Chalmers Johnson: The passing of a true scholar

In a field known for fractiousness, Chalmers Johnson spoke with unique authority.

Today we received the sad news that Chalmers Johnson, America’s greatest Japan scholar, has passed on.

Although late in life he achieved considerable fame for his critique of American military policy, he had long been a uniquely respected figure in Japanology. His scholarly reputation was founded on his early-1980s book MITI and the Japanese Miracle, a prodigiously researched work and one that virtually every serious student of the Japanese economy has not only read but regards as a fundamental source. It is fair to say that in a field known for fractiousness and factionalism no other book has come close to claiming such wide acceptance.

As for his later work, he will be remembered particularly for one passage in his 2006 book Nemesis: “The United States today is like a cruise ship on the Niagara River upstream of the most spectacular falls in North America. A few people on board have begun to pick up a slight hiss in the background, to observe a faint haze of mist in the air on their glasses, to note that the river current seems to be running slightly faster. But no one yet seems to have realized that it is almost too late to head for shore.

If this passage has not yet entered standard dictionaries of quotations, it soon will.

What made Johnson exceptional was his fearlessness. Embodying all that is best in the scholarly tradition, he truly made a difference.

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