Skip to comments.Vidal Baboon: well written criticism of Gore Vidal's anti-Americanism
Posted on 11/22/2003 4:29:14 AM PST by risk
ALEXANDRIA, VA - Gore Vidal is a weird hybrid, an intellectual schizophrenic with equal affection for radical leftists like Noam Chomsky and America Firsters like Charles Lindbergh. In a 1992 lecture at Harvard University, Vidal described the radical half of his brain this way: "I am a radical reformer. The word 'radical' derives from the Latin word for root. Therefore, if you want to get to the root of anything you must be radical. It is no accident that the word has now been totally demonized by our masters, and no one in politics dares even to use the word favorably, much less track any problem to its root." Dropping the America First, paleo-isolationist shoe, Vidal said: "In the late '30s and early '40s, many Americans - and I was one - were isolationist. We thought that, as we had gained nothing from the First World War - except an erosion of our civil liberties and the prohibition of alcohol - why should we again help England and France against Germany?"
The common thread that runs throughout Vidal's books is his quixotic attachment to pure republicanism. Exactly when America became an imperial power is a question as watery as when the country lost its "innocence." Did it start with the mid-19th century doctrine of Manifest Destiny, which heralded the young nation's ever-westward expansion? Or was it the Spanish-American War that whetted America's expansionist palate? In Burr, Vidal seems to suggest that America's Roman adventures began with Jefferson and the unconstitutional Louisiana Purchase; in the more recent The Golden Age, he traces the roots of American imperialism to the years between the New Deal and the McCarthy era. Whatever the case, it is this sort of empire-mindedness that underpins Vidal's twisted sympathy for Timothy McVeigh and, of late, his predictable opposition to the American war against terrorism.
You'd think that after suffering the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history - the worst attack of any kind since Pearl Harbor - that Vidal might see the virtue of fighting a defensive war against religious extremists bent on ending civilization as we know it. You might think, whatever our faults, America didn't deserve September 11. But you'd be wrong: The ongoing war is, Vidal says, just another chapter in America's sordid history of corporation-backed imperialism. Vidal, who has lived lavishly as an expatriate on Italy's Amalfi coast, gives the lie to the claim that the Left poses no serious opposition to the war. In December, he told London's Guardian newspaper:
The United States does not have an interest in Afghanistan. The Bush family does. Oil. As does Vice-President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. We have a bunch of oilmen running the country. It will be like Vietnam in the sense that it is unwinnable. I suppose we could put in a government in Kabul, but as the guerilla warfare continues and we have no national interest, we'll drift away; though Bush can keep the war going until 2004, so he can be elected president.
As always, the outmoded emphasis on moneyed interests and Cold War-era calculation - as though there's nothing unique about this war or Islamo-fascism. Vidal favors the unimaginative "blowback" explanation of why we were attacked: "You keep attacking people for such a long time, one of them is going to get you back," he said.
Vidal has written similar musings in a collection of essays called The End of Liberty: Toward A New Totalitarianism, but can't find a U.S. publisher to put it out. More evidence of overweening corporations, Vidal says. The more likely explanation is that the book is a confection of paranoid fantasy. Flash back to last summer, when Vidal explained his affection for a homegrown terrorist, Timothy McVeigh. In retrospect, the episode revealed a lot about what makes the anti-American heart tick.
In the September 2001 issue of Vanity Fair, Vidal contributed a bizarre, sprawling, incoherent, and - by his standards - badly written article in which he charged that the F.B.I. concealed evidence of three possible accomplices in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing; moreover, he suggested that the agency was involved in the bombing itself - all in an effort to create sufficient panic to ensure the enactment of a statist anti-terrorism bill eventually signed into law by then President Clinton. For good measure, Vidal let fly another possibility ("the grandest conspiracy of all"): McVeigh "neither made nor set off the bomb outside the Murrah building: it was only later, when facing either death or life imprisonment, that he saw to it that he would be given sole credit [for the bombing]."
Rhapsodically, Vidal explained what he and McVeigh shared in common: a hatred of what the U.S. federal government has become: a bloated, lawless, unaccountable, murderous, secretive Leviathan - an evil empire. McVeigh was a standard-issue, black-helicopter, Turner Diaries kind of antigovernment extremist; Vidal's is a more leftish paranoia, expressed in a different vocabulary of unnamed enemies. The bogeymen for militia types like McVeigh are the Illuminati, Jews, and the United Nations; for Vidal they're the anonymous villains of the national security state, the military-industrial complex (yes, I know that was Eisenhower's coinage), and of course, corporations. Where McVeigh's and Vidal's paranoia met - and what became the basis for their epistolary kinship - is the F.B.I.'s homicidal assaults at Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas.
Vidal called Buckley a "pro-crypto-Nazi," a modest slip of the tongue, he later said, because he was searching for the word "fascist" and it just didn't come out. Inflamed by the word "Nazi" and the whole tenor of the discussion,Buckley snapped: "Now listen, you queer," he said, "stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or Ill sock you in your goddamn face and youll stay plastered."
Even WFB lost his well-known cool when listening to the gay Vidal spout off.