Chalmers Johnson

By James Fallows

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/11/chalmers-johnson/66853/