The Last Empire (Gore Vidal) - Vintage Books - 2001 - 465 pages

Gore Vidal (1925-2012) was a truth teller; unafraid of telling the truth to power.  He wrote dozens of novels, plays, non-fiction works & movie and television treatments.  He was a lover of the novel and of the English language.  But, he saved his sharpest critiques for the numerous essays he wrote for The Nation, Vanity Fair, The New York Review of Books, etc.  This collection covers articles written in 1992-2000 and refers to the post-World War II period (1950-2000) when the "National Security State" created the current American empire.  The essays here are so rich that I could not possibly do them justice with a summary.  Instead, I provide some selected quotes to give a taste of his intellect and generosity. [JAM 4/24/2019]

 "(Edmund) Wilson presents us with a new view of the matter (The Sixties) while dispensing with received opinion.  He also places his analysis in the full context of the cold war just as it was about to turn hot in Vietnam.  Before anyone knew precisely what our national security state really was, Wilson, thirty years ago, git it right ..."

"At some point, unclear to me, the Viet Cong must have bombed San Diego ... Whenever LBJ was attacked for having put the troops in Vietnam for no clear reason, he would charge those who questioned presidential mischief with disloyalty ... against our brave boys, when, of course, it was he and Eisenhower and Kennedy and Ford and Nixon who supported the sacrifice of our brave boys in a war that none of the presidents could ever, with straight face, explain ..."

"I realize that in a world where democracy is on the rise everywhere except in American politics, one style can never be better than another, 'caues my feelings are just as deep as yours and how can you criticize my voice, my style which is Me?  To which some of us old meanies must respond, well, dear, if you choose to send your letter to the world then here's the answer, assuming the letter was not returned to sender for lack of correct address or sufficient postage,"

"(Updike's) Danny does admit that we got nothing out of Vietnam, not even 'thanks' - one wonders from whom he thinks gratitude ought to come.  But, no matter.  Danny hates Communism.  Hates Ho Chi Minh.  Hates those 'Hollywood fatcats and bleeding hearts' who oppose the many wars ... It would seem that Udpike-Danny has not got the point.  The people of the country don't hate the country, only what has been done to it by those who profit from hot and cold wars ..."

"(William) Doyle (Inside the Oval Office) seems to think that there is nothing wrong with the American political system that a few honest guys and gals in high office couldn't cure.  But to obtain high office those guys and gals have to raise millions and millions of dollars first and this can only be done dishonestly, even by our Rube Goldberg rules, the ever-shifting campaign financing laws."

"Feminism as we now know it was a minor eccentricity in those days (1950s).  Otherwise, she (Clare Boothe Luce) might have been admired as what she was, a very tough woman who had so perfectly made it in a man's world.  But then, one thinks of Hillary Clinton, perhaps not - of course, Hillary-haters are mostly men, and the men of long ago were generally fetched by Clare.  It was the women who wanted to do her in.  She had her revenge."

"Although politically minded, Clare could not be said to have any proper politics.  She was basically a vulgar Darwinist.  The rich were better than the poor; otherwise they would not be rich.  She could mock the idle rich, but the self-made must be untaxed by such do-gooders as the Roosevelts.  Harry (Luce) was much the same, except for one great bee in his bonnet: he believed, fervently, that it was the task of the United States in the twentieth century to Christianize China, the job that his dad, the missionary, had so signally failed to do.  The damage that this one bee did to our politics is still with us, as the Christian right now beats its jungle drums in the chigger belt, calling for war with China."

"Born in 1935, Andy (Kopkind) was a decade my junior.  Since we were like-minded in so many ways that decade should not have made much difference, but it did in the sense that he was always somewhat exotic to me.  The Sixties never meant much to me but they were everything to someone his age.  I was - and am - the Forties-Fifties, shaped by the second war and Dr. Kinsey, 'radicalized' by Korea and Joe McCarthy.  Even so, the slight sense of strangeness I felt about him and his generation only made his take on matters of mutual interest attractively aslant."

"... it must be noted that Judaism's two dreary spinoffs, Christianity and Islam, have given even wider range to the notion of the true godless folk as 'white man's burden,' 'cursed infidels' and 'lesser breeds' so much less human than those whipped up in the true God's bookish image."

"Since 1950 the United States has fought perhaps a hundred overt and covert wars.  None was declared by the nominal representatives of the American People in Congress Assembled; they had meekly turned over to the executive their principal great power, to wage war.  That was the end of the Constitution."

"... as early as the American election of 1848, socialism - imported by comical German immigrants with noses always in books - was an ominous specter, calculated to derange a raw capitalist society with labor unions, health care, and other Devil's work still being fiercely resisted a century and a half later."

"Over the years, I have written quite a lot about the state of the Union.  Now, in the interest of novelty, I'd like to discuss Union od the State.  I have always tried to say something so obvious that no one else has noticed it.  For instance, I once suggested that we criminalize most firearms, and legalize most drugs.  This would put an end to the now eternal War on Crime that, we are told, is devasting our alabaster cities and not doing the amber waves of marijuana much good either.  I realize, of course, that vested interests are now too great for us to do anything of an intelligent nature in this - or almost any - regard.  The National Rifle Association will never wither away as long as there is a single Congressman left to be paid off or a child unarmed."

"We would like health care of the sort every civilized nation has but we can never have a rational system, as long as insurance companies are allowed to benefit.  The people may want affordable health care, but they are not going to get it in the United States of America as now constituted."

"As Jerry Brown and I had not spoken since I ran against him in the California Senate primary in 1982, I was pleasantly surprised and praised him for his plagiarism, no matter how belated.  He rang me in Italy.  Yes, it was my speech.  Unlike Joe Biden, he is an honest man."

"Today. elsewhere, we have military presences in Bermuda, Egypt, Iceland, Japan. Korea, Panama, the Philippines. Saudi Arabia [no longer], Kuwait, etc., not to mention all oveer the United States and our territories as well as two bases in Australia, one of which is a mysterious CIA unit at Alice Springs.  If all this does not constitute an empire, I don't know what does.  Yet we must not use the word, for reasons that the GE panel never addressed.  At one point, (Sander) Vanocur pretended that I had said the American people were eager for conquest when I said the opposite.  Our people tend to isolationism and it always takes a lot of corporate manipulation, as well as imperial presidential mischief, to get them into foreign wars.  Sadly (Arthur) Schlesinger confirmed that this was so."

"Although the United States is only a middling-size country, it is often at the so-called cutting edge of when it comes to the very latest technologies of control.  Recently a government spokesman noted that by the year 2008 there will be a central computer that will contain every American's financial dealings, including bank balances, use of credit cards, and so on.  At the touch of a button, the Treasury will know who has what money and the Treasury will then be able to deduct what it thinks it may need in the way of tax."

"It is corporate America, quite wingless in political as opposed to money matters, that declared war on the Clintons in 1993 when the innocent couple tried to give the American people a national health service, something every civilized country has but we must never enjoy because the insurance companies now get one third of the money spent on health care and the insurance companies are the piggy banks - the cash cows -  of corporate America."