It has been a year since the tragic events of September 11th. It is okay to read this book. You can still be patrotic.
When the lead essay in Gore Vidal’s Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace [Thunder's Mouth Press / Nation Books] was first submitted for publication, it could only find a home in Italy, Vidal’s home for a chuck of every year. It became an instant best-seller and was then subsequently translated elsewhere. Thankfully it is now available here, in the country where it is most needed.
Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace is made up of seven essays all circulating around the question that so many people seem to ask whenever something as shocking and surreal as September 11th occurs: why did this happen? Or, to paraphrase the sub-title of this book, how did we get to be so hated? The big draw of the book is the first essay, “September 11, 2002 (A Tuesday)” which asks exactly that question. Possible answers are suggested, one being, “For several decades there has been an unrelenting demonization of the Muslim world in the American media. Since I am a loyal American, I am not supposed to tell you why this has taken place, but then it is not unusual for us to examine why anything happens; we simply accuse others of motiveless malignity.” If anything, Vidal is attempting to examine why these things happen.
He also examines the war on terrorism: “As of the first months of 2002, the Pentagon Junta pretends that the devastation of Afghanistan by our high flying air force has been a great victory (no one mentions that the Afghans were not an American enemy- it was like destroying Palermo in order to eliminate the Mafia)”, and the participants of this so-called war: “A member of the Pentagon Junta, Rumsfeld, a skilled stand-up comic, daily made fun of a large group of ‘journalists’ on prime-time TV. At great, and often amusing, length, Rummy tells us nothing about our losses and their losses…never before in our long history of undeclared unconstitutional wars have we, the American people, been treated with such impish disdain-- so many irrelevant spear carriers to be highly taxed (those of us who are not rich) and occasionally invited to participate in the odd-rigged poll.” What might be the most upsetting idea to most of us, the average American taxpayer, is Vidal’s statement: “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….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.”
Clearly we are dealing with a biased essay. Critics might launch accusations of Vidal along the lines of “unpatriotic” or “leftist muckraker”, but such simplistic insults serve only to strengthen the idea that there are those who would rather silence these challenging observations in favor of keeping anyone informed. Besides, that would be dismissive, which is the sign of a poor thinker. Yes, we see exactly where Vidal sits on the issues and what he thinks of our government, its current chief executive, and, one of the targets of the attacks, the Pentagon. Ideally, to get an unbiased view, one would have to consult a major newspaper, but even that resource is not as objective as once was. Vidal is not a journalist. He is a critic, occasionally a polemicist, and always a writer of interesting ideas. The controversial September 11th essay is indeed one of the stronger ones in the book, not only for its views but for its style and conviction.
The idea that a group of people outside this country might find us so corrupt and downright evil is difficult enough for the average Joe to comprehend, but to face the reality that so many within these walls agrees, well…that just boggles them completely. But they are here, in large numbers. One of them was Timothy McVeigh. Prior to his execution, McVeigh spotted a piece loosely about him in Vanity Fair, written by Vidal. The two then started communicating via mail. Vidal never once says anything condoning McVeigh’s actions, but he again probes into why he committed mass murder. What could have caused this? The question was asked of him by Bryant Gumbel, who knew that the two were something like pen-pals. Vidal started to mention Waco and Gumbel cut him off, attributing the censorship to technical problems.
Free to publish his thoughts on the subject, Vidal ties the two incidents of the WTC attack and the Oklahoma City bombing and makes his point clearly: these things happen to us because we are that hated; because we have committed unbelievable acts of our own terrorism; because “…we are 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 now the greatest terrorist of all. We bomb, invade, subvert other states… Our Congress has been hijacked by corporate America and its enforcer, the imperial military machine.” As alarming as it is depressing, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace is a book that will rile you, either because you disagree or because you have no other choice but to agree. Once again, Gore Vidal proves that his greatest strength as a writer is as an essayist. His is not unpatriotic-- as it would be truly unpatriotic to let such sins go ignored-- he is a national treasure.