“He knew something,” claimed Rick Bachleitner, an attendee of January’s massive rally in Washington, DC that ostensibly protested the apparently pending war in Iraq. The Milwaukeean, who carried a sign that read “9/11 Bush Knew,” explained, “9/11 is very convenient. It made [Bush] very popular. Now he has a cause on his war against terrorism. His real war against terrorism is empire building. That’s all it’s about.”
The tens-of-thousands gathered on the Mall largely concurred. Attendees chanted. “George Bush, corporate whore/We don’t want your oily war” was among the more popular mantras. Others sang. To the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a choir of graying ladies called the “Raging Grannies” sang: “George Bush is telling stories/And the media goes along.” A twelve-foot tall Uncle Sam on stilts could be seen sporting a Pinocchio-nose as he paraded through the crowd. Signs reading, “Get the Terrorists Out of the White House,” “USA Is #1 Terrorist,” and “Bush Is a Terrorist” were standard fare.
“I was not surprised by the events of 9/11,” a demonstrator from Burlington, Vermont remarked. “It’s like I’ve been waiting for years for something like that to happen because I knew that the people of the world were starting to pull away from capitalism.” The Green Mountain state activist contended that 9/11 “was allowed to happen.”
Where do these troubled people get their ideas?
A prime source is the septuagenarian crackpot Gore Vidal, whose latest offering is called Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta. The follow-up to his bestseller Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, Dreaming War seeks to unveil America as a money-hungry empire through a series of essays devoted to such subjects as 9/11, the Cold War, and World War II.
In the opening pages of this 197-page screed, Vidal notes, “we still don’t know by whom we were struck that Tuesday, or for what true purpose.” Actually, we do know who struck us on 9/11—al-Qaeda. The man behind the attacks, Osama bin Laden, has admitted his role in the nefarious deed. Even if he hadn’t, a mountain of evidence points to his guilt. If Vidal’s statement weren’t foolish enough, later in the book he contradicts it. First Vidal claims that we do not know why we were hit. Then, as if he hadn’t read his own book, Vidal informs the reader why we were attacked: “We had planned to occupy Afghanistan in October and Osama, or whoever it was who hit us in September, launched a pre-emptive strike.” Vidal refrained from offering any substantiation for this would-be bombshell, perhaps saving it for a future collection of his essays.
Despite an abundance of proof, Gore Vidal dismisses the idea that the 9/11 terrorists have been correctly fingered. Without any evidence, on the other hand, he shows no sign of wavering in his belief that President Bush knew of the attacks in advance. George Bush “allowed the American people to go unwarned about an imminent attack upon two of our cities in anticipation of a planned strike by the United States against the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
Why would George Bush let this happen?
For oil, stupid! This, of course, is the stock answer the Left uses to explain just about every U.S. military action. Even a country like Afghanistan, which lacks the rich oil reserves of many of its neighbors, is somehow linked to the West’s unquenchable thirst for black gold. Vidal writes: “the conquest itself had nothing to do with Osama. He was simply a pretext for replacing the Taliban with a relatively stable government that would allow Union Oil of California to lay its pipeline for the profit of, among others, the Cheney-Bush junta.” The oil crusade would not stop with Afghanistan, according to Vidal. The campaign in Afghanistan was likely a dress rehearsal for America’s “next giant step, which is to conquer Eurasia.”
According to the author, America is an empire. If this is so, America is the strangest empire to grace planet Earth. Where are America’s colonies? What wars of conquest ceded the U.S. new lands? Where would one find the American Empire on a map? What nations pay tribute to our coffers? To call America an “empire” is to redefine the term.
In this novelist’s foray outside of the world of fiction, the author tries to inject some of that make-believe into this polemic. Every few pages seem to contain some brazen lie or another.
* Vidal bizarrely claims that the military gets more than half of the federal government’s annual budget. The real figure is about 17 percent.
* Dreaming War maintains, “we are the lowest in foreign aid among developed countries,” adding that Israel receives the majority of this charity. The United States actually gives far more in foreign aid than any country in the world. The 2002 federal budget allotted $25 billion in allotments to foreign governments and to fight diseases like AIDS and malaria. The $25 billion figure, it should be noted, does not include billions for debt forgiveness and billions more for the International Monetary Fund. While Israel received more aid than any other nation in 2002, they did not receive anything close to the majority of our foreign aid budget, which Vidal alleges.
* Vidal speaks of “the half-century that got us $5 trillion into debt while reducing the median household income 7 percent.” While the debt figure is not far from true, no economic statistics indicate anything remotely close to a 7 percent decline in median household incomes over fifty years. The figure is simply made up.
Dreaming War’s attempts at history are likewise the stuff of a Twilight Zone episode. America gave Japan “no alternative but war” prior to Pearl Harbor. Elsewhere he claims that “the A-bombs were dropped after Japan was ready to surrender,” ignoring the obvious fact that the Empire of the Sun refused to surrender after Hiroshima. The post-war Soviet Union gets a pass from Vidal too. Why did Stalin gobble-up the countries of Eastern Europe? The answer is by now familiar. It was America’s fault. “We started to renege on our agreements to Stalin,” Vidal claims. “Stalin went ape at this betrayal.” Up is down. Good is evil. White is black.
Vidal claims that fellow America-hater Noam Chomsky is “largely blacked out by U.S. media.” Reality begs to differ. As reported in his book Public Intellectuals, Richard Posner found 1,300 media mentions of Noam Chomsky between 1995 and 2000. Nearly 90 percent of the references had to do with his political activism, rather than his scholarly work in the field of linguistics. While Chomsky himself had less than half the references of Vidal, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor had more mentions than Thomas Sowell, Dinesh D’Souza, Samuel Huntington, Richard Pipes, and other intellectuals who hold a decidedly different view of the world. Who’s really being “blacked out”?
Other Vidalisms are equally perplexing. He labels the New Republic a “far right” magazine, while Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who usually can be counted on to vote with the liberal wing of the bench, is deemed a “conservative.” For Vidal, these words have little to do with their real meanings and are used instead to denote people, things, or ideas that he doesn’t like.
Gore Vidal is reflexively anti-American. Because he always assumes the worst about the country whose uniform he once donned, he’s prone to error. One need not look far to find examples of the author molding the facts to suit his theories in Dreaming War. Because there is a large audience of Americans willing to believe lies about their country, Vidal will always have admirers who parrot his rants—as evidenced by the wild rhetoric at January’s protests near the Capitol.
Vidal can still turn a phrase, and the general idea that America would be better off if it refrained from involving itself in the internal affairs of non-belligerent foreign nations is a good one. Nevertheless, a vague understanding of a good idea and artsy prose doesn’t make up for wild theories and promiscuous use of falsehood. Clever writing doesn’t redeem sloppy thinking.