|Röportaj - "Los
Angeles Weekly" Gazetesinden
HE MIGHT BE AMERICA'S LAST small-r republican. Gore Vidal, now 76, has made
a lifetime out of critiquing America's imperial impulses and has -- through
two dozen novels and hundreds of essays -- argued tempestuously that the
U.S. should retreat back to its more Jeffersonian roots, that it should stop
meddling in the affairs of other nations and the private affairs of its own
That's the thread that runs through Vidal's latest best-seller -- an oddly
packaged collection of essays published in the wake of September 11 titled
Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How We Got To Be So Hated. To answer the
question in his subtitle, Vidal posits that we have no right to scratch our
heads over what motivated the perpetrators of the two biggest terror attacks
in our history, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and last September's
Vidal writes: "It is a law of physics (still on the books when last I
looked) that in nature there is no action without reaction. The same appears
to be true in human nature -- that is, history." The "action" Vidal refers
to is the hubris of an American empire abroad (illustrated by a 20-page
chart of 200 U.S. overseas military adventures since the end of World War
II) and a budding police state at home. The inevitable "reaction," says
Vidal, is nothing less than the bloody handiwork of Osama bin Laden and
Timothy McVeigh. "Each was enraged," he says, "by our government's reckless
assaults upon other societies" and was, therefore, "provoked" into answering
with horrendous violence.
Some might take that to be a suggestion that America had it coming on
September 11. So when I met up with Vidal in the Hollywood Hills home he
maintains (while still residing most of his time in Italy), the first
question I asked him was this:
L.A. WEEKLY: Are you arguing that the 3,000 civilians killed on September 11
somehow deserved their fate?
GORE VIDAL: I don't think we, the American people, deserved what happened.
Nor do we deserve the sort of governments we have had over the last 40
years. Our governments have brought this upon us by their actions all over
the world. I have a list in my new book that gives the reader some idea how
busy we have been. Unfortunately, we only get disinformation from The New
York Times and other official places. Americans have no idea of the extent
of their government's mischief. The number of military strikes we have made
unprovoked, against other countries, since 1947-48 is more than 250. These
are major strikes everywhere from Panama to Iran. And it isn't even a
complete list. It doesn't include places like Chile, as that was a CIA
operation. I was only listing military attacks.
Americans are either not told about these things or are told we attacked
them because . . . well . . . Noriega is the center of all world drug
traffic and we have to get rid of him. So we kill some Panamanians in the
process. Actually we killed quite a few. And we brought in our Air Force.
Panama didn't have an air force. But it looked good to have our Air Force
there, busy, blowing up buildings. Then we kidnap their leader, Noriega, a
former CIA man who worked loyally for the United States. We arrest him. Try
him in an American court that has no jurisdiction over him and lock him up
-- nobody knows why. And that was supposed to end the drug trade because he
had been demonized by The New York Times and the rest of the imperial press.
[The government] plays off [Americans'] relative innocence, or ignorance to
be more precise. This is probably why geography has not really been taught
since World War II -- to keep people in the dark as to where we are blowing
things up. Because Enron wants to blow them up. Or Unocal, the great
pipeline company, wants a war going some place.
And people in the countries who are recipients of our bombs get angry. The
Afghans had nothing to do with what happened to our country on September 11.
But Saudi Arabia did. It seems like Osama is involved, but we don't really
know. I mean, when we went into Afghanistan to take over the place and blow
it up, our commanding general was asked how long it was going to take to
find Osama bin Laden. And the commanding general looked rather surprised and
said, well, that's not why we are here.
Oh no? So what was all this about? It was about the Taliban being very, very
bad people and that they treated women very badly, you see. They're not
really into women's rights, and we here are very strong on women's rights;
and we should be with Bush on that one because he's taking those burlap
sacks off of women's heads. Well, that's not what it was about.
What it was really about -- and you won't get this anywhere at the moment --
is that this is an imperial grab for energy resources. Until now, the
Persian Gulf has been our main source for imported oil. We went there, to
Afghanistan, not to get Osama and wreak our vengeance. We went to
Afghanistan partly because the Taliban -- whom we had installed at the time
of the Russian occupation -- were getting too flaky and because Unocal, the
California corporation, had made a deal with the Taliban for a pipeline to
get the Caspian-area oil, which is the richest oil reserve on Earth. They
wanted to get that oil by pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistan to
Karachi and from there to ship it off to China, which would be enormously
profitable. Whichever big company could cash in would make a fortune. And
you'll see that all these companies go back to Bush or Cheney or to Rumsfeld
or someone else on the Gas and Oil Junta, which, along with the Pentagon,
governs the United States.
We had planned to occupy Afghanistan in October, and Osama, or whoever it
was who hit us in September, launched a pre-emptory strike. They knew we
were coming. And this was a warning to throw us off guard.
With that background, it now becomes explicable why the first thing Bush did
after we were hit was to get Senator Daschle and beg him not to hold an
investigation of the sort any normal country would have done. When Pearl
Harbor was struck, within 20 minutes the Senate and the House had a joint
committee ready. Roosevelt beat them to it, because he knew why we had been
hit, so he set up his own committee. But none of this was to come out, and
it hasn't come out.
Still, even if one reads the chart of military interventions in your book
and concludes that, indeed, the U.S. government is a "source of evil" -- to
lift a phrase -- can't you conceive that there might be other forces of evil
as well? Can't you imagine forces of religious obscurantism, for example,
that act independently of us and might do bad things to us, just because
they are also evil?
Oh yes. But you picked the wrong group. You picked one of the richest
families in the world -- the bin Ladens. They are extremely close to the
royal family of Saudi Arabia, which has conned us into acting as their
bodyguard against their own people -- who are even more fundamentalist than
they are. So we are dealing with a powerful entity if it is Osama.
What isn't true is that people like him just come out of the blue. You know,
the average American thinks we just give away billions in foreign aid, when
we are the lowest in foreign aid among developed countries. And most of what
we give goes to Israel and a little bit to Egypt.
I was in Guatemala when the CIA was preparing its attack on the Arbenz
government [in 1954]. Arben was a democratically elected president, mildly
socialist. His state had no revenues; its biggest income maker was United
Fruit Company. So Arbenz put the tiniest of taxes on bananas, and Henry
Cabot Lodge got up in the Senate and said the Communists have taken over
Guatemala and we must act. He got to Eisenhower, who sent in the CIA, and
they overthrew the government. We installed a military dictator, and there's
been nothing but bloodshed ever since.
Now, if I were a Guatemalan and I had the means to drop something on
somebody in Washington, or anywhere Americans were, I would be tempted to do
it. Especially if I had lost my entire family and seen my country blown to
bits because United Fruit didn't want to pay taxes. Now, that's the way we
operate. And that's why we got to be so hated.
You've spent decades bemoaning the erosion of civil liberties and the
conversion of the U.S. from a republic into what you call an empire. Have
the aftereffects of September 11, things like the USA Patriot bill, merely
pushed us further down the road or are they, in fact, some sort of historic
The second law of thermodynamics always rules: Everything is always running
down. And so is our Bill of Rights. The current junta in charge of our
affairs, one not legally elected, but put in charge of us by the Supreme
Court in the interests of the oil and gas and defense lobbies, have used
first Oklahoma City and now September 11 to further erode things.
And when it comes to Oklahoma City and Tim McVeigh, well, he had his reasons
as well to carry out his dirty deed. Millions of Americans agree with his
general reasoning, though no one, I think, agrees with the value of blowing
up children. But the American people, yes, they instinctively know when the
government goes off the rails like it did at Waco and Ruby Ridge. No one has
been elected president in the last 50 years unless he ran against the
federal government. So, the government should get through its head that it
is hated not only by foreigners whose countries we have wrecked, but also by
Americans whose lives have been wrecked.
The whole Patriot movement in the U.S. was based on folks run off their
family farms. Or had their parents or grandparents run off. We have millions
of disaffected American citizens who do not like the way the place is run
and see no place in it where they can prosper. They can be slaves. Or pick
cotton. Or whatever the latest uncomfortable thing there is to do. But they
are not going to have, as Richard Nixon said, "a piece of the action."
And yet Americans seem quite susceptible to a sort of jingoistic
"enemy-of-the-month club" coming out of Washington. You say millions of
Americans hate the federal government. But something like 75 percent of
Americans say they support George W. Bush, especially on the issue of the
I hope you don't believe those figures. Don't you know how the polls are
rigged? It's simple. After 9/11 the country was really shocked and
terrified. [Bush] does a little war dance and talks about evil axis and all
the countries he's going to go after. And how long it is all going to take,
he says with a happy smile, because it means billions and trillions for the
Pentagon and for his oil friends. And it means curtailing our liberties, so
this is all very thrilling for him. He's right out there reacting, bombing
Afghanistan. Well, he might as well have been bombing Denmark. Denmark had
nothing to do with 9/11. And neither did Afghanistan, at least the Afghanis
So the question is still asked, are you standing tall with the president?
Are you standing with him as he defends us? Eventually, they will figure it
They being who? The American people?
Yeah, the American people. They are asked these quick questions. Do you
approve of him? Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh yeah, he blew up all those
funny-sounding cities over there.
That doesn't mean they like him. Mark my words. He will leave office the
most unpopular president in history. The junta has done too much wreckage.
They were suspiciously very ready with the Patriot Act as soon as we were
hit. Ready to lift habeas corpus, due process, the attorney-client
privilege. They were ready. Which means they have already got their police
state. Just take a plane anywhere today and you are in the hands of an
arbitrary police state.
Don't you want to have that kind of protection when you fly?
It's one thing to be careful, and we certainly want airplanes to be careful
against terrorist attacks. But this is joy for them, for the federal
government. Now they've got everybody, because everybody flies.
Let's pick away at one of your favorite bones, the American media. Some say
they have done a better-than-usual job since 9/11. But I suspect you're not
No, I don't buy it. Part of the year I live in Italy. And I find out more
about what's going on in the Middle East by reading the British, the French,
even the Italian press. Everything here is slanted. I mean, to watch Bush
doing his little war dance in Congress . . . about "evildoers" and this
"axis of evil" -- Iran, Iraq and North Korea. I thought, he doesn't even
know what the word axis means. Somebody just gave it to him. And the press
didn't even call him on it. This is about as mindless a statement as you
could make. Then he comes up with about a dozen other countries that might
have "evil people" in them, who might commit "terrorist acts." What is a
terrorist act? Whatever he thinks is a terrorist act. And we are going to go
after them. Because we are good and they are evil. And we're "gonna git
Anybody who could get up and make that speech to the American people is not
himself an idiot, but he's convinced we are idiots. And we are not idiots.
We are cowed. Cowed by disinformation from the media, a skewed view of the
world, and atrocious taxes that subsidize this permanent war machine. And we
have no representation. Only the corporations are represented in Congress.
That's why only 24 percent of the American people cast a vote for George W.
I know you'd hate to take this to the ad hominem level, but indulge me for a
moment. What about George W. Bush, the man?
You mean George W. Bush, the cheerleader. That's the only thing he ever did
of some note in his life. He had some involvement with a baseball team . . .
He owned it . . .
Yeah, he owned it, bought with other people's money. Oil people's money. So
he's never really worked, and he shows very little capacity for learning.
For them to put him up as president and for the Supreme Court to make sure
that he won was as insulting as when his father, George Bush, appointed
Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court -- done just to taunt the liberals. And
then, when he picked Quayle for his vice president, that showed such
contempt for the American people. This was someone as clearly unqualified as
Bush Sr. was to be president. Because Bush Sr., as Richard Nixon said to a
friend of mine when Bush was elected [imitating Nixon], "He's a lightweight,
a complete lightweight, there's nothing there. He's a sort of person you
appoint to things."
So the contempt for the American people has been made more vivid by the two
Bushes than all of the presidents before them. Although many of them had the
same contempt. But they were more clever about concealing it.
Should the U.S. just pack up its military from everywhere and go home?
Yes. With no exceptions. We are not the world's policeman. And we cannot
even police the United States, except to steal money from the people and
generally wreak havoc. The police are perceived quite often, and correctly,
in most parts of the country as the enemy. I think it is time we roll back
the empire -- it is doing no one any good. It has cost us trillions of
dollars, which makes me feel it's going to fold on its own because there
isn't going to be enough money left to run it.
You call yourself one of the last defenders of the American Republic against
the American Empire. Do you have any allies left? I mean, we really don't
have a credible opposition in this country, do we?
I sometimes feel like I am the last defender of the republic. There are
plenty of legal minds who defend the Bill of Rights, but they don't seem
very vigorous. I mean, after 9/11 there was silence as one after another of
these draconian, really totalitarian laws were put in place.
So what's the way out of this? Back in the '80s you used to call for a new
sort of populist constitutional convention. Do you still believe that's the
Well, it's the least bloody. Because there will be trouble, and big trouble.
The loons got together to get a balanced-budget amendment, and they got a
majority of states to agree to a constitutional convention. Senator Sam
Ervin, now dead, researched what would happen in such a convention, and
apparently everything would be up for grabs. Once we the people are
assembled, as the Constitution requires, we can do anything, we can throw
out the whole executive, the judiciary, the Congress. We can put in a
Tibetan lama. Or turn the country into one big Scientological clearing
And the liberals, of course, are the slowest and the stupidest, because they
do not understand their interests. The right wing are the bad guys, but they
know what they want -- everybody else's money. And they know they don't like
blacks and they don't like minorities. And they like to screw everyone along
But once you know what you want, you are in a stronger position than those
who can only say, "Oh no, you mustn't do that." That we must have free
speech. Free speech for what? To agree with The New York Times?
The liberals always say, "Oh my, if there is a constitutional convention,
they will take away the Bill of Rights." But they have already done it! It
is gone. Hardly any of it is left. So if they, the famous "they," would
prove to be a majority of the American people and did not want a Bill of
Rights, then I say, let's just get it over with. Let's just throw it out the
window. If you don't want it, you won't have it.