes the difference between the military and militarism when he writes, "[H]aving a military by no means has to lead to militarism, the phenomenon by which a nation's armed services come to put their institutional preservation ahead of achieving national security or even a commitment to the integrity of the governmental structure of which they are a part."
Did Secor not read these words?
Department of Economics Western New England College, Springfield, MA
Laura Secor responds: I'd be more than open to a vigorously argued book about the militarization of American politics. Johnson's I found unpersuasive on account of its overheated rhetoric, kitchen sink approach, muddled logic, and accordance of equal weight to fact and discredited theory.
That the United States operates 725 foreign military bases is certainly remarkable, but Johnson failed to convince me that the maintenance of foreign bases has been the driving purpose of America's post-Cold War grand strategy.
As for Afghanistan, if Sam Coleman is trying to say that the United States has badly botched the reconstruction, I couldn't agree more. To my mind, what that means is that we can and should do better--not that we should be nostalgic for the Taliban.