Thunder's Mouth Press/Nation Books ($11.95)
by Mark Sorkin
In his paperback bestseller Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, published last spring as a belated response to 9/11, Gore Vidal peeled the "evil-doer" label off Osama bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh and pasted it onto the Bush administration. With Dreaming War, he continues to rail against what he considers America's evil empire with his characteristically acerbic verve, updating his arguments to address the impending conflict in Iraq. "Once Afghanistan looked to be within the fold," he writes, the administration "abruptly replaced Osama, the personification of evil, with Saddam Hussein. This has been hard to explain since there is nothing to connect Iraq with 9/11. Happily, 'evidence' is now being invented."
Vidal has relentlessly criticized American foreign policy for decades, and his recent harangues against the "Cheney-Bush junta," as he dubs it, are particularly damning. Published in an anxious climate where dissent and patriotism have been recast as polar opposites, Dreaming War makes good fodder for readers sympathetic to Vidal's iconoclastic politics and easy sport for those charged by rhetoric about anti-Americanism. But Vidal insists he's a patriot. In fact, he considers himself one of the last guardians of the republic, and he continually invokes the founding fathers to defend American ideals against their co-optation by lobbies and corporate interests.
In the past half century, Vidal argues, America transformed from a Jeffersonian republic to a "National Security State." Several of the essays collected here (more than half of which are recycled from The Last Empire) set out to debunk historical myths and "Received Opinions" about World War II and the Cold War, presenting alternative narratives that expose the machinations of an emerging superpower. According to Vidal, Roosevelt wasn't surprised by the Pearl Harbor attack; he provoked it because he needed public support for intervention in Europe. And even though Japan was ready to accept defeat in 1945, Truman dropped the atomic bombs to intimidate the Soviets. The ensuing Cold War required the creation of the "many-tentacled enemy" of Communism to justify the forty-year prosecution of wars for imperial gain.
Today, Vidal continues, a similar fog obfuscates public reception of the war on terrorism. The face of the enemy has changed, but the script is the same—along with the pointed questions Vidal poses. Was 9/11 a surprise attack, or was it provoked? What took the Air Force so long to respond once the hijacked planes deviated from their flight patterns? More generally, to what extent do the interests of the energy industry affect military strategy in oil-rich Afghanistan and Iraq?
It's not difficult to guess Vidal's answers. (Hint: "Blood for Oil" appears in the subtitle.) In that sense, Dreaming War amounts to a small stew of compelling but predictable arguments, with some witty barbs sprinkled throughout and just a dash of ego to spice things up. Ironically, most of Vidal's current responses to Received Opinion correspond to Received Counter-Opinion. Maybe that's because he's writing the official anti-script.
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2003 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2003