February 25, 2004


Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace:
How We Got to be So Hated

Gore Vidal

Why Ask Why? -- The magician Eugene Burger teaches "simplicity" in every lesson, yet he's enthralled by all of the great conspiracy theories. "That," observes his friend, the economist Jack Gould, "is the paradox of Eugene Burger." That, also, might just be a natural reaction to spending so much time studying the world's great religions, which Eugene has done throughout his adult life. Upon even the slightest analysis, religions are revealed to be little more than simple superstitions buoyed by elaborate conspiracies. (What is "eternal life," after all, if not the promised -- yet never delivered -- payoff in the world's largest pyramid scheme?) Eugene turned me onto this Gore Vidal book, which examines the conspiracy that keeps Americans from asking, "Why?"

"Certainly those of us in the why-business," Vidal writes, "have a difficult time in getting through the corporate-sponsored American media, so I thought it useful to describe here the various provocations on our side that drove both bin Laden and McVeigh to such terrible acts." This isn't some masochistic we-were-asking-for-it diatribe; rather, Vidal simply does not buy the easy label that both terrorists were "evil madmen." In fact, the label was created by our corporate-sponsored government and delivered by our corporate-sponsored media to protect precious corporate profits. At a panel discussion a while back at the Harold Washington Library, the writer Aleksander Hemon pointed out that our Capitalist-in-Chief, George W. Bush, stirred the American people to action after September 11 by challenging us with a rousing call to shop. It's quite clear to me that our Great Hypocrisy is designed to protect "our way of life" (read: Big Business) at all costs. And the most effective weapon in the arsenal is perhaps the oldest: hate. Hate is easy; understanding is hard -- and if there's one other thing that's crystal clear it's that George W. Bush likes things that come easy. ("That Florida election mess," you can just hear him saying, "man, that was hard!")

Vidal's book is an urgent read. He quotes a William Pfaff essay from September 17, 2001, which is even more chilling these days as terrorist activities multiply in Iraq: "A maddened U.S. response that hurts still others is what (terrorists) want: It will fuel the hatred that already fires the self-righteousness about their criminal acts against the innocent." Terrorism has replaced Communism as the New Evil in America; an evil so vast that our elected leaders -- bought and paid for by whom? Oh, yes, Big Business -- will spend tax dollar after tax dollar to wage combat on this "war" that will never end; just as they waste buckets of tax dollars on another endless war, the War on Drugs (read: War on Drugs That Are Not Corporate Drugs).

The title of Vidal's essay collection is taken from the historian Charles A. Beard, who posits that our nation's reliance on a militarized economy (and, therefore, the need for "perpetual war") began in 1947 under Harry S Truman. Vidal notes that the Federation of American Scientists has documented nearly 200 -- and let's face it, that's a staggering number -- U.S. military operations in these past 55 years. Vidal also argues that, currently, the terrorists are winning because our nation's leaders -- those self-proclaimed "defenders of freedom" -- are routinely, cynically chiselling away at more and more of our basic constitutional protections. "That pesky 4th amendment precluding illegal searches and seizures? Away with it! 'Freedom of Speech?!' Off with its head!"

Vidal does offer a few suggestions designed to give government back to the people: first, we must push for true campaign finance reform that cuts election costs by 90 percent (and thus terminates the endless fundraising and stops the all-out corporate purchasing of candidates); second, we must limit the campaign season to eight weeks as another way to contain costs (a suggestion I reject; candidates can't help but learn something as they traverse the campaign trail and many of our states and certainly our country are too big to cover in such a short time); and third, we must provide free national TV to national candidates and free local TV to local candidates (a suggestion I endorse). Of course none of this will happen without leadership and the current leadership -- bought and paid for by Enron, Exxon and So On -- won't lift a finger to help the average American. The scary thing is, that finger which won't be lifted is resting instead on the nuclear button. And it is George W. Bush, after all, who, at this time, is the most frightening of the world's unelected tyrants with weapons of mass destruction.

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