Chalmers Johnson

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I have just heard that Chalmers Johnson died a few hours ago, at age 79, at his home near San Diego. He had had a variety of health problems for a long time. (Photo source here.)

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Johnson -- "Chal" -- was a penetrating, original, and influential scholar, plus a very gifted literary and conversational stylist. When I first went to Japan nearly 25 years ago, his MITI and the Japanese Miracle was already part of the canon for understanding Asian economic development. Before that, he had made his name as a China scholar; after that, he became more widely known with his books like Blowback, about the perverse effects and strategic unsustainability of America's global military commitments. Throughout those years he was a mentor to generations of students at the UC campuses at Berkeley and San Diego.

Johnson and his wife and lifelong intellectual partner Sheila were generous and patient with me, as I was first trying to understand the world they had studied and analyzed. I vividly remember spending an afternoon in the early 1990s on the sunny patio at their house in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, north of the UCSD campus. I'd moved back from Japan, was working on a book about it, and spent hours writing notes as fast as I could as Johnson described Douglas MacArthur's mistakes and (occasional) successes during the U.S. Occupation of Japan, and why Japan's economy was unlikely to open itself on the Western model, even if U.S. or British economists kept giving lectures about the importance of deregulation. I have never concentrated harder as I tried to be sure to capture his bons mots.

Johnson would have been about 60 at the time. Even then he suffered from a rheumatoid or gout-like condition that caused him swelling and pain. "It all goes so fast," I remember him saying. He made good use of his time. Sympathies to Sheila Johnson and their many friends.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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