Imperial America: Gore Vidal Reflects on the United States of Amnesia
In his latest book Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia acclaimed author Gore Vidal writes that, "Not since the 1846 attack on Mexico in order to seize California has an American government been so nakedly predatory." Gore Vidal joins us in our firehouse studio to discuss President Bush, elections and much more. [includes rush transcript]
Our guest for the program is a national icon. He is the author of more than 20 novels and five plays. He is one of the best known chroniclers of American history and politics and his works have been translated into dozens of languages across the globe. He once told a magazine interviewer, "There is not one human problem that could not be solved... if people would simply do as I advise." And for more than a half a century, he has done just that." I am talking about Gore Vidal.
He published his first novel, Williwawa, in 1946 at the age of 21. He began writing poems and stories as a young teen-ager and began his first novel while he was still in high school. His grandfather was a senator and his father worked for the Roosevelt administration. But rather than pursuing a family career of politics and privilege, Gore Vidal dedicated himself to writing and critiquing the injustices of American society. Following the publication of the first two of his latest trilogy of books examining the American empire, Vidal was described as the last "noble defender" of the American republic, America’s last "small-r" republican. The third and final book of the trilogy has just been published. It is called "Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia."
In his latest book, Gore Vidal writes that "Not since the 1846 attack on Mexico in order to seize California has an American government been so nakedly predatory." He describes the current president as being like "a man in one of those dreams who knows he is safe in bed and so can commit any crime he likes in his voluptuous dream. No one can stop him."
Gore Vidal joins us in our firehouse studio. Transcript
Gore Vidal on the "United States of Amnesia"
Acclaimed author Gore Vidal’s new book is called "Imperial America: The United States of Amnesia." We spoke with Vidal recently about the Bush administration, historical memory and 9/11. [includes rush transcript]
Gore Vidal is one of America’s most prolific and best-known writers. He has written more than 22 books and more than 200 essays. A collection of his essays won the National Book Award in 1993.
Vidal is the author most recently of Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace and Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Bush-Cheney Junta. Taken together, the books constitute a comprehensive attack on America’s imperialist ambitions and the military-industrial complex.
Writing in The Scotsman, critic Gavin Esler called Perpetual War "the finest serious critique of America’s use and abuse of power in the 21st century that I have read."
I had an opportunity to speak with Vidal recently. We’re going to play some of that interview. He begins by discussing his thoughts about the United States post-9/11. Transcript
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The A-Z of Gore Vidal
Stuart Jeffries and Stephen Moss
1 August 2012
He loved the Kennedys, hated Truman Capote and claimed he slept with 1,000 men and women before he was 25. We celebrate the life of Gore Vidal
A is for America
Vidal described his homeland as the United States of Amnesia. Throughout his life he railed against how he felt it had betrayed its founding principles. "The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country – and we haven't seen them since," he said once. "Congress no longer declares war or makes budgets. So that's the end of the constitution as a working machine." He also had little time for the office of president, at least when that office wasn't occupied by a Kennedy, saying: "Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically by definition be disqualified from ever doing so."
He told the Times three years ago that the US is "rotting away at a funereal pace. We'll have a military dictatorship pretty soon, on the basis that nobody else can hold everything together." There was a gleefulness in Vidal's acerbic denunciations of the US: significantly, the New York Times's obituarist yesterday charged that he "presided with a certain relish over what he declared to be the end of American civilisation".
B is for Bush
It's no surprise then that he detested George W Bush. Indeed, Vidal claimed the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 occurred because the Bush administration was "incompetent" and Bush himself was "inactive and inopportune". Vanity Fair refused to publish an essay he wrote reflecting on the attacks. In another essay, published by the Independent, he compared the attacks to the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbour, arguing that both presidents Franklin D Roosevelt and Bush knew of them in advance and used the disasters to advance their agendas. "We should stop going around babbling about how we're the greatest democracy on earth, when we're not even a democracy. We are a sort of militarised republic."
C is for Capote
Not all Vidal's targets were political. He had a lengthy feud with fellow writer Truman Capote. Capote, perhaps, started it. He gave an interview saying that Vidal had been thrown out of the White House for drunkenness and quarrelling with Jackie Onassis's mother. Vidal took Capote to court for libel, where the two traded insults. Vidal suggested Capote had "raised lying into an art – a minor art". Capote retorted: "Of course, I'm always sad about Gore. Very sad that he has to breathe every day." After the pair settled out of court, their feud continued – even outliving Capote. After the death of his nemesis in 1984, Vidal insulted Capote one last time, saying his death had been "a good career move".
D is for democracy
Vidal was sceptical about democracy in general ("Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates") and its American incarnation in particular ("Every four years the naive half who vote are encouraged to believe that if we can elect a really nice man or woman president everything will be all right. But it won't be.") more