Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace Part 3

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Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace is a Webnovel created by Gore Vidal.
This lightnovel is currently completed.

28 May 2001.

The New Theocrats.

June 18, 1997, proved to be yet another day that will live in infamy in the history of The Wall Street Journal, or t.w.m.i.p., “the world’s most important publication,” as it bills itself- blissfully unaware of just how unknown this cheery neofascist paper is to the majority of Americans, not to mention those many billions who dwell in darkness where the sulfurous flashes of Wall Street’s little paper are no more than marsh gas from the distant marches of the loony empire. June 18 was the day that t.w.m.i.p. took an ad in the New York Times, the paper that prints only the news that will fit its not-dissimilar mind-set. The ad reprinted a t.w.m.i.p. editorial t.i.tled “Modern Morality,” a subject I should have thought alien to the core pa.s.sions of either paper. But then for Americans morality has nothing at all to do with ethics or right action or who is stealing what money-and liberties-from whom. Morality is s.e.x. s.e.x. s.e.x.

The edit’s lead is piping hot. “In the same week that an Army general with 147 Vietnam combat missions” (remember the Really Good War, for lots of Dow Jones listings?) “ended his career over an adulterous affair 13 years ago” (t.w.m.i.p. is on strong ground here; neither the general nor the lady nor any other warrior should be punished for adulteries not conducted while on watch during enemy attack) “the news broke”-I love that phrase in a journal of powerful opinion and so little numberless news-“that a New Jersey girl gave birth to a baby in the bathroom at her high school prom, put it in the trash and went out to ask the deejay to play a song by Metallica-for her boyfriend. The baby is dead.”

Misled by the word “girl, ” visualized a panicky p.u.b.escent tot. But days later, when one Melissa Drexler was indicted for murder, she was correctly identified by the Times as a “woman, 18.” In a recently published photograph of her alongside her paramour at the prom, the couple look to be in their early thirties. But it suited t.w.m.i.p. to misrepresent Ms. Drexler as yet another innocent child corrupted by laissez-faire American liberal “values,” so unlike laissez-faire capitalism, the great good.

All this is “moral chaos,” keens the writer. I should say that all this is just plain old-fashioned American stupidity where a religion-besotted majority is cynically egged on by a ruling establishment whose most rabid voice is The Wall Street Journal.

“We have no good advice on how the country might extricate itself anytime soon from a swamp of s.e.xual confusion-” You can say that again and, of course, you will. So, rather than give bad advice, cease and desist from taking out ads to blame something called The Liberals. In a country evenly divided between political reactionaries and religious maniacs, I see hardly a liberal like a tree-or even a burning bush-walking. But the writer does make it clear that the proscribed general was treated unfairly while the “girl” with baby is a statistic to be exploited by right-wing journalists, themselves often not too far removed from the odious Metallica-listening orders who drop babies in Johns, a bad situation that might have been prevented by the use, let us say, of a rubber when “girl” and “boy” had s.e.x.

But, no. We are a.s.sured that the moral chaos is the result of s.e.xual education and “littering,” as the ad puts it, “the swamp” with “condoms that for about the past five years have been dispensed by adults running our high schools… or by machines located in, by coincidence, the bathroom.” Presumably, the confessional would be a better venue, if allowed. So, on the one hand, it is bad, as we all agree, for a woman to give birth and then abandon a baby; but then too, it’s wrong, for some metaphysical reason, to help prevent such a birth from taking place. There is no sense of cause/effect when these geese start honking. Of course, t.w.m.i.p. has its own agendum: outside marriage, no s.e.x of any kind for the lower cla.s.ses and a policing of everyone, including generals and truly valuable people, thanks to the same liberals who now “forbid nothing and punish anything.” This is s.p.a.ceship-back-of-the-comet reasoning.

The sensible code observed by all the world (except for certain fundamentalist monotheistic Jews, Christians, and Muslims) is that “consensual” relations in s.e.xual matters are no concern of the state. The United States has always been backward in these matters, partly because of its Puritan origins and partly because of the social arrangements arrived at during several millennia of family-intensive agrarian life, rudely challenged a mere century ago by the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the cities and, lately, by the postindustrial work-world of services in which “safe” prost.i.tution should have been, by now, a bright jewel.

Although the “screed” (a favorite right-wing word) in the Times ad is mostly rant and not to be taken seriously, the spirit behind all this blather is interestingly hypocritical. T.w.m.i.p. is not interested in morality. In fact, any company that can increase quarterly profits through the poisoning of a river is to be treasured. But the piece does reflect a certain unease that the people at large, most visibly through s.e.x, may be trying to free themselves from their masters, who grow ever more stern and exigent in their prohibitions-one strike and you’re out is their dirty little secret. In mid-screed; the paper almost comes to the point: “Very simply [sic], what we’re suggesting here is that the code of s.e.xual behavior formerly set down by established religion In the U.S. more or less kept society healthy, unlike the current manifest catastrophe.” There it is. Where is Norman Lear, creator of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, now that we need him? Visualize on the screen gray clapboard, slate-colored sky, omni-ous (as Darryl Zanuck used to say) music. Then a woman’s plaintive voice calling “Hester Prynne, Hester Prynne!” as the screen fills with a pulsing scarlet “A.”

So arriere-garde that it is often avant-garde, t.w.m.i.p. is actually on to something. Although I shouldn’t think anyone on its premises has heard of the eighteenth-century Neapolitan scholar Vico, our readers will recall that Vico, working from Plato, established various organic phases in human society. First, Chaos. Then Theocracy. Then Aristocracy. Then Democracy-but as republics tend to become imperial and tyrannous, they collapse and we’re back to Chaos and to its child Theocracy, and a new cycle. Currently, the United States is a mildly chaotic imperial republic headed for the exit, no bad thing unless there is a serious outbreak of Chaos, in which case a new age of religion will be upon us. Anyone who ever cared for our old Republic, no matter how flawed it always was with religious exuberance, cannot not prefer Chaos to the harsh rule of Theocrats. Today, one sees them at their savage worst in Israel and in certain Islamic countries, like Afghanistan, etc. Fortunately, thus far their social regimentation is still no match for the universal l.u.s.t for consumer goods, that brave new world at the edge of democracy. As for Americans, we can still hold the fort against our very own praying mantises-for the most part, fundamentalist Christians abetted by a fierce, decadent capitalism in thrall to totalitarianism as proclaimed so saucily in the New York Times of June 18,1997.

The battle line is now being drawn. Even as the unfortunate “girl” in New Jersey was instructing the deejay, the Christian right was organizing itself to go after permissiveness in entertainment. On June 18 the Southern Baptists at their annual convention denounced the Disney company and its TV network, ABC, for showing a lesbian as a human being, reveling in Pulp Fiction violence, flouting Christian family values. I have not seen the entire bill of particulars (a list of more than one hundred “properties” to be boycotted was handed out), but it all sounds like a pretrial deposition from Salem’s glory days. Although I have criticized the Disney cartel for its media domination, I must now side with the challenged octopus.

This is the moment for Disney to throw the full weight of its wealth at the Baptists, who need a lesson in const.i.tutional law they will not soon forget. They should be brought to court on the usual chilling-of-First-Amendment grounds as well as for restraint of trade. Further, and now let us for once get to the root of the matter. The tax exemptions for the revenues of all the churches from the Baptists to the equally absurd-and equally mischievous-Scientologists must be removed.

The original gentlemen’s agreement between Church and State was that We the People (the State) will in no way help or hinder any religion while, absently, observing that as religion is “a good thing,” the little church on Elm Street won’t have to pay a property tax. No one envisaged that the most valuable real estate at the heart of most of our old cities would be tax-exempt, as churches and temples and orgone boxes increased their holdings and portfolios. The quo for this huge quid was that religion would stay out of politics and not impose its superst.i.tions on Us the People. The agreement broke down years ago. The scandalous career of the Reverend Presidential Candidate Pat Robertson is a paradigm.

As Congress will never act, this must be a gra.s.s-roots movement to amend the Const.i.tution, even though nothing in the original First Amendment says a word about tax exemptions or any other special rights to churches, temples, orgone boxes. This is a useful war for Disney to fight, though I realize that the only thing more cowardly than a movie studio or TV network is a conglomerate forced to act in the open. But if you don’t, Lord Mouse, it will be your rodentian a.s.s 15.7 million Baptists will get, not to mention the a.s.ses of all the rest of us.

The Nation.

21 July 1997.

A letter to be delivered.

I am writing this note a dozen days before the inauguration of the loser of the year 2000 presidential election. We are now faced with a j.a.panese seventeenth-century-style arrangement: a powerless Mikado ruled by a shogun vice president and his Pentagon warrior counselors. Do they dream, as did the shoguns of yore, of the conquest of China? We shall know more soon, I should think, than late. Sayonara.

11 January 2001.

[*] Congratulations, Mr. President-Elect. Like everyone else, I’m eagerly looking forward to your inaugural address. As you must know by now, we could never get enough of your speeches during the recent election in which the best man won, as he always does in what Spiro Agnew so famously called “the greatest nation in the country.”

[* This was written for Vanity Fair before the November 7, 2000, presidential election.]

Apropos your first speech to us as president. I hope you don’t mind if I make a few suggestions, much as I used to do in the sixties when I gave my regular States of the Union roundups on David Susskind’s TV show of blessed memory. Right off, it strikes me that this new beginning may be a good place to admit that for the last fifty years we have been waging what the historian Charles A. Beard so neatly termed “perpetual war for perpetual peace.”

It is my impression, Mr. President-Elect, that most Americans want our economy converted from war to peace. Naturally, we still want to stand tall. We also don’t want any of our tax money wasted on health care because that would be Communism, which we all abhor. But we would like some of our tax dollars spent on education. Remember what you said in your terminal debate with your opponent, now so much charred and crumbling toast? “Education is the key to the new millennium.” (Actually, looking at my notes, all four of you said that.) In any case, it is time we abandon our generally unappreciated role as world policeman, currently wasting Colombia, source of satanic drugs, while keeping Cuba, Iraq, and, until recently, Serbia “in correction,” as policepersons call house arrest. This compulsive interference in the affairs of other states is expensive and pointless. Better we repair our own country with “internal improvements,” as Henry Clay used to say. But in order to do this your first big job will be to curb the Pentagon warlords and their fellow conspirators in Congress and the boardrooms of corporate America. Ever since the Soviet Union so unsportingly disbanded in order to pursue protocapitalism and double-entry bookkeeping, our warlords have been anxiously searching for new enemies in order to justify an ever increasing military budget. Obviously, there is Terrorism to be fought. There is also the war on Drugs, to be fought but never won. Even so, in the failed attempt, the coming destruction of Colombia, a once liberal democratic nation, promises to be great fun for warlords and media, if not the residents of a once happy nation. Lately, a new clear and present danger has been unveiled; Rogue States, or “states of concern.” Currently, North Korea, Iraq, and Iran have been so fingered, while the world’s 1 billion Muslims have been demonized as crazed fanatics, dedicated to destroying all that is good on earth, which is us.

Since we have literally targeted our enemies, the Pentagon a.s.sumes that, sooner or later. Rogues will take out our cities, presumably from s.p.a.ceships. So to protect ourselves, the Ronald Reagan Memorial Nuclear s.p.a.ce Shield must be set in place at an initial cost of $60 billion even though, as of July, tests of the system, no matter how faked by the Pentagon, continued to fail The fact that, according to
polls, a majority of your const.i.tuents believe that we already have such a shield makes it possible for you to say you’re updating it and then do nothing. After all, from 1949 to J 1999 the United States spent $7.1 trillion on “national ;
defense.” As a result, the national debt is $5.6 trillion, of which $3.6 trillion is owed to the public, and $2 trillion to the Social Security-Medicare Trust Funds, all due to military spending and to the servicing of the debt thus incurred.

Mr. President-Elect, since Treasury figures are traditionally juggled, it would be nice if you were to see to it that the actual income and outgo of federal money are honestly reported. Last year the government told us, falsely, that its
income was just over $1.8 trillion while it spent just under j $1.8 trillion; hence, the famous, phantom surplus when If there was, of course, our usual homely deficit of around $90 billion. Year after year, the government’s official income is inflated by counting as revenue the income of the people’s Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds. These funds are not federal revenue. This year Social Security has a healthy surplus of $150 billion. No wonder corporate America and its employees in Congress are eager to privatize this healthy fund, thus far endangered only by them.

Although actual military spending was indeed lower last year than usual, half the budget still went to pay for wars to come as well as to blowing up the odd aspirin factory in the Sudan. Cash outlays for the military were $344 billion while interest on the military-caused national debt was $282 billion: sorry to bore you with these statistics, but they are at the heart of our-what was Jimmy Carter’s unfortunate word?-malaise (that’s French for broke). The Clinton administration’s cheery promise of a $1.8 trillion budget surplus over the next decade was, of course, a bold if comforting fiction, based on surreal estimates of future federal income-not to mention expenditures that, if anything like last September’s congressional spending spree, will drown us in red ink.

Sir, if you are going to be of any use at all to the nation and to the globe that it holds hostage, you will have to tame the American military. Discipline the out-of-control service chiefs. Last September, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General H. H. Shelton, declared that more, not less, dollars were needed. Specifically, the Marines want an extra $1.5 billion per year, the army wants over $30 billion, the navy $20 billion, the air force $30 billion, all in the absence of an enemy (we spend twenty-two times more than our seven potential enemies-Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria-combined). You must not grant these ruinous increases.

In August 1961, I visited President Kennedy at Hyannis Port. The Berlin Wall was going up, and he was about to begin a huge military buildup-reluctantly, or so he said, as he puffed on a cigar liberated by a friend from Castro’s Cuba. It should be noted that Jack hated liberals more than he did conservatives. “No one can ever be liberal enough for the New York Post,” he said. “Well, the Post should be happy now. Berlin’s going to cost us at least three and a half billion dollars. So, with this military buildup, we’re going to have a seven-billion-dollar deficit for the year. That’s a lot of pump priming.” He scowled. “G.o.d, I hate the way they throw money around over there at the Pentagon.”

“It’s not they,” I said. “It’s you. It’s your administration.” Briskly, he told me the facts of life, and I repeat them now as advice from the thirty-fifth to the-what are you, Mr. President? Forty- third president? “The only way for a president to control the Pentagon would be if he spent the entire four years of his first term doing nothing else but investigating that mess, which means he really could do nothing else…”

“Like getting reelected?”

He grinned. “Something like that.”

So I now propose, Mr. President-Elect, while there is still time, that you zero in on the links between corporate America and the military and rationalize as best you can the various procurement policies, particularly the Ronald Reagan Memorial Nuclear Shield. You should also leak to the American people certain Pentagon secrets. In 1995, we still had our missiles trained on 2,500 foreign targets. Today, to celebrate peace in the world, our missiles are trained on 3,000 foreign targets-of which 2,260 are in Russia; the rest are directed at China and the Rogue States. Although President Clinton has spoken eloquently of the need for a reduction in such dangerous nuclear targeting, the Pentagon does as it pleases, making the world unsafe for everyone. But then USA Today recently reported that the military enjoys the highest popularity rating (64 percent) of any group in the country-the Congress and Big Business are among the lowest. Of course, the services do spend $265 million annually on advertising.

Jack Kennedy very much enjoyed Fletcher Knebel’s thriller Seven Days in May, later a film. The story: a jingo based on the real-life Admiral Arthur Radford plans a military coup to take over the White House. Jack found the book riveting. “Only,” he chuckled, rather grimly, “it’s a lot more likely that this president will one day raise his own army and occupy their d.a.m.ned building.” No, I don’t agree with Oliver Stone that the generals killed him. But there is, somewhere out there, a watchdog that seems never to bark in the night. Yet the dog that doesn’t bark is the one that should be guarding the house from burglars, in this case the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower so generously warned us against. Although there are many media stories about costly overruns in the defense industries as well as the slow beginning of what may yet turn into an actual debate over the nuclear shield that Reagan envisaged for us after seeing Alfred Hitchc.o.c.k’s Torn Curtain, a movie nowhere near as good as Seven Days in May, there is, as yet, no debate over the role of the military in the nation’s life and its ongoing threat to us all, thanks to the hubris of senior officers grown accustomed to dispensing vast amounts of the people’s money for missiles that can’t hit targets and bombers that can’t fly in the rain. Congress, which should ride herd, does not because too many of its members are financed by those same companies that absorb our tax money, nor is it particularly helpful that senior officers, after placing orders with the defense industries, so often go to work as salesmen for the very same companies they once bought from.

Of all recent presidents, Clinton was expected to behave the most sensibly in economic matters. He understood how the economy works. But because he had used various dodges to stay out of the Vietnam War, he came to office ill at ease with the military. When Clinton tried to live up to his pledge to gay voters that the private life of any military person was no one’s business but his own, the warlords howled that morale would be destroyed. Clinton backed down. When Clinton went aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt to take the salute, sailors pranced around with mop ends on their heads, doing f.a.g imitations while hooting at the president, who just stood there. These successful insults to civilian authority have made the military ever more truculent and insolent. And now they must be brought to heel.

This summer, the warlords of the Pentagon presented the secretary of defense with their Program Objective Memorandum. Usually, this is a polite wish list of things that they would like to see under the Christmas tree. By September, the wish list sounded like a harsh ultimatum. As one dissenting officer put it, “Instead of a budget based on a top-line budget number, the chiefs are demanding a budget based on military strategy.” Although their joint military strategies, as tested in war over the last fifty years, are usually disastrous, military strategy in this context means simply extorting from the government $30 billion a year over and above the 51 percent of the budget that now already goes for war. Mr. President-Elect, I would advise you to move your office from the West Wing of the White House to the Pentagon, across the river. Even though every day that you spend there could prove to be your Ides of March, you will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that you tried to do something for us, the hitherto unrepresented people.

Fifty years ago, Harry Truman replaced the old republic with a national-security state whose sole purpose is to wage perpetual wars, hot, cold, and tepid. Exact date of replacement? February 27, 1947. Place: White House Cabinet Room. Cast: Truman, Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson, a handful of congressional leaders. Republican senator Arthur Vandenberg told Truman that he could have his militarized economy only if he first “scared the h.e.l.l out of the American people” that the Russians were coming. Truman obliged. The perpetual war began. Representative government of, by, and for the people is now a faded memory. Only corporate America enjoys representation by the Congresses and presidents that it pays for in an arrangement where no one is entirely accountable because those who have bought the government also own the media. Now, with the revolt of the Praetorian Guard at the Pentagon, we are entering a new and dangerous phase. Although we regularly stigmatize other societies as rogue states, we ourselves have become 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. Although We the People of the United States are the sole source of legitimate authority in this land, we are no longer represented in Congress a.s.sembled. Our Congress has been hijacked by corporate America and its enforcer, the imperial military machine. We the unrepresented People of the United States are as much victims of this militarized government as the Panamanians, Iraqis, or Somalians. We have allowed our inst.i.tutions to be taken over in the name of a globalized American empire that is totally alien in concept to anything our founders had in mind. I suspect that it is far too late in the day for us to restore the republic that we lost a half-century ago.

Even so, Mr. President-Elect, there is an off chance that you might actually make some difference if you start now to rein in the warlords. Reduce military spending, which will make you popular because you can then legitimately reduce our taxes instead of doing what you have been financed to do, freeing corporate America of its small tax burden. The 1950 taxes on corporate profits accounted for 25 percent of federal revenue; in 1999 only 10.1 percent. Finally, as sure as you were not elected by We the People but by the vast sums of unaccountable corporate money, the day of judgment is approaching. Use your first term to break the Pentagon. Forget about a second term. After all, if you succeed on the other side of the Potomac, you will be a hero to We the People. Should you fail or, worse, do nothing, you may be the last president, by which time history will have ceased to notice the United States and all our proud rhetoric will have been reduced to an ever diminishing echo. Also, brood upon an odd remark made by your canny, if ill-fated, predecessor Clinton. When Gingrich and his Contract on (rather than with) America took control of Congress, Clinton said, “The president is not irrelevant.” This was a startling admission that he could become so. Well, sir, be relevant. Preserve, protect, and defend what is left of our ancient liberties, not to mention our heavily mortgaged fortune.[*]

Vanity Fair.

December 2000.

[* And so Mr. President, elected by the Supreme Court (5-4), has now, in addition to a vice president who was a former secretary of defense, appointed another former defense secretary to his old post as well as a general to be secretary of state; thus the pa.s.s was sold. We are now in, the president tells us, “a long war”-presumably to the end.]

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