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Gore Vidal: Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace

By B. John Zavrel


America' undisputed master essayist Gore Vidal is the author of twenty-two novels, five plays, many screenplays, more than two hundred essays, and a memoir. The Times Literary Supplement noted that Vidal's "United States (Essays 1952-1992) is one of the greatest American books of the 20th century. It won the 1993 National Book Award.

His latest book, actually a collection of articles titled "Perpertual War for Perpetual Peace" , published in 2002, caused a sensation, if not a scandal in this country. His sharp intellect and critical view of what the renowned author sees as wrong in America, comes as a shock to the average American reader.

The United States has been engaged in what the great historian Charles A. Beard called "perpetual war for perpetual peace." The Federation of American Scientists has catalogued nearly two hundred military incursions since 1945 in which the United States has been the agressor. In a series of penetrating and alarming essays, whose centerpiece is a commentary on the events of September 11, 2002 (deemed too controversial to be published in America until now), Gore Vidal challendes the comforting consensus following both September 11th and Timothy McVey's bombing of the bederal building in Oklahoma City: these were simply the acts of "evil-doers".

"None of these explanations made much sense, but our rulers for more that half a century have made sure that we are never to be told the truth about anything that our government has done to other people, not to mention our own. That our ruling junta might have seriously provoked McVeigh and Osama was never dealt with. We consumers don't need to be told the why of anything. Certainly those of us who are in the why-business have a difficult time in getting through the corporate-sponsored American media, so I thought it useful to describe here the various provocations on our side that drove both bin Laden and McVeigh to such terrible acts," says Vidal in his book.

And he continues, "the awesome physical damage Osama and company did to us is as nothing compared to the knock-out blow to our vanishing liberties: the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996 combined with the recent request to Congress for additional special powers to wiretap without judicial order, to deport lawful permanent residents, visitors, and undocumented immigrants without due process." Could it be that the greatest victim of the September 11th terror attacks will be American liberty? "Once alienated," Vidal writes, "an unalienable right is apt to be forever lost."

The last article in the book, 'A Letter to Be Delivered' he introduces with these words: 'I am writing this note a dozen days before the inauguration of the loser of the year 2000 presidential election. We are now faced with a Japanese seventeenth-century style arrangement: a powerless Mikado ruled by a shogun vice president and his Pentagon warrior counselors. Do they dream, as did the shoguns of yore, of the conquest of China? We shall know more soon, I should think, than late. Sayonara.

This chapter is actually a letter (written for Vanity Fair before the November 7, 2000 presidential election) to the new President-Elect..

"Congratulations, Mr. President-Elect. Like everyone else, I'm eagerly looking forward to your inaugural address. As you must know by now, we could never get enough of your speeches during the recent election in which the best man won, as he always does in what Spiro Agnew so famously called "the greatest nation in the country"...

...It is my impression, Mr. President-Elect, that most Americans want our economy converted from war to peace. Naturally, we still want to stand tall. We also don't want any of our tax money wasted on health care because that would be Communism, which we abhor. But we would like some of our tax dollars spent on education...

...In any case, it is time we abandon our generally unappreciated role as world policeman, currently wasting Colombia, source of satanic drugs, while keeing Cuba, Iraq, and, until recently, Serbia "in correction," as policepersons call house arrest. This compulsive interference in the affairs of other states is expensive and pointless. Better we repair our own country with "internal improvements"...

...since we have literally targeted our enemies, the Pentagon assumes that, sooner or later, Rogues will take out our cities, presumable from spaceships. So to protect ourselves, the Ronald Reagan Memorial Nuclear Space Shield must be set in place at an initial cost of $ 60 billion even though, as of July, tests of the system, no matter how faked by the Pentagon, continued to fail. The fact that, according to polls, a majority of your constituents believe that we already have such a shield makes it possible for you to say you're updating it and then do nothing. After all, from 1949 to 1999 the United States spent $ 7.1 trillion on "national defense." As a result, the national debt is $ 5.6 trillion, of which $ 3.6 trillion is owed to the public, and $ 2 trillion to the Social Security-Medicare Trust Funds, all due to military spending and to the servicing of the debt thus incurred...

...fifty years ago, Harry Truman replaced the old republic with a national-security state whose sole purpose is to wage perpetual wars, hot, cold, and tepid. Exact date of replacement? February 27, 1947. Place: The White House Cabinet Room. Cast: Truman, Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson, a handful of congressional leaders. Republican senator Arthur Vandenberg told Truman that he could have his militarized economy only IF he first "scared the hell out of the American people" that the Russians were coming. Truman obliged. THe perpetual war began. Representative government of, by, and for the people is now a faded memory. Only corporate America enjoys representation by the Congress and presidents that it pays for in an arrangement where no one is entirely accountable because those who have bought the government also own the media. Now, with the revolt of the Praetorian Guard at the Pentagon, we are entering a new and dangerous phase. Although we regularly stigmatize other societies as rogue states, we ourselves have become the largest rogue state of all. We honor no treaties. We spurn international courts. We strike unilaterally wherever we choose. We give orders to the United Nations but do not pay our dues...we bomb, invade, subvert other states. Although We the People of the United States are the sole source of legitimate authority in this land, we are no longer represented in Congress Assembled. Our Congress has been hijacked by corporate America and its enforcer, the imperial military machine..."

Gore Vidal's sharp wit and formidable intellect make for fascinating reading, whether one agrees with his ideas and conclusions or not. What matters is that we are open-minded enough to read his book, and examine and consider the ideas presented in it on their strength, and finally come to our own conclusions, based on our observation of everyday events as they unfold in the future.



(JULY 5, 2002) 



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Copyright 2002 West-Art

PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin for Art, Politics and Science.

Nr. 83, Summer 2002