on 5 July 2009
This book is a guide to some of the policies during and after the Cold War that generated, and continue to generate, blowback - a term the CIA invented to describe the likelihood that US covert operations in other people's countries would result in retaliations against Americans, civilian and military, at home and abroad.
During the first year after its publication, Blowback was largely ignored in the US. Few of the mainstream book reviews took any notice of it, and the house organ of the Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Affairs, wrote that "Blowback reads like a comic book." Not surprisingly perhaps, the response elsewhere in the world was somewhat different. The book was quickly translated into German, Italian, and Japanese, and the foreign news editor of Der Spiegel even flew to California to interview Johnson.
Domestic lack of interest changed dramatically after September 11, 2001. The book was reprinted eight times in less than two months and became an underground bestseller among Americans suddenly sensitized to, or at least desperate to know about, some of the realities of the world in which they lived.
Actions that generate blowback are normally kept totally secret from the American public and from most of their representatives in Congress. The American people may not know what is done in their name, but those on the receiving end surely do - including the people of Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Cuba (1959 to present), Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), Indonesia (1965), Vietnam (1961-73), Laos (1961-73), Cambodia (1961-73), Greece (1967-74), Chile (1973), Afghanistan (1979 to present), El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua (1980s), and Iraq (1991 to present), to name only the most obvious cases.
In a speech to Congress on September 20, 2001, shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, President George W.Bush posed this question: "Why do they hate us?" And he answers: "They hate our freedoms, our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote." He commented later that he was amazed "that there's such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hat us."
Coming from a President this statement serves well to illustrates both, the ignorance and arrogance prevalent in the highest decision making circles in the US. This statement goes beyond blunt deception, it is so far off target that it is difficult to find a common denominator on which to base a counter argument. People genuinely believing in this simplistic world view (President or not) unfortunately mostly do not find their way to books like "Blowback." It is easier to believe that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD, or that he would cooperate with Al Qaeda to execute 911, a view that apparently was shared by 75% of the US troops just before Iraq was invaded.
Like any other writer Johnson portrays his own view of his own field of expertise. Given his history, this makes him an excellent source of fairly balanced information. He presents his facts with much thought and restrains from abstractions which makes his writings easily digestible.
As ancient Rome fell due to military overstretch and political infighting, one might assume that our elites drew some lessons there, however, it seems that Churchill was write when he said: "history shows that men do not learn from history". If you want to broaden your view on past world affairs that affect our lives today or even have a glimpse of the future, "Blowback" might just do that.