JPRI Occasional Paper No. 42 (April 2013)
Remembering Chalmers Johnson
Association for Asian Studies Conference Panel
Lynn White’s Remarks
Bob Bedeski’s Remarks
Marie Anchordoguy’s Remarks
Mark Tilton’s Remarks
David Arase’s Remarks
Leslie Helm’s Remarks
Barry Keehn’s Remarks
Kozy Amemiya’s Remarks
Sheila K. Johnson’s Remarks
Comment from the Audience: Donald Emmerson
On March 23, 2013, the Association for Asian Studies held a panel discussion devoted to the contributions to the field made by the late Chalmers Johnson. The panel was chaired by Professor Marie Anchordoguy of the University of Washington in Seattle. She is also the author of Computers, Inc.: Japan’s Challenge to IBM (Harvard East Asian Monographs, 1989) and Reprogramming Japan: The High Tech Crisis under Communitarian Capitalism (Cornell University Press, 2005).
Thank you for coming today to this panel to honor Chalmers Johnson, who passed away in November 2010, and to discuss his core ideas and contributions, both intellectual and personal. Chal was a very special person for all of us on this roundtable and we will discuss the many ways he impacted our lives as well as the field of Asian Studies.
My name is Marie Anchordoguy. I am professor and chair of the Japan Studies Program at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington.
I want to thank NEAC, the Northeast Asia Council, for their support of this panel. I especially thank Professors Christine Yano and Patti Maclachlan. While we are sponsored by NEAC, the views of the roundtable participants do not represent NEAC or AAS.
All of us except two talking today are former students of Chal Johnson. We are presenting roughly in the order of when we were Chal’s students, so we have a few China scholars first, followed by three Japan scholars, and then three people with diverse backgrounds, one a journalist, one an organizational psychologist who consults for business, and one an independent scholar and translator. Sheila Johnson, Chal’s widow, will make a few final remarks. We will cover all of the major research interests of Chal: China, Japan, Okinawa, and the U.S. Empire.
Lynn White’s Remarks:
Marie Anchordoguy (panel chair): Lynn T. White III is an emeritus professor and senior research scholar at Princeton University. He has written dozens of books and articles over his career. I will only mention a few: Careers in Shanghai: The Social Guidance of Personal Energies in a Developing Chinese City, 1949-1966 (University of California Press, 1978); Policies of Chaos: the Organizational Causes of Violence in China’s Cultural Revolution (Princeton University Press, 1989); and most recently The Politics of Modern China (with Yongian Zheng and Yiyi Lu, Routledge, 2009).
Lynn: Chalmers Johnson would have enjoyed seeing this “Chal team” convene at the Association for Asian Studies annual meeting. He would surely have relished having a team of scholars that, like his intellectual legacy, survives him and links him to current work on Asian politics. We are his team and Johnson was competitive; in his later years he was an anti-war fighter. The very last time I saw him, he had a big badge pinned to his shirt, proclaiming “NO WAR!”
Johnson was born in the red state of Arizona, and he grew up in a town called Buckeye. Later, his family moved to Alameda, California—near a major naval base. (It was a town much like San Diego, where he moved during his last years of teaching, research, and advocacy). These are very American places. Johnson was consistently a patriot, although his loyalty to America took different forms both politically and intellectually during different parts of his life. Eventually it meant trying to save our democracy from our imperialism.
In the Korean War, Johnson was an officer aboard a tank-landing ship, carrying Chinese prisoners of war between ports in southern and northern Korea—but returning for repairs to Yokosuka, where he began to learn Japanese. It was the Navy that first carried him to Asia.
Then back at Berkeley, where he had earned a B.A. in economics (of all subjects), he switching to politics for graduate work. There he also met and married Sheila. For Chal’s dissertation research, they both headed off to Japan. His thesis on the way Japanese troops created Mao’s power, 1937-45, was based on Imperial Army documents that by chance had been saved from U.S. Air Force bombing by a Tokyo bureaucrat (who had taken these archives to his house, where they did not burn). This dissertation was written in the twilight of American McCarthyism, and it showed that the United States had not “lost” China; instead, a context of Japanese violence had caused peasant nationalists to discover their identity as Chinese. So this book spoke to American as well as to Chinese politics, and it was written in a period when the U.S. was still reeling from aftershocks of McCarthyism.
Berkeley professors, including many who had come to our shores as refugees from totalitarian regimes in Europe, had been asked to pledge “loyalty oaths”— and many refused, because they understood the long-term implications of such a demand. The House Un-American Activities Committee had subpoenaed over a hundred California schoolteachers, smearing them as potential traitors or communists. Chal and Sheila saw that HUAC itself was un-American, so they joined the protests in front of the San Francisco courthouse where HUAC met.
These demonstrations led much later into Berkeley’s “Free Speech Movement,” although Chal was not then in the crowd sitting in Sproul Plaza, around the car from which Mario Savio made speeches. Still later, such demos led to parades against our war in Vietnam.
Having read Chal’s book about the Japanese army creating north China communist-patriots, I carried a sign in one parade saying, “U.S. Air Force is Viet Cong’s best recruiter.” At that time, Chal’s patriotism was mostly—and not unreasonably, as far as this went—shaped by concern about the great power of the Soviet Union. Yet he surely knew that many of his graduate students opposed American intervention in Vietnam as counter-effective. Throughout this period, when some faculty members on different sides of the war issue were not speaking to each other, Chalmers Johnson remained an absolutely steadfast, constant friend and supporter of his students. Of course, he later reversed his view on our role in the Vietnam War, admitting that his previous position had been “disastrously wrong.” (Blowback, p. xiv.)
Like many incisive thinkers, Chal was never short of opinions. But unlike most, he had the good grace to say he had been wrong when facts showed that to be the case.
In academic Asian Studies, Chal was so prolific it is hard to know where to begin. He wrote at least ten major, single-author books, plus four or five edited ones, plus a great many articles— about a wide variety of topics, on several of which he turned the field around:
• the Chinese revolution, and then general theories of revolution (and rebellions, and movements of lesser caliber),
• the Japanese developmental state, and development bureaucracies in general,
• works about the role of ideology in communist and other countries,
• a detective mystery,
• a spy history,
• articles on smaller but important topics such as the biography of a Chinese rocket scientist,
• articles, and then impassioned diatribes, about effective methods in political science as applied to Asia, and about parochialism and language deficiencies in our profession,
• policy articles on business, and a book on trade management,
• and, (oh yes, I almost forgot!), the Blowback “trilogy” (which actually includes four books).
This is a fantastic record of energy. My question is: How did he do it?
An answer is: He looked for rich sources of new data, especially in Asian languages. Then he put in a tremendous lot of work, reading as much as he could find about his topic. Then he stopped to think, seeking for each project a way to induce from his new information some link to active politics in the country he was studying—with a constant eye, too, toward his material’s relevance to U.S. politics (anti-McCarthyite in the 1950s, about revolutions in the 1960s, anti-war later). His stunning amount of reading and note taking, his ability to integrate this, and his search for active political relevance in each area of study are keys to his huge legacy.
Now I must tell a story on myself. My first dissertation prospectus, offered to Chal, was a super-ambitious plan to try to get into the political psychologies of Chinese peasants. This was in the mid-1960s, proposed by an American (who could not then visit China’s mainland). It may have been somewhat interesting from a theoretical viewpoint, but it was totally unworkable as a research project.
Chal said: “Go study Shanghai!” I asked, “What about Shanghai?” He pointed out that there was a good deal of published material on Shanghai, he was aware of local Shanghai newspapers in Hong Kong collections, and he had been reading a series of little books entitled Shanghai de gushi (The Story of Shanghai). He said, in effect, “Go see what you come up with. Figure out a thesis. I’ll give you a Ph.D.” I did, and he did. (See Careers in Shanghai: The Social Guidance of Personal Energies in a Developing Chinese City, 1949-1966, University of California Press.)
Theory is addictive. It is easy for intellectuals to overdose on one or another type. Because of his empiricism, was Chal uninterested in theory? No! But he was interested in circumspect theory that, together with hard work, would lead to discovering new links between factors that are relevant to live politics. He used theory not to limit what he sought but to present what he found. He wanted to get out of research more than just the premises put into it, to aim for new understandings about politics. These new insights need not be true forever and everywhere, but they must explain what happened in real situations.
What kind of theory, then, would be good for this? It must be a type that avoids presuming, before research, that just action by individuals (or just by medium or large agents) is solely crucial for all causation in politics. And it must not presume, prior to research, that just data about external situations or just data about intended norms and habits are crucial. This way of framing inquiry (rather than determining a priori the results of research) can be called neo-functionalist. It is “neo” because it is flexible. Johnson sometimes said he was a functionalist, after having become interested in this approach during a seminar he took with international relations professor Ernst B. Haas. But Johnson’s functionalism, which is explicit in all of his books of the 1960s, never presumed as Talcott Parsons did that human intentions were “controlling” factors whereas external situations were merely “conditioning.” (The book Peasant Nationalism, for example, shows just the opposite: the external context of Japanese violence against peasants is what turned them into active Chinese.) Nor did he presume, as older functionalists usually did, that “systems” always adapt and survive. As Johnson’s books Change in Communist Systems and Revolutionary Change make clear, polities are often transformed and sometimes collapse.
As a patriot, Johnson worried about a potential change and weakening of the American republic—a rise of presidential emperors such as G. W. Bush, and a repeat of the fate of republican Rome—if we waste resources on counter-effective wars and too many foreign bases.
Political puzzles and searches for new answers always came first for Chal: Why did the Communists win in China? Not McCarthy’s or Chiang Kai-shek’s answer that Soviet Russians did it, but a new answer that blowback from local Japanese violence did it. Why was Japan so successful economically, for a while at least? Not the liberal economists’ answer that markets did it, but evidence that state guidance of international trade did it. Why is America so disliked in so many parts of the world? Not the standard answer that others always dislike a superpower, but an insight that U.S. power is actually not so super and we use assets to produce blowback against us rather than to maintain our security.
Politics, puzzles, and drama! Chal titled books boldly: An Instance of Treason, Conspiracy at Matsukawa. These are serious studies, but few other social scientists have been so open about the pathos in their subjects. He liked operas, whose plots are normally melodramas. In his later years, he appreciated string quartets because they can be beautiful. But nobody jumps off parapets in string quartets, as Tosca does in her opera—and Chal’s first love in music was opera. Treating politics as mystery dramas is not just aesthetic fun; this maneuver also helps uncover facts about policies, whose makers normally hide some of the evidence they know.
So Chal’s method (to the extent that method is important) was mainly to work hard on empirical reading, always seeking ways to organize new data in relation to current politics. This is a very American method, somewhat like the pragmatic empiricism of John Dewey or William James. There is temptation to put an adjective before it: decisive empiricism, focused empiricism, centered, opinionated-directed, dedicated, inductive, circumspect, often partisan, always seriously political empiricism. All these adjectives apply. But the main need that Johnson faced was to understand Asian politics in themselves and in relation to the United States; and for this, it is necessary to work in Asian languages and traditions. Most Americanists in political science still do not know that. Asia will eventually teach them.
Bob Bedeski’s Remarks:
Marie Anchordoguy (panel chair): Robert Bedeski received a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1969. He is a professor emeritus at University of Victoria, Canada. His many books include: The Fragile Entente: The 1978 Japan-China Peace Treaty in a Global Context (Westview Press, 1983); The Transformation of South Korea: Reform and Reconstitution in the Sixth Republic under Roh Tae Woo, 1987-1992 (Routledge, 1994); Human Security and the Chinese State: Historical Transformations and the Modern Quest for Sovereignty (Routledge, 2007); and most recently, with N. Swanstrøm, eds., Eurasia’s Ascent in Energy and Geopolitics: Rivalry or Partnership for China, Russia, and Central Asia? (Routledge, 2012).
Bob: The last film of Akira Kurosawa has a special poignancy for today’s celebration of Johnson-sensei. That film was Madadayo, meaning “we are still here,” and concerns the later life of Professor Uchida Hyakken and the annual party of Mada-Kai (“are you still here?”) given by students for their teacher. For us too, “Madadayo!”—and, in spirit, Chal is still among us.
I met Chal 50 years ago, when I enrolled in his East Asian politics course and summer session course on revolution. I remained for a doctorate in political science, where he guided me through the university’s academic jungle and into a life of teaching and research on Asia. As one of his early graduate students, I eagerly sought and received his advice, and discovered that the life of a university professor could be far more fulfilling than that of a bureaucrat or secret agent, prospective careers which had also tempted me during my naïve pre-Berkeley days.
In the classroom Chal was a brilliant lecturer, combining insights from history, politics, and social science theory into a comprehensive synthesis of modern Asian affairs. From that inspiration, I sought to learn all I could about the region and plunged into a number of courses dealing with the sociology, history, language, literature, art history, and economics as well as politics. With Chal’s assistance and encouragement, I found employment as a research assistant and then several fellowships to keep hungry ghosts at bay.
Looking back, one of the more difficult aspects of my academic career was how to reconcile teaching and research—something Chal seemed to do effortlessly. For me, scholarship has always been intimidating and humbling—everything one investigates only produces tentative truths, and upon further examination those truths usually demand modification or abandonment. What I thought I knew 20 years ago seems incomplete and even obsolete from my present standpoint, and this realization requires that I treat my present knowledge with caution. Teaching, on the other hand, requires certainty. An instructor’s weak commitment to his material undermines his credibility in the eyes of his students. Chal expressed confidence in the facts and ideas he expressed but was somehow able to modify and criticize them when they fell short. I found this virtue of self-correction to be critical in reconciling teaching and scholarship, and that it is cultivated by navigating between humility and confidence.
Chal had a great effect on his students’ intellectual development. I don’t know whether he was conscious of his magnetic influence, and only later did I understand how much he had mentored this new Californian. Mentoring has become fashionable, and is now formalized in a wide range of business, government and academic settings, but as a graduate student, I was mostly aware of Chal’s formal supervisory role. I now realize his influence was far greater than merely steering me through and over the hurdles of the Ph.D. degree. A few less-than-profound lessons from Chal and Sheila include the following:
• Cats can be domestic despots, and it is best to give them wide berth;
• Raccoons are nature’s messengers, telling us to adapt to whatever environment we find ourselves in [see Sheila K. Johnson, “Life with Suburban Raccoons,” Pacific Discovery, Vol. XXVII, No. 2 (March-April, 1974)];
• Opera is the highest form of drama, and full of politics;
• Authoritarian regimes sometimes produce the best coloraturas; and
• Berkeley was the center of the universe in the sixties.
Chal’s course on theories of revolution was most strategic for me in opening a new world-view. But it was de Tocqueville’s study The Old Regime and the French Revolution that shifted my focus from overt revolutions to developments preceding revolutionary events. With Chal’s encouragement, I wrote my dissertation on Guomindang China and its contribution to the formation of the modern Chinese state. This led me to a view that the Communist Revolution was not inevitable and that without the Japanese invasion and occupation, the Nationalist state might have survived and prospered. From this acorn of thought, I have pursued the study of state formation in historical and political contexts, looking especially at China, Japan, Korea and most recently, Mongolia.
While social science endeavors to achieve scientific status through objectivity and quantification, events and historical institutions can never be excluded. The state beckons and exerts a strong gravitational pull on those who achieve a certain level of expertise in its workings. The sixties in Berkeley was a time of contradictions—public policy, public administration, rational choice and other tools of analysis tempered by democratic principles promised fairness and justice, if not achievement of the American Dream. At the same time, escalation of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement awakened and mobilized thousands of students to demonstrate against what was perceived as the ugly underbelly of America and its betrayal of constitutional principles. A third response was the counter-culture—Haight-Ashbury, the Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, MaryJane, and LSD conspired to peel off a young cohort from political activism.
Chal was always at the forefront of these debates, and his ideas on revolution were particularly relevant as the country seemed to be heading for some kind of transformation. In Peasant Nationalism, foreign invasion has a catalytic effect on mobilizing previously apolitical individuals into military and paramilitary organizations dedicated to fighting and defeating the invaders, with illustrations from wartime China and Yugoslavia. In the 1960s, guerrilla movements in much of the developing world seemed to validate the thesis, and many combined nationalist ideology with communist leadership, as did Mao and Tito in wartime. Given the context of the Cold War, Washington expected these movements to draw support from China or the Soviet Union and that, once successful, they would publicly align with either Moscow or Beijing. Chal expected that nationalism of these movements, as with the Chinese and Yugoslav partisans, would be at least as strong as their commitment to Communism. The deviations of Tito and Mao from the Stalinist line were apparent validations of this thesis.
I was off to Columbus and then Canada when Chal re-immersed himself in Japanese studies and wrote brilliant studies and critiques of that economic miracle. I became aware of what may be called his third intellectual period when, in 2000, I joined him on a panel here in San Diego. With the publication of Blowback and subsequent books, he took on the evolution of his own country as a new empire, and the injustices this hegemony imposed on other societies. His facts were devastating, and reminded one of how the ambitious Japanese empire had inflicted sorrow and suffering on China and Korea. This is not to say that the U.S. had become a copy of the Japanese empire, but to warn that excesses and hubris would lead to decline and even disaster. At the same time, the benefits of American hegemony, if we can use this term, have not been negligible. Our contributions to victory in World War II, the Marshall Plan, the formation of the UN, the defense of South Korea in 1950, the reinvention of Japanese democracy after the war, and the defense of Taiwan all created a record of standing up for democracy and a momentum that continued into interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, where tenuous lines of communication and logistics, and sullen Islamic cultures militate against victory. Yet, if I were Taiwanese, or Japanese, or South Korean, I would worry whether America’s pullback from the Middle East is the first stage of a larger withdrawal from Asia, and if so, how will my government cope with a more unrestrained China and a belligerent North Korea.
Most of my teaching career was spent in Canada, and half of that in the national capital in Ottawa, which gave me a unique perspective from the standpoint of a non-military and quasi-socialist nation, often anxious to prove its distinctiveness from the U.S. While this required some adjustments in teaching and writing, the lessons from Berkeley traveled well. In short, Chal’s heritage lives on in his writings, his students, the students of his students, and all those who knew him. To quote Professor Uchida in Kurosawa’s last film, Mada dayo!, we and Chal’s legacy are still here.
Marie Anchordoguy’s Remarks:
I would like to say a few words about Chal’s concept of the capitalist developmental state and about him as a role model.
Others will also discuss the developmental state. I just want to emphasize that by looking at Japan empirically rather than shoving American political science and economic paradigms onto it, Chal was able to understand that Japan had a completely different view of the world. He understood that late developers—their goals and their institutional arrangements—are different. They are not better or worse than the United States—they are just different. Indeed, why would a country that was way behind embrace free markets? Why would they support free trade when it would inevitably crush their nascent firms and industries?
Thus one of his major contributions was to show that our market-based capitalist system and neoclassical economic theory are not universally applicable. These theories are made by strong and rich countries because they will “win” in so-called “free and fair” competition. The U.S., Chal made clear, is the odd one. Japan is much more similar to other late developers such as Germany and France. In this sense, Chal helped me see Japan and the world through a non-American lens. To understand their developmental system, he not only left us with the best study of the Japanese bureaucracy, MITI and the Japanese Miracle. He also studied many other critical institutional arrangements related to it. He was the first western scholar to study the public policy companies, the practice of Amakudari, and the role of the Fiscal Investment and Loan Program or what we call the FILP budget. These are key issues in Japan today. Thus, in many ways, he set the research agenda for scholars who have followed in his footsteps. Indeed, in just the last two years two excellent books following on Chal’s earlier studies have been published about the postal system and the FILP budget: Patti Maclachlan’s The People’s Post Office and Gene Park’s Spending without Taxation.
None of us, of course, foresaw how difficult it would be for Japan to dismantle its developmental state. South Korea and Taiwan were much quicker to do this, largely because the international system pressured them to change, whereas Japan has changed much more slowly and incrementally and remains locked into many of these institutional arrangements.
We also did not see how corrupt the system was. Or did the bureaucracy become more corrupt during and after the bubble? Chal wrote a lot about the structural corruption of Tanaka Kakuei and other politicians. But the serious personal corruption of the bureaucracy that was exposed starting in the 1990s, especially of the ministries of construction, transportation, foreign affairs, and finance, was not something he or we had predicted.
Bob Bedeski spoke about how Chal was a great mentor. Part of this is being a great role model. Chal was willing to take provocative positions—whether it was about how different Japan is from the U.S. or how the U.S. empire is overstretched and causing great harm. Though heavily criticized in the 1980s and early 1990s during major U.S.-Japan trade disputes, Chal stuck to his guns.
Chal was also an important role model in terms of calling a spade and spade. The academic world is so political that few professors are willing to make provocative arguments. Many are simply too busy patting each another on the back. Most are not willing to risk their carefully crafted reputation to call out when they see a critical problem emerging. Chal was very agitated when rational choice theory started to sweep through the field of political science in the early 1990s. He foresaw how this would hurt the field of political science and all of area studies and he warned us. And, of course, we see that serious damage today.
Chal’s passion for learning and teaching was also contagious. He was a wonderful role model in showing how exciting the life of the mind can be. We miss Chal for many reasons. But there is comfort in knowing that his intellectual contributions live on because they are the foundation of almost every book on Japan’s political economy that comes out today. I can only hope that we will have more scholars like him, people with great integrity who are willing to take the time to study countries empirically and who are willing to take the professional risks involved in boldly countering conventional views, pointing out core weaknesses in our theories, and discussing the most pressing issues of our time.
Mark Tilton’s Remarks:
Marie Anchordoguy (panel chair): Our fourth speaker is Mark Tilton. Mark is an associate professor of political science at Purdue University. He has published many articles and books. These include: Restrained Trade: Cartels in Japan’s Basic Materials Industries (Cornell University Press, 1996); and Is Japan really Changing Its Ways? Regulatory Reform and the Japanese Economy (co-edited with Lonny Carlile, Brookings, 1998).
Mark: Chal was bold and visionary in choosing big, timely topics to work on. He explained the success of China’s communist revolution when America was anxious over the cold war. He moved on to study Japan and produced his blockbuster MITI and the Japanese Miracle just as Japan caught up with Western Europe economically and really broke into the big leagues. MITI was an incredibly useful book. It gave people outside Japan a way to understand what was going on in Japan, and helped the U.S. and other countries criticize Japanese protectionism. Ultimately this was very helpful in prodding Japan to dismantle some of its protectionist apparatus when it no longer served the Japanese national interest.
Along with Donald Keene and Carol Gluck, Chal also deserved to be awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, although I’m sure it would have ruffled some feathers to award him one. Maybe Sheila can conjecture on how Chal would have responded if he’d been offered one. (Note by Sheila: He would have refused it and perhaps the Japanese suspected that.)
I took Chal’s graduate class on Japan with Marie Anchordoguy and Leslie Helm at Berkeley in the spring of 1979 when I was still a senior. When I then started graduate school at Berkeley, I began by studying Latin American politics before changing my mind. When I told Chal I’d decided to do my dissertation on Japan after all, I remember him saying to me with satisfaction, “Ah, you’ve come back to your first love, Japan.” I remember being taken aback when he said that. “Japan, my first ‘love?’” I think he said it because Japan was his first love. He had great affection for Japan, and for many friends in Japan.
Field of study
Chal’s major works were actually on a tightly focused field of study: the modern nation state, imperialism, and the blowback from imperialism. In Peasant Nationalism he argued, “It’s not communist ideology that caused the revolution, it is the nationalism triggered by Japanese imperialism.” In MITI he argued, “It is not culture that explains Japan’s success. It is the mobilization of a remarkable nation state.” In the Blowback trilogy he explained that American military activities constituted covert imperialism and that imperialism will inevitably undermine the democratic nation-state.
Chal was no slave to theory or methodological debates. He was obviously informed by others’ theories, methods and work, but he focused on addressing the important world events of the day. I think there were three steps to his method of scholarship:
Step 1. Meticulous archival research.
A couple of years before he died I asked Chal to show me how he organized his notes. He used cut-down wine boxes, which were cheaper than file boxes. For each one of his chapters he told me he would take notes for about a month on sheets of legal paper.
Step 2. Seclusion, reflection, writing.
It was also imagination and inspiration. He said that you have to stop taking notes. You need to stop and reflect. I suspect that this method of research and writing partly explains how he came up with such innovative and powerful arguments. Sheila, his muse and his editor, of course played a key role.
Step 3. Honing the argument.
Chal was also a real craftsman at honing his message and making it powerful and effective. It matters how you say it. What a writer he was. What a speaker! He was a model for us all at “finding your own voice” and then communicating your ideas powerfully.
Chal and the profession
I think it is precisely because Chal was steeped in the study of bureaucracy that he was so saddened and angered by the increasing bureaucratization of political science as a profession and its increasing obsession with methods and narrow professional debates. Max Weber famously warned that the bureaucracy’s tendency to devote itself excessively to rules and procedures and to neglect the broader public interest threatened to thrust society into “a polar night of icy darkness.” I think Chal would have agreed that was a fair characterization of current American political science.
Like Weber, Chal himself clearly separated the roles of scholars and bureaucrats. Chal saw his work as serving society by addressing problems of genuine and significant public concern. He fulfilled that mission to a tee, and many of us look to him as a model of how to be a scholar.
David Arase’s Remarks:
Marie Anchordoguy (panel chair): David Arase is a Professor of Politics at Pomona College, Claremont, California, and also Resident Professor of International Politics at the Johns Hopkins-Nanjing University Center at Nanjing University. David wrote Buying Power: The Political Economy of Japan’s Foreign Aid (Lynne Rienner, 1995) and most recently The U.S.-Japan Alliance: Balancing Soft and Hard Power in East Asia (Routledge, 2009). He also edited the Festschrift volume in honor of Chalmers Johnson, The Challenge of Change (Institute of East Asian Studies, UC Berkeley 2002).
David: I first met Chal in 1982 when I was on my way to spend a year in Taiwan after having graduated with an M.A. from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC. I stopped in California in early September to check out UC Berkeley and Stanford University because I thought I might want to do a Ph.D. in East Asian studies. My visit to see two professors at Stanford was not all that encouraging, but I was intrigued by my visit to Berkeley. I telephoned Chal out of the blue and he very kindly gave me an appointment. I remember when I showed up late one afternoon how students were sitting in the hallway of Barrows Hall outside his door waiting to see him during his office hours. I noted how incongruous were the bare utilitarian surroundings of Barrows Hall compared with Chal’s academic stature, especially after having seen the splendors of the Stanford campus that surrounded its faculty. Chal was already known everywhere for having done path-breaking work on China, and I had just become aware of his new book, MITI and the Japanese Miracle, through book reviews. With this book he would revolutionize Japanese political studies. So here was this incredible scholar at the end of a long day cheerfully holding routine office hours in a drab office behind a gray steel desk making extra time to see someone he didn’t even know. He made a tremendous impression on me and I decided to apply to the UC Berkeley Ph.D. program in political science to study with him.
I know my time to speak is short so let me simply mention five areas in which Chal’s work in the time that I personally knew him changed the discourse in Asian studies and in political studies more broadly.
First, Chal created the image of a strategic state rather than a liberal state in postwar Japan. The Japanese state-as-strategic-actor that Chal described in minute detail is undeniably an independent source of political will, and he argued persuasively that the Ministry of International Trade and Industry was the weightiest actor in defining the national policy agenda in industrial development. This clashes with the image of the liberal state that we associate with any country that is called democratic. We like to think of Japan as a liberal democracy, and a liberal democratic state is supposed to be a passive register of competing political parties and organized interests in civil society. In other words, it is unable to implement an independent strategic agenda for decades at a time. The unsettling contradiction that Chal forced us to confront is that Japan has a strategic state instead of a classic liberal state.
Second, Chal changed the discourse on Japanese and East Asian economic development by introducing the idea of the Japanese capitalist developmental state. He later expanded his analysis to include Taiwan and Korea in the East Asian capitalist developmental state. In a direct challenge to liberal economic doctrine that said state intervention must always lead to economic failure, Chal argued that Japan had superior economic growth and development precisely because of active state intervention in the free market. Japan used industrial policy to manage competition and speed up capital accumulation in industrial sectors judged to be of strategic importance to Japan’s economic future. Thus, the state actively intervened to achieve market outcomes related to strategic goals identified by the state, and the strategy produced Japan’s economic miracle in the period from the mid-1950s to the first oil shock in 1973.
Third, Chal reminded us that in the study of politics and political economy, a nation’s history, culture, and institutions are important in their own right. They cannot be explained by, or reduced to, the pursuit of material gain by culturally blank and selfishly calculating individuals. He pointed out how Japanese bureaucratic organization, policy, and power continued from the prewar period through the U.S. Occupation right up to the present. This backbone of institutional and cultural continuity differentiates Japan from advanced western societies. This argument upset many Americans who believe that the U.S. Occupation totally remade Japan into our own image.
Fourth, Chal was among the first to note how passé geopolitics was becoming in the 1980s, and how important was the rise of geo-economics in determining the fate of nations. He summed it up this way in the early 1980s: “The Cold War is over—and Japan won.” The point is worth recalling today as we watch the European Union project crumble, and as American society deteriorates under the burdens of global empire. Chal spent the last phase of his career passionately arguing in his trilogy—Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire, and Nemesis—that this imperial burden is making an American renaissance after “winning” the cold war difficult, if not impossible. Today, as we withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan and turn our strategic attention to East Asia, were he still alive Chal might well have said, “The war against Al Qaeda after 9/11 is over—and China won.”
Finally, there is the matter of the U.S. response to China’s rise. By the mid-1990s Chal clearly foresaw both China’s rise to strategic and economic parity with the U.S. in the 21st century and the implications for U.S. geopolitical strategy. China’s rise meant that an effort to indefinitely maintain the status quo in the Taiwan Strait and U.S. strategic dominance in East Asia would be quixotic, not just because of a changing material balance of power vis-à-vis China, but also because Chinese nationalism in the 21st century would seek to drive back the last vestiges of Western and Japanese imperialism that had overwhelmed China and the rest of East Asia in the 19th-20th centuries. What particularly concerned Chal in the so-called Nye Report that laid out the U.S. strategy of “con-gagement” during the Clinton Administration was the premise that the United States could enlist Japan in the containment of China. This use of our Japanese ally would, given Chinese historical grievances and nationalist sensibilities (of which too many American academics and policy makers were oblivious), inevitably lead to a Sino-Japanese conflict that would then drag the U.S. into a devastating war with a nuclear-armed China. This is the scenario that is coming into focus today. The current dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islets is all about this larger and longer-term strategic dynamic that Chal clearly foresaw in 1995.
Chal’s ideas and vision, and the intellectual excitement that they generated, are what drew me into academics. After visiting him that early September afternoon in 1982, I decided that following him on his intellectual adventure would be more fun than anything else I had in mind. Looking back 31 years later, I have to thank him for giving me a career over which I have no regrets. I must also say that I miss him dearly. So should others. More than ever, we need his kind of fearless and critical thinking to illuminate new and better ways of managing our world.
Leslie Helm’s Remarks:
Marie Anchordoguy (panel chair): Leslie Helm is the editor of Seattle Business Magazine. He was a foreign correspondent in Tokyo for Business Week from 1982 to 1986 and for the Los Angeles Times from 1990 to 1993, and also worked for these publications in Boston and Seattle. He has just published a memoir called Yokohama Yankee: My Family’s Five Generations as Outsiders in Japan.
Leslie: Journalists always have important sources they rely on to tip them about important news or trends. But seldom are those sources academics. But Professor Chalmers Johnson was an exception. There were many reporters among the press corps in Tokyo who depended on him not only for analysis but also to get insight into what important developments they should be following. I was with the Los Angeles Times in Tokyo in 1991 when Chal came to town. He had been my thesis adviser at Cal a decade before, and we met for coffee as we often did when he came to town. During our talk, he mentioned how he had seen a marked shift in sentiment among Japanese intellectuals revealed by a growing use in journals like Chuo Koron and Bungei Shunju in the use of the term kenbei, which means contempt for United States. I found it interesting, but figured it was just a variation of the statements by notable Japanese politicians such as Tokyo Governor Ishihara who had come out a couple years before with his book The Japan That Can Say No.
A month or so later, Bungei Shunju had an entire issue devoted to the subject. Here was the CEO of Fujitsu talking about how crappy American semiconductors were. There was some economist saying America should stick to the only thing it was good at: agriculture.
The story I wrote, “In Japan: Scorn for America,” was widely read. I was told President Clinton read it in preparation for his meeting with Miyazawa. In retrospect, that story came out just as Japan’s bubble was bursting. And for me, it was a turning point that I write about in my book Yokohama Yankee. I received a lot of hate mail from Americans that made me feel pretty uncomfortable.
But I tell the story to underscore what Mark Tilton pointed out earlier: Johnson had this amazing ability to keep his finger on the pulse of Japan. He wasn’t like many prominent academicians who put up their fingers trying to measure which way the wind was blowing—hoping the catch the latest fad. He was more likely to be the source of that gust of wind.
In 1982, when I started working for Business Week, the narrative about Japan was about how its success resulted from some mystical combination of its homogeneity, its cultural propensity to save and quirky management practices like lifetime employment. I confess to doing my share of those stories like the one about how men developed “vacation sickness” when the holidays came along because they were anxious about having to spend time with their families, or the CEO who would determine how promising a potential employee was by watching how quickly he finished a bowl of noodles.
Those kinds of stories were amusing, but as Chal used to say, analytically they could be dead ends. Chal’s analysis of the developmental state, for example, pushed me to look for the underlying structures that explained why it was so hard for Americans to export to Japan. And the analysis did not result in a Pollyanna view of state policy as some seem to suggest. I wrote about how Japan required the use of a certain MMR vaccine that caused encephalitis in many children. Japan did this to promote its own pharmaceuticals industry even though this vaccine was hundreds of times more likely to cause disease than a similar vaccination available in the United States. In 1992 I wrote about Japan’s risky dependence on nuclear power. How it bribed whole regions and then crammed nuclear power plants into areas that were earthquake prone.
Where did Chal go wrong? I think he ascribed more intelligence to MITI than actually existed. I suspect MITI may have had more power in the 1960s and 70s, but by the time I was reporting, MITI’s role was far more of a coordinating function, developing a consensus among industry, than a strategic one. And as others have pointed out, a system designed for catch-up doesn’t work that well once you’ve caught up. The minute MITI started trying to direct Japanese industry in new areas they were lost.
Even so, the developmental model is still hugely relevant today. Korea certainly followed that path. And when I met with top economic ministers from Brazil recently, they told me they have closely studied the Japanese model and had studied Chalmers Johnson’s work.
As others pointed out earlier, Chal created a paradigm shift in studies on China by pointing out that the Chinese revolution was nationalist rather than Marxist. With respect to Japan, Chal laid the foundation for a whole new generation of analysis about Japan that focused on the institutional structures that were at the foundation of a new approach to economic development. Much of the research about Japan since has built on Chal’s theoretical work.
China is today America’s greatest challenge. Yet many scholars of China seem reluctant to take on the Chinese state the way Chal took on Japan. We need someone with the intellectual acuity to create a new framework for understanding the challenge from China, and the guts to put it on our nation’s political agenda.
Barry Keehn’s Remarks:
Marie Anchordoguy (panel chair): Barry Keehn received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in 1993. He taught political science at Cambridge University before returning to the U.S. and becoming President of the Japan America Society of Los Angeles. He has been on the board of directors of several organizations, including JETRO’s L.A. Executive Committee and the Center for Asian Business at Loyola Marymount University. His writings on Japan have appeared in various journals such as Harvard Business Review, Foreign Affairs, The National Interest, and the Japan Policy Research Institute. He is today an organizational and licensed clinical psychologist and management consultant.
Barry: When a political scientist also becomes a psychologist, as in my case, it is no longer possible to think of a person’s ideas as separate from who he or she is. In this spirit I will take a slightly different tack from my colleagues and talk about aspects of Chal that contributed to his scholarship and writing. I don’t know if these aspects were traits or states, or some form of other phenomena embedded in his person. I choose to simply refer to them as facets of Chal, visible when viewed from a particular angle. I offer five aspects today for the uncomplicated reason that these are the ones that come to mind at this moment. If you were to ask me tomorrow, I would likely offer a different set of five. Thus I confess at the outset that while these five aspects are not entirely random, neither are they in any way inclusive.
Chal had an indefatigable intellectual energy that spurred him to create long after his body failed him. He was relentless in gathering facts until he mastered a subject, and then took pleasure in—or perhaps was driven to—linking those facts to ideas, finally engaging in the cognitively complex work of getting it all down in a cohesive form for others. It didn’t matter if his conclusions made him or anyone else uncomfortable. If a strong case for the inaccuracy of his previous positions emerged, he changed his stance. He did this even if it left him open to ridicule by those who preferred consistency to accuracy. He did not keep bending and ignoring new facts to suit old ideas out of some misplaced sense of legacy. This leads me to a second aspect, intellectual courage.
2. Intellectual Courage
It is the most underrated of qualities in a scholar, but without a doubt the most important. The president of a major university once explained that only 3 percent of the faculty at his institution likely deserved tenure, while the other 97 percent received it to protect that 3 percent. Chal was part of that 3 percent. His ideas were often not in the majority, but have generally proven the more robust for it.
The truth is, too much work in our field falls into the category of well-burnished mediocrity— the capacity to ennoble pedestrian ideas with fine sounding vocabulary, dressed in a pseudo-scientific structure, all to impart a false sense of intellectual gravitas. Many have made a successful career of it, solemnly pronouncing that China is a ‘big country’, or that things aren’t quite the way they seem in the press, but perhaps mostly are. It is a form of haute journalism. On occasion Chal did this too, in his op-ed pieces. But mostly, he did a good deal more. This brings me to a third aspect, his constant search for compelling dialogue.
3. The Search for Dialogue
If he thought something was nonsense, he’d let you know it and casually marshal the facts to make his point. If your brand of nonsense fit a relatively uninformative and repetitive pattern, he’d let you know that too, and in no uncertain terms. But in many conversations with him over the years, I noticed what he really sought was not to be the smartest person in the room, but to find the most satisfying conversation in the room. If he knew you were exploring new ideas, or experimenting with the unconventional, so much the better. If you were able to find new patterns and explain them, better still.
4. Culture and Art
One year, in Chal’s undergraduate East Asian survey course where I was a teaching assistant, he compared the broad sweeps of Chinese history to Wagner’s ring cycle. I don’t remember the details of this now, but I do remember the way all the pens in the room simultaneously lifted from their notepads as the students wondered what the hell Chal was talking about. Who the heck was this Wagner guy was anyway? Opera librettos were not required reading, and weren’t even on the optional reading list. In the hallways after class, students huddled into small groups and wondered if Wagner would be on the final exam.
It was emblematic of Chal. His absorption in music, opera, theatre, art and literature was shared utterly and completely with Dr. Sheila K. Johnson, and in my view it fundamentally influenced Chal’s scholarship and writings over the years. The arts not only sensitized him to the importance of a well-structured presentation of complex material, and the need to do so with subtlety and depth, it also taught him the importance of the powerful and well crafted take- home message.
The fifth aspect I want to suggest is that of loyalty. It can be such an unreasonable concept—the idea that you remain committed to something or someone long past the point where it makes emotional, economic or career sense to do so. Chal was a tenacious mentor who never once said no when asked for help. No matter how bad a mistake a student of Chal’s made (though there were limits, when it came to truly egregious behavior), even when it was perfectly clear that he or she was the victim of their own bad judgment, Chal never once pointed that out. It was always the other guys who had made the mistake. It was marvelously supportive, made all the more so when the recipient of the loyalty knew it was completely unreasonable when scrutinized objectively.
It’s curious, but now that I have laid all this out, I realize one could identify these qualities with that of the cultured samurai. Chal combined sensitivity with persistence. He had high expectations yet was utterly reliable toward those who relied on him. And he had a fundamental appreciation of how art and culture is integral to an intellectual life well lived.
There is a story of Ludwig Wittgenstein, told by Richard Dawkins, that reminds me of Chal. Wittgenstein is reputed to have once asked a friend, “Why did people always say it was natural for man to assume that the sun went around the Earth, rather than the Earth going around the sun?” His friend replied, “Well obviously because it looked as through the sun was going around the Earth.” Wittgenstein replied, “Well, what would it have looked like if it had looked like the Earth was rotating around the sun?” This was Chal, always asking that one further question of himself and others, not accepting the obvious and the obviously wrong, always seeking to push his public and private dialogues to the next level.
Kozy Amemiya’s Remarks:
Marie Anchordoguy (panel chair): Our eighth speaker is Kozy Amemiya, who is an independent scholar of Okinawan and Japanese immigrant communities in Bolivia. She met Chal while working on her Ph.D. in sociology at UC San Diego, and her interest in Okinawa was inspired by him. She has been involved in numerous research projects, including the “International Nikkei Research Project” sponsored by the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. She has also written extensively on Okinawan issues, including a chapter in Johnson’s edited volume, Okinawa: Cold War Island. And she has been a key translator of Chal’s works into Japanese.
Kozy: Unlike the rest of the panel, I met Chal in San Diego, not in Berkeley. Also I was not formally his student. My first indirect encounter with Chal actually came through a Japanese translation of his first book, Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power. In early January of 1968 I was an undergraduate at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. Chal’s book was published in Japan in late 1967, and it sparked sensational responses among Japanese scholars of China. I was taking a seminar on Chinese economic history, and my young professor was utterly taken aback and terribly excited when he talked to us students about this young rising star among American China scholars. For China scholars in Japan, the use of Japanese army archives to analyze the Chinese revolution was in itself quite revolutionary. It left a strong impression on me and I formed a study group with several friends. Together we read the book closely and discussed it, page-by-page, line-by-line. I still have my copy of the Japanese translation with all my underlining and comments.
I did not read Chal’s second book, An Instance of Treason until after he had moved to UC San Diego in 1988. I was then a graduate student in sociology at UCSD. By that time I’d heard about Chal’s being a “Cold War warrior” and a supporter of the Vietnam War. So when I read An Instance of Treason I was very puzzled about Chal’s reputation as a Cold War warrior. You can sense in that book Chal’s passionate admiration for Ozaki, which Sheila has called his “life-long intellectual love affair.” Ozaki betrayed his government in order to try to stop the Japanese military from assaulting China. How could the man who wrote An Instance of Treason as well as Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power have supported the Vietnam War and been against antiwar students? It seemed there were conflicting elements within Chal, and for a long time I was very puzzled by them.
Then, in early 1996, Chal went to Okinawa at the invitation of then-governor Ota, and it was evident in the talk he gave afterward that the trip was an eye-opening experience for him. He began to see the security issues in East Asia and the role of the United States with fresh eyes. All of a sudden, things started to click inside him not just intellectually but personally as well, which eventually led to his writing Blowback. I was so taken aback and amazed at his confession in the prologue, in which he said the antiwar students “grasped something essential about the nature of America’s imperial role in the world that I had failed to perceive.” My jaw dropped. He went to say, “In retrospect, I wish I had stood with the antiwar protest movement.” Chal was famous for never mincing his words. But he held that attitude towards himself, too. That was one of his most amazing aspects I think.
I also learned one more thing from him—though this may sound quite mundane—that it was okay to interrupt him as long as you spoke your mind. He would talk as fast as his brain worked, and was too impatient to wait for your slow response. He’d ask a question but then would keep on talking. But I learned that you could interrupt him. He didn’t mind it at all as long as you had something to say, even if you totally disagreed with him. Chal loved a good intellectual argument.
I had the honor of translating Chal’s last book, Dismantling the Empire, into Japanese. After he passed away, Sheila wrote a piece called “Chal: An Intellectual Memoir,” which was posted on the JPRI website. I insisted that the memoir be included in the Japanese version of Dismantling the Empire because it clearly shows the evolution of Chal’s ideas. There was still an image of Chal as a “Japan basher” stuck among a certain segment of the Japanese, and I believed Sheila’s memoir would dismantle that image. Reading the reviews and reactions to the book posted online in Japan, I think Sheila’s memoir was a huge success. I cannot see Chal’s work and life without Sheila, nor can I see Sheila’s work and life without Chal.
Chal was a man of integrity and honesty as well as enormous generosity. I know his students benefited from that, and so did I. He lives on within all of us.
Sheila K. Johnson’s Remarks:
They say wives always get the last word, and I’m afraid this is doubly true of widows. I’ve listened with great interest to all of the previous comments, particularly about Chal’s role as a teacher. I think he was a great teacher and all of you who were his students are evidence of that in your own careers. However, I’ve been thinking about his teaching style and I’m quite sure it would never fly today. He modeled himself on two of his own professors whom he greatly admired: Joseph Levenson and Ernie Haas. Levenson was a great lecturer who Chal once heard rehearsing his lecture behind the closed door of his office (something Chal never did) and Ernie was a brilliant but abrasive professor who could reduce students to tears (something Chal did do on occasion). I know for a fact that Chal sometimes asked female graduate students who wanted to work with him whether they intended to have children, because if so, perhaps they wouldn’t be worth his time and effort! Today, I think that would probably get him fired from a university.
I also think that over the years being a student of Chalmers Johnson was not always an easy thing to be either intellectually or career-wise. During the Vietnam War period there were plenty of students who hated his guts and argued with him vociferously. And toward the end of his teaching career, when he became a strenuous opponent of rational-choice theory, being a student of Chalmers Johnson made it difficult to be hired by a department that was staffed with rational choicers.
When he retired from teaching in early 1992 some of his UCSD students formed an email group calling themselves “the Dead Fukuzawa Society”—a tribute to him and a play on the Robin Williams film “The Dead Poets Society.” Chal had made them all read Fukuzawa Yukichi’s autobiography for its insights into Japan and as a reminder that actual on-the-ground research was more important than formal models. The Dead Fukuzawa Society, with Chal as its leader, lobbed many spitballs at rational choicers and I began to worry that my husband might spend the rest of his retirement in this mode. But Steve Clemons had just then created the Japan Policy Research Institute with Karel van Wolferen as its head, and because Karel is a rather difficult personality (perhaps somewhat like Chal) they had come to a parting of the ways. Steve came to Chal and asked him to become the new president of JPRI, and while I didn’t think the world needed another President Johnson, I urged Chal to accept in order to turn his intellectual arguments in a more productive direction.
For about 15 years, Chal and I ran the Japan Policy Research Institute (I used to call it our mom-and-pop think tank). I do take some credit for this because I was not only the editor but also the printer, collator, mail girl, and office manager. But Chal was the person who found and sometimes wrote the papers we published. JPRI is now in the hands of a new editor, Chiho Sawada, who was Chal’s student at UCSD and then obtained a Ph.D. from Harvard. I hope that anyone listening to or reading this who has a timely paper about East Asia, well-written and preferably without footnotes, will send it to him.
Everyone who came to know and love Chalmers Johnson (like all the people on this panel) called him Chal, but to students, who admired but feared him, he was always “Professor Johnson.” Once they got their Ph.D.s they knew it was no longer appropriate to call him that, but the transition to calling him “Chal” was so daunting that I realized they often went through a “hey you” period, when they couldn’t bring themselves to call him anything. When I was a graduate student in anthropology at Berkeley, I was on a first-name basis with one of Chal’s best graduate students. She called me Sheila, and I called her Suzanne (Pepper). However, if I answered the phone and she wanted to talk to Chal she’d say something very awkward, such as “Sheila, is your husband (or the professor) there?” Finally, I said to her, “Suzanne, if Chal were crossing the street and about to be hit by a truck, what would you shout to him?” She thought for a moment and said, “I guess he’d be hit by the truck.”
Luckily that problem never arose, but during the Vietnam period, when left-wing students were trying to be more informal with the faculty, one of them barged into Chal’s office and began, “Now, Chalmers, we need to talk…” Chal interrupted him and said, “Only my mother calls me that.”
Chal could certainly be abrasive and opinionated. I recall one very fancy San Francisco dinner party during the Vietnam War when he and I were seated at opposite ends of a very long table. Chal was seated across from then Board of Supervisors member Dianne Feinstein and they got into such a heated argument it could be heard all over the room. As the dinner disbanded I was walking next to Ms. Feinstein and I said to her facetiously, “I’m afraid the only way to win an argument with him is to cry.” “That,” she replied frostily, “I will never do.”
I confess that I did do my share of crying in order to hold my own against his powerful intellect, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Comment from the Audience: Donald Emmerson, head of the Southeast Asia Forum at Stanford University and a member of the board of advisers of JPRI.
Among the many characteristics of Chalmers Johnson and his scholarship that I recall, one stands above all the rest: contention. I mean this in three senses. First, of course, unlike Marlon Brando’s character in On the Waterfront, Chal not only “coulda been a contender.” He was a contender, right up there with the top scholars writing on East Asia.
Second, he did not shy away from contention in the sense of disputation. On the contrary, he appeared to welcome it. Third, he contended in the sense of advancing actual arguments, with which one could (dis)agree. He was not satisfied merely to describe, however “thick” in a Geertzian sense such description might be. He inferred, he concluded, and he argued, just as others argued with him.
According to Chiang Kai-shek, “The sky cannot have two suns.” But there were two suns in the sky above the UC Berkeley Political Science Department from 1962 to 1988. That was when Chal’s career on the Berkeley campus overlapped with that of Robert Scalapino.
In the 1970s I was a young assistant professor at University of Wisconsin – Madison. I was focused on Southeast Asia more than China or Japan. Yet as I interacted with both Chal and Bob, and read their work, I couldn’t help but note how different their styles had become. In the 1960s both men had supported America’s Vietnam War. Leaving aside the nuances in their views at that time, they both argued—contended—that the war was warranted. Decades later, in a series of books published in the 2000s, Chal criticized American imperialism root and branch. But although his political position had changed, his insistence on contending—arguing—continued to distinguish his work. That insistence characterized Chal’s discourse, on conference panels and in corridor conversations.
Bob, of course, made arguments as well, and made them well. But my lasting personal impression of Bob, especially at the events where I saw him in action, was that his forte was moderation. In the two-or-three-day course of a conference or seminar on this or that policy topic, conflicts of opinion were almost certain to occur. In the final hour on the final day, it was Bob who would rise to the occasion. He would summarize the conference with diplomatically optimal conclusions that were just general enough to nudge the contenders in the room, myself sometimes included, back toward the center, toward consensus. Contention would give way to conciliation.
I did not share many of the convictions that animated Chal’s final books—the Blowback series. But intellectually and pedagogically I was attracted more to his contentious style than I as to Bob’s moderation. Defenders of the Vietnam War such as William and McGeorge Bundy liked to position themselves between perceived extremes by claiming that “gray is the color of the complex truth.” But sometimes the truth is black, or white, or gray, or a different color altogether. One ought not establish one’s own position without first knowing and appraising the full of range of the relevant arguments by others, arrayed from one end of the spectrum to the other. In the end, what I took from Chal was not where he stood, nor the tenacity of his stance, but the importance of engaging in contention—with others, critically but fairly, and likewise with oneself—before adopting any conclusive point of view. Chal stimulated me to be a contrarian, to ask the impolitic question, to acknowledge the ignored elephant in the room. To the extent that his vehement critiques of the American role in the world alienated the mainstream in political science, he himself became that elephant.
In personal terms, Bob was constructive. I admired him for that, despite my having more than once contributed to the very dissension that, before we conference-goers dispersed, he would so adroitly overcome. In scholarly terms, Chal was instructive. I learned from him the necessity of advancing an argument. But not without first opening oneself to the merits of the arguments of others, Chal’s own arguments emphatically included.
Comments from Readers:
Peter M. Beck studied under Chalmers Johnson at the University of California San Diego’s Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, and now serves as The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Korea. Peter writes:
What a wonderful gathering! I read every word over the weekend. I have told many people that the most meaningful event I have ever attended was the festschrift for Chal at AAS about ten years ago. How appropriate that everyone feels just as strongly now as they did then. I know I sure do! I’m glad the world media hype over North Korea has died down. I know Chal would have lots to say…
Jane Kaneko: Chalmers Johnson was Chairman of the Center for Chinese Studies (CCS) at UC Berkeley from 1967 to 1972. Jane Kaneko was the Center’s receptionist and manuscript typist in the early 1970s, and later served as administrative business officer in the University’s Institute of East Asian Studies. She writes:
Reading the JPRI comments about Chalmers Johnson reminded me of a little episode in the early 70s when CCS was still on Shattuck above See’s Candies (it is now a gelato shop): Chal came into the office looking a little agitated because he had just revised a chapter of a manuscript that had to go to the publisher right away. Maybe it was about to be sent to the printers. He needed to get a clean copy of the chapter and asked us to type it. [It was a chapter about some railway event… the Matsukawa incident?] No one else in the office seemed to give it a second thought; after all, Chal was the center chair, for goodness sake! I was the one who got to type it. I remember being riveted by the action and saying it read like a good mystery novel (British mysteries being a particular weakness of mine).
What most impressed me was the fact that he seemed to have some reservations about asking us to work on something that wasn’t about China. I don’t think I ever worked for anyone else who would have been so scrupulous, which is probably why the memory has stuck.
Another memory popped up last night: Chal cosigned a loan for Jo. [Jo was Jo Pearson, a single mother and Chal’s secretary at the China Center.] He must have had some trepidation about doing so, but it was a very big deal for Jo, too, as it was for her first ever home purchase. Who else would do that? No one else did. I think Chal was her last resort, and he came through for her. Wow!
Barbara K. Bundy, Ph.D., serves on the executive committee of JPRI as well as the board of directors of the Japan Society of Northern California. From 1988 to 2009 she was the Founding Executive Director of the Center for the Pacific Rim at University of San Francisco. During that time, the Center attracted many NPO partners—including the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability, chinadialogue, and JPRI. She writes:
How very much I enjoyed and learned from the papers presented by “Chal’s team” at the AAS Annual Conference. I hope these will remain permanently archived on the JPRI site as together they give a very comprehensive look into Chal’s diverse and extraordinary work over the years—his writing as well as his teaching. I thought that Lynn White’s remarks provided an invaluable overview for the others that followed. I must say that I enjoyed them all, including Marie’s and Barry’s remarks. I most especially like David Arase’s and Leslie Helm’s contributions, each very different but revealing different and important aspects of Chal’s life, work, and thought. The remarks all taken together show how ahead of its time almost all of Chal’s work was and for the most part, how prescient and “right on” he was, whether with respect to Chinese nationalism, the developmental state, or blowback in U.S. foreign policy. What a rich and enduring legacy, and how much I miss him and his public voice of reason and sanity in this needy world of ours.