- 08/03/03: (National Catholic Reporter)
In December 2000, Gore Vidal, termed America's master
essayist by The Washington Post, told "irregularly
elected" President-elect George W. Bush to
"rein in the warlords who were seeking $30 billion
a year over and above the 51 percent of the budget that
now already goes for war."
- Two-and-a-half years later -- after
Sept. 11, Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden's
disappearance, Iraq and Saddam Hussein's vanishing act
-- Vidal summarized what the Bush "warlords"
have achieved in occupying Iraq: "Chaos."
- "Chaos," Vidal told NCR by
fax, "until we either come to our senses and leave
-- not likely any time soon -- or complete the neocon
plan so boldly stated by their youthful 'warriors,' by
annexing as much of the Mideast oil states as
- Vidal seems at least farseeing, if not
prophetic, in his assessment of more than a month ago,
as the United States finds the footing in Iraq
increasingly unsteady and dangerous.
- As an occupying power in Iraq, U.S.
civilian administrators backed by U.S. soldiers are
"downsizing" the national bureaucracy, handing
outa half million pink slips to former officials and
military. Iraqi soldiers are demanding their pay and
pensions. It is an uneasy peace. There is gunfire.
- Americans there and here are paying a
- Up to now, said Vidal, while the Bush
administration's "down payment" for Iraqi oil
"has been cheap -- the Bill of Rights," the
cost has not been light "for the people -- there or
here." The U.S. cost has been to its civil
liberties. Vidal said, "USA Patriot Acts 1 and 2,
the second leaked but not yet sent to Congress, neatly
folds the republic. What next?" he asked
rhetorically, "Franklin predicted despotism."
- Vidal is accustomed to delivering
chilling predictions. He does not lack a penchant for
going on the attack. Even so, it took guts, post 9/11
and throughout the Iraq war, to criticize the
commander-in-chief. After 9/11 he was the rare writer
who did an analytical commentary on the background to
both the Oklahoma City and World Trade Center bombings
-- commentary that his customary U.S. outlets refused to
- All this and more was made available
late last year in Perpetual Peace for Perpetual War: How
We Got To Be So Hated and Dreaming War: Blood for Oil
and the Cheney-Bush Junta (Nation Books, 2002). They are
collections of his Vanity Fair and Nation columns with
added introductions and commentary.
- Vidal sees the country in the grip of a
corporate-oil patch-military oligarchy. Asked if the
Iraq war was an oil patch-White House deal so huge
Americans can't stand back far enough to see it, Vidal
replied, "Kindly Dr. Goebbels used to say that the
greater the lie a government tells (and repeats loudly),
the more it will be believed. Yes, it is -- was -- about
oil and, of course, giving the Cheney-Bush junta's
friends like Halliburton vast contracts to rebuild what
we have carefully knocked down."
- He told NCR, "No one will ever see
all the details but the [current] crookedness is unique
in our history. Enron was the first storm warning but no
one realized how easily accepted that cluster of capers
would be by a polity marinated in corruption -- as Ben
Franklin predicted, in 1789, as our eventual fate."
- Vidal has become a scourge of the Bush
dynasty. The books reprise writings on what he sees as
the Bush family usurpation of the 2000 presidential
election, Bush family business connections to the bin
Laden family, the Texas oil patch's pipeline dealings
with the Taliban in Afghanistan and the subsequent war
there, why bin Laden was not pursued, and how the focus
shifted to Saddam Hussein and Iraq.
- As a scourge he is a wry one.
- "American politics is essentially
a family affair, as are most oligarchies," he
wrote. And he should know. He grew up in the home of his
grandfather, Oklahoma Sen. Thomas P. Gore, in
Washington, D.C., and was close to the Kennedy clan
because he was related to Jacqueline Kennedy. He is
distantly related to former Vice President Al Gore,
whose father was a U.S. senator, and Gore Vidal himself
was an unsuccessful liberal candidate for Congress in
1960 in New York and the U.S. Senate in California in
- He knows about corruption in politics
and oligarchic power.
- Long before George W. Bush was
irregularly ushered into the White House due to the
"Supreme Court's purloining" of the 2000
election, writes Gore, the nation had "previously
enjoyed a number of quietly corrupt elections decently
kept from public view."
- He referred to 1888, when Grover
Cleveland's plurality was canceled by the Electoral
College's maneuverings, and 1876 when Democrat Samuel
Tilden had a quarter-million more votes than the
Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, but a Congressionally
selected commission gave the victory to Hayes by a
- Gore (Eugene Luther) Vidal, who lives
in Italy but was contacted by NCR when he was recently
in the United States, was born in 1925 at West Point,
where his father was an instructor. He graduated from
Philips Exeter Academy, served on an Army supply ship in
Alaska in World War II, and published his first novel,
Willawaw, to quote one account, "at 19 while still
in U.S. Army uniform."
- He grew up with the Army and served in
the military, yet he unabashedly regards war as
"the ultimate no-win, all-lose option."
- He writes, "Fifty years ago [Feb.
27, 1947], Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg told
[President Harry S.] Truman 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."
- Vidal continues, "We are now faced
with a Japanese seventh-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?"
- Sept. 11, Vidal writes,
"transformed [Bush] into the cheerleader he had
been in prep school. He promised us not only 'a new war'
but 'a secret war' and, best of all, according to the
twinkle in his eye, 'a very long war.' "
- Continued Vidal, "[President
James] Madison warned us at the dawn of our republic,
'Of all enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the
most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops
germs of every other.' "
- Vidal sees other comparisons with the
- "The [founding] fathers had such a
fear and loathing of democracy that they invented the
Electoral College so the popular voice of the people
could be throttled, much as the Supreme Court throttled
Floridians on Dec. 12  where Bush was entrusting
his endangered Florida vote to the state's governor, his
- Historian Vidal was asked if there was
a point in U.S. history when the democracy functioned.
He replied, "Before Polk's 1846 war with Mexico in
order to acquire California. General -- then Lieutenant
-- Grant said that the Civil War was the vengeance of
God upon us for what we had done to Mexico."
- These two books signal more than Vidal
at the top of his form as a thunderer, however. In
listing his collected writings, Vidal refers to the slim
volumes as "pamphlets." It is a distinction
with a subtle warning.
- The pamphleteer is the point on the
shaft of political dissent; the sharp art of a political
tradition the established order never takes kindly to.
- Pamphlets were the spark that helped
ignite the American Revolution. Tom Paine, with his
famous pamphlet, Common Sense, could "electrify the
whole of colonial life," wrote John M. Robertson in
his 1915 introduction to Paine's The Age of Reason.
- Vidal, who sees both rights and
democracy fast ebbing, seeks to electrify, too. But the
populace, comfortably uninformed and occupied with its
daily self, is inert.
- Arthur Jones is NCR editor-at-large.
His e-mail address is email@example.com
- From the Introduction to Perpetual War:
- "In the last six years two dates
are to be remembered for longer than usual in the United
States of Amnesia: April 19, 1995, when a much-decorated
infantry soldier called Timothy McVeigh blew up a
federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 innocent
men, women and children. Why? McVeigh [who may have
committed mass murder to avenge the government slaughter
of the religious cult at Waco] told us at eloquent
length, but our rulers and their media preferred to
depict him as a sadistic, crazed monster. On Sept. 11,
2001, Osama bin Laden and his Islamic terrorist
organization struck at Manhattan and the Pentagon.
- "The Pentagon Junta in charge of
our affairs programmed their president to tell us that
bin Laden was an 'evildoer' who envied us our goodness
and wealth and freedom.
- "None of these explanations made
much sense, but our rulers for more than 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, in McVeigh's case, our own.
- "All we are left with are blurred
covers of Time and Newsweek where monstrous figures from
Hieronymous Bosch stare out of us, hellfire in their
eyes, while The New York Times and its chorus of
imitators spin complicated stories about mad Osama and
cowardly McVeigh, thus convincing most Americans that
only a couple of freaks would ever dare strike at a
nation as close to perfection as any human society can
- That U.S. government policies and
actions "might have seriously provoked McVeigh and
bin Laden was never dealt with. Things just happen out
there in the American media and we consumers don't need
to be told the why of anything."
- National Catholic Reporter, August 1,