Can the Philippines destroy America?

Eternal war for everlasting peace. How America reaps the hatred it has sown

In almost all of his statements, Gore Vidal is about a militant counter-story to official American historiography. This applies to his historical novels, in which American presidents from Lincoln to Eisenhower are shown in unmasking close-ups. This is even more true of the essays and articles in which the historian Gore Vidal dips the events of contemporary history in an analytical acid bath in order, as he says, to dissolve the "imperial" layers of gloss. The small volume "Eternal War for Eternal Peace" brings together seven of these topical texts. Among them is the now famous essay on the events of September 11th, which finally made Gore Vidal a persona non grata in the United States. Even the left-wing liberal "Nation" refused to publish it. The text had to appear in Italy first. The excitement is understandable, as Vidal sees George Bush's "War on Terror" as the last stage of the "Eternal War" that began with the Cold War and to which the "US Empire" owes its existence.

I have listed two to three hundred unilateral military interventions in my book that our armed forces have used since 1948 against countries that posed no threat to the United States. Against Panama or Guatemala, for example, where we overthrew democratically elected governments. In Iran we participated in the Shah's coup against the government of Mohammad Mossadegh. And the consequences were always catastrophic, the hatred of America in these countries always grew. I'm a holdover from the old American republic and I can't just watch it be destroyed. September 11th was just the beginning, at some point someone will really blow us up. We always whine about the enemies we have everywhere. But we created it ourselves. The next episode is about conquering the oil reserves of Eurasia. Our headquarters will be in Kabul, from the Persian Gulf we will move into Pakistan and on to Uzbekistan, where we are already building air bases. We will get this oil!

The oil in Iraq and around the Caspian Sea will, of course, only be "obtained" by a narrow power and economic elite in the United States, which in the wake of this permanent state of war has succeeded in largely bringing the political system under their control. With cutting irony, Gore Vidal dissects the decline of his country's democratic institutions, the creeping disempowerment of the legislature, the corruption of the parties, the depoliticization of society. For him, Democrats and Republicans are just the two wings of a one-party democracy. It is not about political programs but about billions of dollars in donations for sinfully expensive election campaigns.

The parties have to turn to the General Electric group, Boeing, the oil multinationals to get all this money together for the election campaign on television. Here lies the origin of the corruption of the political system. These corporations run the country, buy Congress, buy their president. They have a weakness for the "Eternal War" because it lets the tax money flow into their coffers. They are indifferent to the interests of the majority. That is why half of Americans have stopped participating in presidential elections, they no longer vote because it is pointless anyway.

For half a century there has been an imperial project in US foreign policy that slowly but surely undermines the democratic institutions of the old American republic from within: that is Gore Vidal's basic thesis. And the evidence he cites for this is overwhelming. The permanent state of war has poured the unbelievable sum of seven trillion dollars into armaments in this half century and led to the emergence of a military-industrial complex that dominates politics and the economy. From McCarthy's Fifth Column to Fidel Castro to the Sandinista: threat scenarios exploited for propaganda, of which September 11 is only the last in a long series, have facilitated politics against the interests of the majority in all these years. The tangle of secret services and police forces operating in parallel has long since evaded any political control. As Gore Vidal says, it is a long way from Jefferson's declaration of independence to the bombing of Baghdad, and last but not least, large parts of the Bill of Rights fell by the wayside.

We already have the police state. And I think it will continue to metastasize. You just have to see what happens to the prisoners who have been caged in Guantanamo, Cuba. None of them are Americans, none of them are subject to American justice. What is certain is that the "war on terror" has continued to erode civil rights. As early as 1996 after the Oklahoma City bombing, President Clinton signed anti-terror laws that, for example, permit the use of the military against the civilian population. Today we have secret police who eavesdrop on two million phone calls a year and which are literally not accountable to anyone. The first thing you learn in the orbit of power in Washington is how little control there is. The CIA does one thing, the FBI another, sometimes they get in each other's way, sometimes they get in each other's way: it's an endless story and nobody does anything about it.

There is no doubt for Gore Vidal that the drug war waged worldwide by the USA with military means is to be counted among the entanglements of the "Eternal War". Domestically, it has led to the militarization of the police and the establishment of an enormous apparatus of repression. 5% of the US population currently lives in prisons. The vast majority of them due to drug-related offenses. Basic rights such as the inviolability of the home have already been sacrificed for the drug war. In the next stage, workers will be subjected to compulsory drug tests. But Gore Vidal also sees the drug front as a welcome instrument of the US empire in geostrategic terms.

The fight against drugs serves as a pretext for military intervention around the world. Drugs are a medical problem, not a military one. But we have this fatal tendency to militarize everything and to want to exercise military control everywhere. I remember the Colombia of my youth, back then it was a democratic, almost European country. Today there is chaos. Guerrilla groups and armed militias are fighting each other. This is the work of the CIA and the Drug Administration. We shouldn't be there at all. If you really want to get the drugs under control, you should legalize them.

Gore Vidal shows himself to be a veteran of the American republic in the spirit of its founding fathers when he dreams of a withdrawal of the United States to its own territory, when he wants to withdraw power from the federal government in Washington and strengthen the individual states again. This is a way out of the entanglements of the "Eternal War", which advanced globalization certainly no longer offers. Even the parallel to the Roman Empire, popular among American historians, does not really help to understand the current unilateralism of the United States. Some readers will also be bothered by the polemical tone of the essays. But anyone who messes with NBC, the "New York Times" and the "Wall Street Journal" can certainly not do so in the language of a historical senior seminar. However, the warnings that Gore Vidal directs primarily to Europe must be taken seriously: the American democracy is in the process of transforming itself into the USA empire, the only question that remains is how far this metamorphosis has progressed.