There are heretics and radicals around us. Some get famous and published; some get forgotten; some both. Since, collectively, we have a short memory, constant reminders are necessary.
. . . But I finally got through what was a standard hagiography [on G. Washington] of the sort every nation inflicts upon its young in order to make them so patriotic that they will go fight in wars not of their choosing while paying taxes for the privilege. Pre-Watergate, to get people to do such things it used to be necessary to convince the innocent that only good and wise men govern us.
It is rather surprising. All the average person, here or anywhere around the globe, really wants is to live in peace—to have enough food, a little comfort, freedom from threat, and a few modest luxuries. Yet they keep getting caught up in the disagreements between the power brokers of this and that country. Ordinary people entangled in the battles between heads of state who can’t seem to get enough of anything. They steal from each other and their citizens, won’t recognize the rights of others, and refuse to simply live and let live. The power mongers, instead of fighting their own wars among themselves, rile up the masses to do their dirty work. Hmm. . . Here’s what one heretic has to say.
The United States is an empire? The emperor’s advisers chuckle at the notion. Are we not a freedom-loving perfect democracy eager to exhibit our state-of-the-art economy to old Europe as a model of what you can do in the way of making money for the few by eliminating labor unions and such decadent frills as public health and education? At Denver a French spearcarrier—always those pesky French—wondered just how reliable our unemployment figures were when one-tenth of the male workforce is not counted, as they are either in prison or on probation or parole. The Canadian prime minister, even more tiresome than the French, was heard to say to his Belgian counterpart (over an open mike) that if the leaders of any other country took corporate money as openly as American leaders do, “we’d be in jail.”
I bring up all this not to be unkind. Rather, I should like to point out that those who live too long with unquestioned contradictions are not apt to be able to deal with reality when it eventually befalls them.
It is the Ides of August 1945. . . Officially, the United States was at peace; much of Europe and most of Japan were in ruins. . . We had all our cities and a sort of booming economy—”sort of” because it depended on war production, and there was, as far as anyone could tell, no war in the offing.
. . . our ally in the recent war “Uncle Joe Stalin,” as the accidental president Harry S. Truman had called him, was growing horns and fangs that dripped blood. On earth, we were the only great unruined power with atomic weapons; yet we were now—somehow—at terrible risk. Why? How?
At home, the media were beginning to prepare the attentive few for Disappointment. Suddenly, we were faced with the highest personal income taxes in American history to pay for more and more weapons, among them the world-killer hydrogen bomb—all because the Russians were coming.
Secret “bipartisan” government is best at what, after all, is—or should be—a society of docile workers, enthusiastic consumers, obedient soldiers who will believe just about anything for at least ten minutes. The National Security State, the NATO alliance, the forty-year Cold War were all created without consent, much less advice, of the American people. Of course, there were elections during this crucial time, but Truman-Dewey, Eisenhower-Stevenson, Kennedy-Nixon were of a single mind as to the desirability of inventing, first, a many-tentacled enemy, Communism, the star of the Chamber of Horrors; then, to combat so much evil, installing a permanent wartime state at home with loyalty oaths, a national “peacetime” draft, and secret police to keep watch over homegrown “traitors,” as the few enemies of the National Security State were known. Then followed forty years of mindless wars which created a debt of $5 trillion. . .
This is a perspective on American history that is rarely reported. The author of these statements consistently presents a lucid, non-redacted view; well supported, well documented, but consistently ignored in the media, in history books, in popular culture, and of course, by every politician, republican, or democrat, or independent. Anyone who betrays the official, artificial line, or challenges the “distorting eye relentlessly projecting a fun-house view of the world” of television news shall be gagged, trashed, or sidelined. Our hero has challenged the line in many of his books and essays. How he got published is a mystery. Since it’s been estimated the average American citizen spends less than ten minutes a day listening, reading, and discussing the world outside their own country, perhaps the reason he’s gotten away with it is because few will take notice. It’s a clear example of people just wanting to live in peace, and not be bothered with endless conflict. So what does it matter if one radical here or another one there gets his views aired? Let him be heard. The shallowness of most publications, and the ease with which they can drown out dissenting views, justifies letting a little of it slip through—just to pretend being “balanced.”
Americans have forgotten what it’s like to have a say in government. Forgotten what it’s like not to be at war; forgotten the meaning of peace. Forgotten that war destroys, kills, and consumes gargantuan amounts of limited resources with nothing left to show for it but devastation and broken lives on both sides of the fence. We’ve forgotten that we, the US, are less than 5% of the world’s population (probably closer to 4%), yet we consume, depending on the resource, 20% to over 30% of world resources, and contribute in similar proportions to the world’s build up of waste products, CO2, and other pollutants. Forgotten that while we squander mega amounts of human and material resources on destruction, we are, conversely, repeatedly and perversely reminded that we can’t afford to fund our schools, higher education, public transit, infrastructure, national healthcare, livable wages, . . .
The essays in this book were written from 1992 through 2000. Except for the names, it reads as if it were written yesterday—another reminder of how short America’s memory is. One last quotation from the book, an open letter to the president-elect written before the November election of 2000 urging the new president, whomever it would be, to take a radical new course.
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 are 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. 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 complain of terrorism, yet our empire is the greatest terrorist of all. 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. We the unrepresented People of the United States are as much victims of this militarized government as the Panamanians, Iraqis, or Somalians. We have allowed our institutions to be taken over in the name of a globalized American empire that is totally alien in concept to anything our founders had in mind.
From the book, The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000, Gore Vidal, Doubleday, 2001
Also read, Imperial America: Reflections of the United States of Amnesia, Gore Vidal, Nation Books, 2004
See the biopic documentary, Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, 2013