THE NEW WAR ON FREEDOM
By Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal's upcoming book is ''Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace:
How We Got to Be So Hated'' (Thunder Mouth Press/Nation Books), from which
this article is adapted.
RAVELLO, Italy -- This past spring marked the anniversaries of three
landmark events that paved the way for the further erosion of personal
freedom in America. Nine years ago, the FBI ended a standoff that the
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had begun 51 days earlier, resulting
in the deaths of 82 Branch Davidians, including 30 women and 25 children
-- guilty only of being members of a religious commune. Seven years ago,
on the second anniversary of the killings at Waco, 168 men, women and
children were killed in Oklahoma City when the Murrah Federal Building
was bombed -- many believed in protest of those horrific events for which
no federal employee had ever been held accountable. Timothy McVeigh, convicted
and executed for the bombing, made no comment during his trial until his
sentencing, when he quoted Supreme Court Justice Brandeis: ''Our government
is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or ill, it teaches the
whole people by its example.''
Six years ago, in response to the Oklahoma City bombing (which, if indeed
perpetrated by a lone nut armed only with a rental van and fertilizer,
begs the question of why sweeping new legislation was necessary), Congress
passed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, ''antiterrorism''
legislation that not only gives the attorney general the power to use
the armed services against the civilian population, neatly nullifying
the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 (which prohibited the use of federal troops
for civilian law enforcement), but also selectively suspends habeas corpus,
the heart of Anglo-American liberty. As he signed it into law, then-President
Clinton attacked critics of the bill as ''unpatriotic'': ''There is nothing
patriotic about pretending that you can love your country but despise
your government.'' This is breathtaking since it includes, at one time
or another, most of us. Put another way, was a German in 1939 who said
that he detested the Nazi dictatorship unpatriotic?
Thus began the latest chapter in the death struggle between the American
republic, whose plainly ineffective defender I am, and the American Global
Empire, our old republic's enemy. Since V-J Day 1945 (''Victory over Japan''
and the end of World War II), we have been engaged in what the historian
Charles A. Beard called ''perpetual war for perpetual peace.''
I have occasionally referred to our ''enemy of the month club'': Each
month we are confronted by a new horrendous enemy at whom we must strike
before he destroys us. The Federation of American Scientists has catalogued
nearly 200 such military incursions since 1945 initiated by the United
According to the Koran, it was on a Tuesday that Allah created darkness.
Last Sept. 11 when suicide pilots were crashing commercial airliners into
crowded American buildings, I did not have to look to the calendar to
see what day it was: Dark Tuesday was casting its long shadow across Manhattan
and along the Potomac River. I was also not surprised that despite the
$7 trillion or so dollars that we have spent since 1950 on what is euphemistically
called ''defense,'' there was no advance warning from the FBI or CIA or
Defense Intelligence Agency.
While the Bushites have been eagerly preparing for the last war with plans
for a new missile shield, the foxy Osama bin Laden knew that all he needed
for his holy war on the infidel were fliers willing to kill themselves
along with those random passengers who happened to be aboard hijacked
The awesome physical damage Osama and company did to us on Dark Tuesday
is as nothing compared to the knockout blow to our vanishing liberties:
the Anti-Terrorist Act of 1996 and the recent USA Patriot Act (still being
written after it was passed and thus unread by the Congress which passed
it), which among other things grants additional special powers to wiretap
without judicial order and to deport lawful permanent residents, visitors
and undocumented immigrants without due process. Even before signing the
Anti-Terrorist Act, then-President Clinton revealed his disregard for
the Bill of Rights (March 1, 1993, USA Today): ''We can't be so fixated
on our desire to preserve the rights of ordinary Americans.'' A year later
(April 19, 1994, on MTV): ''A lot of people say there's too much personal
freedom. When personal freedom's being abused, you have to move to limit
According to a November 1995 CNN-Time poll, 55 percent of the people believed
that ''the federal government has become so powerful that it poses a threat
to the rights of ordinary citizens.'' Three days after Dark Tuesday, 74
percent said they thought, ''It would be necessary for Americans to give
up some of their personal freedoms.'' Eighty-six percent favored guards
and metal detectors at public buildings and events.
President George W. Bush himself, in an address to a joint session of
Congress, offered up his interpretation of Osama bin Laden and disciples'
motives: ''They hate what they see right here in this chamber.'' I suspect
a million Americans nodded sadly in front of their TV sets. ''Their leaders
are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms, our freedom of religion, our
freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with
each other.'' If this is indeed the terrorists' motivation, they are succeeding
beyond even their dreams, as each day, with each extension of ''emergency
powers,'' our Bill of Rights is shredded more and more.
Once alienated, an ''unalienable right'' is apt to be forever lost, in
which case we are no longer even remotely the last best hope of Earth
but merely a seedy imperial state whose citizens are kept in line by SWAT
teams and whose way of death, not life, is universally imitated.
(c) 2002, Gore Vidal/Independent Institute. Distributed by Los Angeles
Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 6/17/02)