“Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace”

Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How We Got to Be So Hated
by Gore Vidal (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2002) ISBN 1-56025-405-X,
Paperback, U.S. $10/Can. $16.50. 160 pages

Reviewed by Roland Sheppard

Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war to whip the citizenry into a political fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all their rights unto the leader and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar.

 —Julius Caesar (101–44 BC), founder of the Roman Empire

In his new book, Gore Vidal makes a scathing attack upon the bipartisan domestic and foreign policies of the United States government.

The introduction to this book sets its theme, that the bombings of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 and the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City on 9/11, 2001, were used, respectively, to justify the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996 and the current “War on Terrorism.”

Vidal explains that these bombings were in response to the more than two hundred acts of war and ongoing worldwide military incursions by the U.S. government, since 1945, and the concurrent erosion of the Bill of Rights. Vidal refers to Newton’s theory “that for every action there is an equal reaction.”

Without condoning the attacks, Vidal explains that the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma, by Timothy McVeigh, was a response to the ongoing attacks on the Bill of Rights, and that the WTC attack, allegedly organized by Osama bin Laden, was a response to U.S. government foreign policy/terrorism.

Vidal also explains that wars are declared on nations and not on an indefinable term like “terrorism.” (As an afterthought, Vidal points out that the insurance companies do not have liabilities for an “act of war,” and so the declaration of “War on Terrorism” may protect insurance companies from liabilities resulting from acts of terrorism.)

The absurdity of bombing Afghanistan in retaliation for Osama bin Laden’s presence there was curtly explained by Vidal in a recent Reuters interview in Rome:

“What Osama did is not a war. It can’t be a war because Osama is not a nation. He is a gang. It is like being hit by the Mafia. You don’t declare war on Sicily because the Mafia happen to live in Sicily. You don’t bomb Palermo. You get the international police and you track him down.” (And you don’t arrest everyone in New York City who looks Italian.—R.S.)

Some Choice Samples

The following paragraphs exemplify Vidal’s concepts throughout the collection of essays.

“…[The damage caused by the 9/11 plane bombings is] nothing compared to the knockout blow to our vanishing liberties…the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996 combined with the recent requests to Congress for additional special powers to wiretap without judicial order; to deport lawful permanent residents, visitors, and undocumented immigrants without due process.…”

Vidal speaks of “an undeclared war under the Clinton presidency which coincided with severe restrictions of our human rights supposedly protected by the Bill of Rights as the first ten amendments to the constitution.”

“The Bush administration, though eerily inept in all but its principal task, which is to exempt the rich from taxes, has casually torn up most of the treaties to which civilized nations subscribe — like the Kyoto Accords or the nuclear missile agreement with Russia. The Bushites go about their relentless plundering of the Treasury and now, thanks to Osama, Social Security (a supposedly untouchable trust fund), which, like Lucky Strike green, has gone to a war currently costing us $3 billion a month. They have also allowed the FBI and CIA either to run amok or not budge at all … rather like the Wizard of Oz doing his odd pretend-magic tricks while hoping not to be found out; Meanwhile, G.W. booms, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the Terrorists.’ That’s known as asking for it.”

“To be fair, one cannot entirely blame the current Oval One for…incoherence. Though his predecessors have generally had rather higher IQ’s than his, they, too, assiduously served the 1 percent that owns the country while allowing everyone else to drift. Particularly culpable was Bill Clinton. Although the most able chief executive since FDR, Clinton, in his frantic pursuit of election victories, set in place the trigger for a police state that his successor is now happily squeezing.”

“Police state? What’s that all about? In April 1996, one year after the Oklahoma City bombing, President Clinton signed into law the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, a so-called conference bill in which many hands played a part, including the bill’s cosponsor, Senator Majority leader Dole. Although Clinton, in order to win elections, did many unwise and opportunistic things, he seldom, like Charles II, ever said an unwise one. But faced with opposition to antiterrorism legislation that not only gives the attorney general the power to use the armed services against the civilian population, neatly nullifying the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, it also, selectively, suspends habeas corpus, the heart of Anglo-American liberty. Clinton attacked his critics as ‘unpatriotic.’ Then, wrapped in the flag, he spoke from the throne: ‘There is nothing patriotic about our, pretending that you can love your country but despise your government.’ This is breathtaking since it includes, at one time or another, most of us. Put another way, was a German in 1939 who said that he detested the Nazi dictatorship unpatriotic?”

“This is from a pre-Osama text: ‘Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and associations; and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.’ The tone is familiar. Clinton? Bush? Ashcroft? No. It is from Hitler’s 1933 speech calling for ‘an Enabling Act’ for ‘the protection of the People and the State’ after the catastrophic Reichstag fire that the Nazis had secretly lit.”

“Clinton described his Anti-Terrorism Act in familiar language (March 1, 1993, USA Today): ‘We can’t be so fixated on our desire to preserve the rights of ordinary Americans.’ A year later (April 19, 1994, on MTV): ‘A lot of people say there’s too much personal freedom. When personal freedom’s being abused, you have to move to limit it.’”

“Currently, the Fourth Amendment is in the process of disintegration, out of ‘military necessity’ — the constitutional language used by Lincoln to wage civil war, suspend habeas corpus, shut down newspapers, and free southern slaves. The Fourth Amendment guarantees ‘the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures…and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.’ The Fourth is the people’s principal defense against totalitarian government; it is a defense that is now daily breached both by deed and law.”

Vidal Sums Up His View

In the same Reuters interview, Gore Vidal gives the following summation of his outlook:

“One obvious fact is that the nation’s first unelected president, appointed by the U.S. Supreme court, has seized upon this event as well as the anthrax bio-attack to institute a far reaching ‘anti-terrorist’ regime that for all practical purposes rips up the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights so as to replace it with the caprice of executive fiat. This in and of itself should be sufficient for some strong measure of alarm on the part of most Americans, one would think—if these were normal times. They are not normal times for precisely the opposite reason that the great master illusionists of our historical era would have us believe. The great master illusionists, the global corporate media empires, run by some of the wealthiest and most powerful individuals every to have lived on this planet, would have us believe that the real dire deadly threat to our present safety and security comes from some shadowy group of terrorists that anyone with a high school education and even the most rudimentary computer skills could find out to have been created from the very ‘getgo’ by the very institutional power structure that now exploits the existence of these ‘terrorists’ as the reason for suspending the normal constitutional order and the use of extra-judicial measures (e.g. covert action) as the remedy for their Frankensteinian creation! How very convenient! The sadness, danger, and national disgrace of the present moment come not from the fact that this present crop of world class totalitarians come replete with jackboots and swastikas but rather that they don’t! Evil never wears a convenient label but more often than not portrays itself as an ‘angel of light.’ That of course is what makes it evil because it is that which it pretends not to be or that which it claims, as in this case, to be fighting against. How is it then that humanity has survived in the face of this most monstrous of existential constructs? History, tradition, experience — or what Dostoevsky referred to as ‘learning to live life through one’s stomach’ (aka guts!)—have taught us. It is this of course that is and always will be our ultimate and only source of salvation in whatever time or place we may find our sorry selves. Joy springs eternal from this happy fact!”

Media Mergers

One of Vidal’s explanations of the forces behind the current policies of the U.S. government is the consolidation of wealth through corporate mergers. One result from the “merger mania” of recent decades is the consolidation of the mass media (book publishing, broadcasting, newspapers, etc.) under the control of six giant multinational corporations. (See The Media Monopoly by Ben H. Bagdikian.)

One ominous side effect is that Gore Vidal, one of the most respected American authors in contemporary times, could not at first get his essays on 9/11 published in the United States. This book was only published in the United States after it became a bestseller in Europe.

Orwellian “newspeak” seems to become reality.  In George Orwell’s novel 1984, official slogans of the empire included “Freedom is Slavery,” “War is Peace,” and “Ignorance is Bliss.” It seems as though Big Brother is coming twenty years later than Orwell predicted.

(Orwell also wrote: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.” From which we might take a new slogan: “Empire with a human face.”)

The Pearl Harbor Parallel

In passing, on page four of his book, Gore Vidal writes about how the “telephone keeps ringing” with people asking him if this was the same as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. (Previously Vidal had written, with documentation, that President Roosevelt was aware of the Pearl Harbor attack before it happened and that Roosevelt provoked the Japanese into attacking the United States.) Vidal asks himself the same question: “Was this like Sunday morning, December 7, 1941?” Since the book was written six months ago, he replies: “As far as we know, we had no warning of Tuesday’s (9/11/01) attack.”

However, on May 16, 2002, the New York Times printed a front-page article titled: “Bush Was Warned bin Laden Wanted to Hijack Planes.”

From what I have read of the contradictory reports about 9/11, I now have no doubts that U.S. government leaders knew about the plan to attack the World Trade Center and allowed it to happen to move forward with their foreign policy for perpetual war and their domestic policy to attack our civil liberties and limit our civil rights.

This book is well worth the reading. The major significance of the book is that, at a time when most writers and broadcasters are trembling in fear of their corporate leaders, an individual of the stature of Gore Vidal is speaking out against the policies of the government.

[It is encouraging that other books like Vidal’s criticizing the government from the left, such as recent books by Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, and Tariq Ali, are receiving a big popular response in the United States in spite of the major media’s lockstep parroting of the official line. See the review of Chomsky’s book elsewhere in this issue.—The Editors.]