Here’s the question that comes to mind at least once a week, when some particularly outrageous or absurd piece of news arrives from somewhere in the American imperium: What would Chal think?
“Chal” was Chalmers Johnson, who died in November 2010. I was the editor of his book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, which, with its prophetic hit on American policy abroad, leaped onto bestseller lists after the attacks of 9/11. It embedded in our political language both the CIA tradecraft term “blowback” and the phrase “unintended consequences.” In fact, that phrase has gone so deep that the other day, in one of our sadder moments, it made an appearance in Army Private First Class Bradley Manning’s apology to a military judge. Facing a possible 90 years in jail, he told her, "I am sorry for the unintended consequences of my actions. When I made these decisions I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people." And then in the saddest line of all and one that could be read as a kind of grim epitaph for the possibilities of changing our American imperial world, he added that he now wonders, “How on Earth could I, a junior analyst, possibly believe I could change the world for the better.’”