Without the slightest doubt, he was one of the most remarkable authors I’ve had the pleasure to edit, no less be friends with. He saw our devolving American world with striking clarity and prescience. He wrote about it with precision, passion and courage. He never softened a thought or cut a corner. I dedicated my new book to him, writing that he was “the most astute observer of the American way of war I know. He broke the ground and made the difference.” I wouldn’t change a word.
He was a man on a journey from Depression-era Arizona through the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union and deep into a world in which the foundations of the American empire, too, began to shudder. A scholar of Japan, one-time Cold Warrior and CIA consultant, in the twenty-first century, he became the most trenchant critic of American militarism around. I first read a book of his—on Communist peasants in North China facing the Japanese “kill-all, burn-all, loot-all” campaigns of the late 1930s—when I was 20. I last read him this week at age 66. I benefited from every word he wrote. His Blowback Trilogy (Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire and Nemesis) will be with us for decades to come. His final work, Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope, is a testament to his enduring power, even as his body was failing him. To my mind, his final question was this: What would the “sole superpower” look like as a bankrupt country? He asked that question. Nobody, I suspect, has the answer. We may find out. “Adios,” he invariably said as he signed off on the phone. Adios, Chal.