Thanks to Wen Jie Li in allowing me to scandalously breach copyright in using this caricature which is near completely irrelevant to the post.
Blowback, by veteran American Asia-watcher Chalmers Johnson, was hailed as one of the few texts which offered anything close to a prediction of September 11. With a bit of a stretch of the imagination, there is some truth to the claim, and a new prologue is there to help you with the stretching. Johnson takes hackneyed left-wing anti-Americanism and gives some substance to it. Covering examples as diverse as the horrors of Reagan's CIA in Central America, the US military base in Italy and US insensitivity on Taiwan, Johnson constructs the argument that the US empire is both overstretched and counter-productive. Johnson lists a litany of cases where the US military presence has harmed local communities and generated anti-Americanism: the 'blowback' of the title. He does pose a question worth addressing: why has the US done little to wind back its overseas presence since the end of the Cold War, given that repelling the Russians was it's raison d'etre.
The problem with Johnson's argument is that while he puports to assess the costs and benefits of the US overseas presence, he makes little attempt to assess the benefits, and simultaneously oversells the costs. There's little doubt, for example, that the US presence in Taiwan and South Korea has repelled China and North Korea from taking over territory by force. Similarly a US military presence in Europe puts it in a good position to intervene as necessary in the Middle East. Still, it is true that a massive Military-Industrial complex lives on in Washington, and the sooner this muscular excess in reined in, the better. Given the massively superior technology that the US possess, it seems fair to say that it is the mere threat of US military involvement, rather than an on-the-ground presence, is what is needed to keep the North Koreas of this world from taking action.
Next book up is rather more lowbrow: a collection of flotsum and jetsum by former SMH writer Paul Sheehan grouped together under the banner The Electronic Whorehouse. Sheehan has taken a rather schizophrenic approach to this, his second book. Some chapters loosely resemble the work of gangland thugs, marching up to easy targets and belting them around the kneecaps with a literary cricket bat. David Marr, Robert Manne and Gerard Henderson (who, incidentally has chosen a terrible photo of himself on his website) all cop an Andrew Symonds-style walloping. Alongside all this, however, is a thoughtful collection of essays encapsulating a calm and rational conservative approach to sensitive issues such as asylum seekers and the Stolen Generation.
If you can look past the bitterness and anger, Sheehan has a valid point to make: the liberal, and occasionally radical, perspective has become the sole legitimate point of view of much for the mainstream media establishment. So ingrained is the bias that its proponents don't recognise it as a bias at all. Reading his thoughtful and intelligent defence of the status quo in Australia's refugee program, for example, it was startling to realise that this line of argument struggled to make it into Fairfax or the ABC, although a far more hysterical version found its way into the Murdoch and Southern Cross media outlets. Sheehan has made a name for himself as a bit of a headkicker: his first book, Among the Barbarians, stirred up plenty of controversy when it tackled obssessive political correctness. The approach kind of works, but then again, much like Andrew Bolt, Phillip Adams and Robert Manne, the shtick is getting just a little tired.