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The Ultimate Blowback Universe


The Ultimate Blowback Universe

Tom Engelhardt

You want to see “blowback” in action? That's easy enough. All you need is a vague sense of how Google Search works.


With all due respect, Mr. Englelhardt, you’re much too credulous regarding the official story of 9/11, though I understand its usefulness as a rhetorical peg on which to hang this article.

With that said, you’re absolutely correct in your assessment of Chalmers Johnson’s ongoing relevance.


There will be no surviving this insanity intact. Economically, politically, and environmentally we are committing collective suicide all at the same time. The exact order of our demise and it’s timeline are up for debate, but our eventual demise at this point is assured. Can’t say we don’t deserve it. Humans as it turns out are on the whole a stupid, petty and greedy species that destroys everything it touches. Shame, but there it is…


In the 1970’s, the Club of Rome issued a report called The Limits to Growth. I read it back then and knew we were headed for disaster if we kept up the pace of mindless development and resource exploitation that had characterized the western model since the Industrial Revolution. Techno-fix won’t save humanity from the looming disaster. That we as a nation did a U-turn and headed right back into the 1950’s is beyond incomprehensible…just how much blowback will we tolerate as we hunch down and persist in our destructive ways?


Climate change is the Cross of Coal (great term) but more basically a Cross of Gold.

WJ Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech was aimed at the notorious trusts of the time, forerunners of the ungovernable multinational corporations of today.

As you point out, corporations have been at the heart of climate change denial. The blowback not only affects us humans, but all of evolution’s life—millions of species and individuals beyond calculation.

So much for Making America Great Again!


Ah, The Population Bomb in 1968 by Dr. Paul Ehrlich, pretty much nailed it for me. We had special readings and speakers in high school discuss this topic; but duh, it didn’t t an Einstein to see where all this was headed. Or at least to folks like me and my friends, who lived in an almost real garden of eden which was surrounded by seemingly endless open spaces. And, a good horse ride did take you away to the lands that time almost forgot.
Now, sophomoric catchphrases like " sharing is caring " are put forth. Anything not to talk about the myriad man-made disasters pounding on our collective front doors. Just so American free enterprise :wink::wink: ( including planned war, organized genocide by industrial production, deadend consumption and environmental decimation ) almost never has to take the heat it so richly earned and deserves.
So, there’s that, too.


Kudos to the always-readable Tom Engelhardt for the reminder about Chalmers Johnson’s powerful thesis outlined in Blowback and expanded in next two volumes of the “Blowback trilogy,” The Sorrows of Empire and Nemesis.

But before I read Johnson’s Blowback I had already read another book entitled Blowback. This was Christopher Simpson’s 1988 book, with the verbose if descriptive subtitle The First Full Account of America’s Recruitment of Nazis, and Its Disastrous Effect on Our Domestic and Foreign Policy.

Simpson sweeping yet cogent overview outlines how, after World War Two, the US employed fascists as soldiers in the fight against communism in general and the Soviet Union in particular. Of course, fascism arose in reaction to creation of the Soviet Union in 1917 (which is when the Cold War actually began), so this became the justification for recruitment. As former CIA official Harry Rozitske put it, “We knew what we were doing. It was a visceral business of using any bastard as long as he was anti-communist.”

Those included the German rocket scientists brought into the US under Project Paperclip–paperclips on a dossier indicated which records had to be sanitized–although the Soviets were just as eager to get their hands on them, with a number of Germans going to the Russians.

Next came General Reinhard Gehlen, Hitler’s chief of intelligence on the Eastern Front, who struck a deal with future Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles to merge his “Gehlen Org” with US intelligence even before the war was officially over. Once ensconced, Gehlen began subcontracting with Nazi military and intelligence types including Otto Skorzeny (“Hitler’s Commando”), soon to become a major arms dealer with connections to the global heroin trade, and Klaus Barbie (“The Butcher of Lyon”), advisor to various repressive Latin American regimes (including Bolivia and–drugs again–its 1980 “cocaine coup”) before the French extradited him for his wartime atrocities. For two decades after the war, the Gehlen Org was the primary source of intelligence on the Soviet Union–and Gehlen had hardly abandoned his Nazi ideology after the war, but at least he was anti-communist, goes the rationale.

These two “Blowbacks,” Simpson’s and Johnson’s, are complementary and, considering the current alarm about the revival of fascism not only in Europe but in the US, quite relevant.

When Trump first called his foreign policy approach “America First,” that sent up an immediate red flag. Prior to America’s entry into World War Two, America First, ostensibly an isolationist group, had been quickly infiltrated by Nazi intelligence and began pumping out German propaganda discouraging America’s entry into the war. Associated with America First were Henry Ford, whose 1923 anti-Semitic tract The International Jew was an early influence on Hitler and the Nazis, and Charles Lindbergh, who had received a medal from Hermann Goering during a 1938 visit to Nazi Germany, which Lindbergh refused to renounce. (Woody Guthrie lambasted him at the time in his scathing song “Lindbergh.”)

Then, when Trump spoke in August 2017 in Huntsville, Alabama, ostensibly in support of Luther Strange but more notoriously in denunciation of NFL players “taking the knee” in support of Black Lives Matter, he did so from the Von Braun Center. Huntsville was a NASA town, and Wernher von Braun, for whom the Center was named, was a NASA legend whose ideas landed US astronauts on the Moon. Von Braun was also a beneficiary of the aforementioned Project Paperclip, as von Braun, an SS officer promoted three times during the war, was part of the German rocket program that set the brutal schedules by which slave laborers were worked to death. Indeed, Arthur Rudolph, integral to the development of the Saturn V rocket used in the Apollo Moon missions, was deported back to Germany in 1986 for his wartime behavior.

Even if these two examples are vestigial, they remain disturbing, and they do illustrate how both “Blowbacks,” Johnson’s and Simpson’s, have fused to create the backdrop for our current environment whether Trump or his minions are even aware of what America First was or who von Braun was. (Although when Tom Lehrer writes a song about you, “Wernher Von Braun,” you know you’ve made it.)

As part of the post-war empire-building the US pursued, it incorporated erstwhile enemies, the Nazis, to help fight erstwhile allies, the Soviets, who had reverted to being enemies again, truly an Orwellian situation. But no matter where the blowback comes from, it lands in the same place: on us.


9-11 was a “New Pearl Harbor” inside job, carried out by the folks in the Project for a New American Century for the pretext of invading the Middle East. The evidence is overwhelming that our government pulled it off. Until America looks in the mirror and holds itself and its criminal government accountable for these heinous actions, it will continue down the road to its own demise. We can only hope and pray its demise comes before it destroys the entire planet.
There was no mention of Obama’s heinous war crimes. This is not a partisan issue and Trump is not to blame for the crimes committed before he took office. He is to blame for those he’s committed, as is every member of Congress who votes for his insane policies and appointments. They’re all traitors against the Constitution.


The more I read and dwell on the obvious the more despondent I become. It all seems so worthless to even be alive. You can only accept so much and remain sane.


“Policies that were kept secret”
“It was a hoax.”
“There was …”

Past tense. Almost like everything is out on the table now? We didn’t know and now we do???

Sorry Tom, there is still a lot of stuff out there that you won’t talk about.


And the longer one is around the easier it is to feel despondent. And that is the reason that I read about those few who have devoted and are now devoting their lives to fight against the wrongs because every change that helps humanity helps humans cope. It is the crack that let the light in. But I have to admit that there have been times when I felt that I was on the edge of passing into the abyss.


Helen maybe he feels like staying alive?


Tom, this is your magnum opus! In my opinion, the best article that you’ve written, and that’s saying a lot!

Before I finished you second paragraph, I knew that you were talking about Chalmers Johnson.
Chalmers had an astonishing ability to see the future. So far, everything that he warned us about has come to pass.

You sir, have done him proud! Were he still with us, he would be writing almost word for word that which you have written here.


Thank you for the reference to the earlier “Blowback”. I intend to read it.

Thank you as well for an extremely well-written and enlightening post.


As Kris Kristofferson’s song says: “Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down”.

Do what you can for those dear to you, and other innocents as well. Work for change. Don’t give up.


Thanks for reminding us that there has always been a dark stain of authoritarianism running through this “Shining City on a Hill,” which goes unremarked in corporate media. As someone once said, “The Nazis didn’t lose WW2, they just changed uniforms.”

See also the “Banker’s Plot” against FDR. None of the conspirators, including Prescott Bush, were ever punished.


With rare exceptions, the Dems have been complicit.


Thank you, GuildF312S. The apocryphal joke going around at the time of Watergate was, “It’s a good thing that the US didn’t lose World War Two. Otherwise, everyone in the government would be named Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Kissinger, and Katzenbach, and we’d all be driving German and Japanese cars.”

Yes, the “Business Plot” of 1933 was an early attempt to unseat FDR, and it was widely dismissed in the press as a hoax (some thing never change) even though Congress did make the pretense of investigating the allegations; that committee was known informally as the McCormick-Dickstein Committee, which would eventually evolve into the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee that reached its zenith in the 1950s, most notably for investigating the film industry and leading to the Hollywood blacklist.

The main reason why the plot, backed by business interests that included DuPont and J.P. Morgan, fizzled early was that the man picked to replace FDR was Marine Corps General Smedley Butler.

I suspect that Common Dreams readers are familiar with Butler, but on paper he must have looked good to the plotters: A two-time Medal of Honor winner, Butler was critical of FDR and was a forceful proponent for the “Bonus Army” of World War One veterans, many of whom were jobless and living in “Hoovervilles” as a result of the Great Depression. Unfortunately for the plotters, Butler took his oath to uphold the Constitution seriously and blew the whistle on the plot in its early stages.

Then Butler turned into a vocal critical of US imperial policy–this after having spent his adult life fighting to perpetuate that policy. He wrote a book called War Is a Racket and lectured on “gangster capitalism,” often noting that, paraphrasing here, that “Al Capone thought he was big stuff, operating in three counties. I operated on three continents.”


Thank you, nighthawk.

Christopher Simpson’s Blowback is valuable not only because it frames the collaboration with fascists within the Cold War context, but because it summarizes the various areas within the overall topic that had been previously compartmentalized, such as Project Paperclip (e.g., Tom Bower’s The Paperclip Conspiracy), Gehlen (e.g., E.H. Cookridge’s Gehlen: Spy of the Century), Skorzeny (e.g., Glenn Infield’s Skorzeny: Hitler’s Commando and Secrets of the SS), etc.

Left unsaid in my previous post was how Western business interests helped to build up Germany even after the Nazis came to power in 1993, often in contravention of the Treaty of Versailles and its strict prohibitions on German rearmament, while it remained “business as usual” for companies such as ITT, Ford, GM, Standard Oil, and the Chase Bank even after the war began. The reason was, again, that the fascists, particularly the Nazis, provided a bulwark against communism, which offered the real threat to the capitalist order.

I used to think that the only really outlandish part of Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 was when Milo Minderbinder hires his own bomber squadron to bomb their own airbase on behalf of the Germans as part of a larger business deal. After learning some of this less-highlighted history, that seems to sound less outlandish.

I think in one of his books, Howard Zinn, who was a bombardier in the war (and, if I recall, in the same bomber, the B-25, Heller used), noted that there were certain industrial facilities that they were forbidden from bombing because of the business implications.


Excellent points; As a former IBM employee I was ashamed to learn that IBM sold tabulating equipment which enabled the Nazis to more effectively track Jews and other “untermenchen” (including my great-uncle, among many others). So they were implicated in supporting fascists as well as those you mentioned. Not that we aren’t selling China the surveillance eqpt. it needs today to spy on every Chinese person using facial recognition and massive data bases to give every person a “citizen score”. Nothing ever changes, does it.