interview with Gore Vidal, writer and critic of the United States
U.S., a banana republic after the coup d'état of Sept. 11
(From the Mexican daily La Jornada)
He spent five days in Havana. He followed a dizzying schedule that took him from
the University of Computer Sciences to the Latin American School of Medicine,
from University Hill to the National Ballet School, from Old Havana to the park
that memorializes John Lennon with a lifesize bronze statue of the Beatles'
founder, sitting on a bench like a local resident's son.
erudite American writer of his generation and the most corrosive critic of the
current Republican administration, Gore Vidal does not just talk; he interprets
what he says. He changes his voice and you can hear George W. Bush, Eisenhower,
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, some obscure Pentagon official and even Vidal
himself, mocking them all with an irony expressed by a face that does not
reflect his 81 years of age.
rather be remembered as a historian than as a writer of fiction. Although his
works are easily three times his age -- his bibliography contains novels,
tragedies, comedies, memoirs, essays, movie and TV scripts -- his obsession is
singleminded: the republic has lost its way.
bit of wisdom that I learned from Thomas Jefferson, and he learned it from
Montesquieu, is that you cannot have a republic and an empire at the same time,"
he says. "Since 1846, when we went to war with Mexico, we have been rapacious
blame Harry Truman for turning the United States into the totalitarian country
it is today, an opinion that many Americans do not seem to share. George W. Bush
has just said, for example, that the man who dropped the bombs over Hiroshima
and Nagasaki was a good president.
must remember something: most Americans are not informed about history,
geography, religion and whatever happens in the world. Roosevelt made all the
arrangements so we could wrest the colonies from France, the Netherlands and
Portugal after World War II. The Americans are still not aware of this. What
they know about Truman is that he was a kindly little man who played the piano.
him was another Prince Metternich, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, an
international lawyer who knew everything about everything. It was he who
designed the militarized state that emerged in 1949, with a built-in CIA.
Everything hinged on one document: National Security Council Memorandum No. 68
of 1950, which remained secret until 1975 and resolved that we should forever be
at war with someone. We would fight communism, even if communism didn't threaten
us. It established a de-facto Holy War, like the one we're waging now against
terrorism and Islam, as stupid as it is irrelevant.
was so bad that they turned him into an idol. All ignoramuses admire Harry
Truman but they don't know why. He ended the republic and placed us atop this
wave of conquest. Truman shouted to the people that the Soviet Union was
advancing, that it was about to seize Greece and immediately thereafter would go
into Italy, France and later would cross the Atlantic.
find echoes of Truman in this little man, Mr. Bush, who says [IMITATING HIM]:
'Well, we can't fight them over there ... we're gonna have to fight 'em over
here ... we're gonna have to fight.' [SPEAKS NORMALLY] And those enemies have no
way to come to the United States to start a war. But no American can question
such delirium without being tagged as antipatriotic or a fool."
terrorist attack in Oklahoma in 1995 can be explained by the laws of physics:
there is no action without reaction.' That's what you said. You alluded to the
hatred that the United States has sown in the world and in the country itself.
Was it a prophecy?
• "Even a
5-year-old boy could see that the solution to the problem of terrorist attacks
is simply a police action, because we're being attacked by a Mafia. You cannot
have a war without an opposing country. Try to explain this to Americans; they
don't even know what a country is. [The administration] managed that 80 percent
of them still don't know that Saddam Hussein was not precisely Osama Bin Laden's
think the two worked like one and that both attacked us on Sept. 11. It's all
nonsense. There was no connection whatsoever between Saddam and Bin Laden, but
Bush wanted to complete his father's task and show that he was the bolder of the
two. He wanted to be remembered as 'Bush of Baghdad,' something like 'Lawrence
• A CBS
survey this week reported that 75 percent of Americans disapprove of the
government's actions in Iraq, while the president's approval index dropped to
historic levels. Will Bush be the most hated president in the history of the
• "If the
American people had had a true free press and an alert communications media,
this man would have never been elected. He is an incompetent being. We have had
a lot of dumb presidents, but Bush can't even read well. At least in this, he's
representative. You listen to him speak of 10 minutes and it becomes clear that
he doesn't know what he's talking about. He's desperate, trying to follow the
lines on the Teleprompter. Without one of his advisers by his side, he cannot
since Woodrow Wilson left the Oval Office in 1921, no president has written his
own speeches. The president reads what others write. Sometimes he's in
agreement; others, not. When Eisenhower read his speeches, they were a discovery
to him. During his first election campaign, the country was astounded when,
halfway through a speech, he said 'And if I'm elected, I shall go to ...
Korea?!' He was furious. Nobody had told him in advance about that promise. But
he went to Korea, nevertheless.
"If we had
had a press that was interested in the republic, not in the profits, history
would have been different. There is some hope. After all, Al Gore won the
election in 2000 by popular vote, with 600,000 more votes than Bush. The
intervention of the Supreme Court and the trickery in the counting of votes
falsified the result of the elections. Overnight, we became a banana republic
without bananas to sell. That is our greatest problem today."
Recently, President Fidel Castro stated that the Bush administration has led the
country to a disaster of such magnitude that, almost surely, the people of the
United States will not allow him to conclude his term of office. Do you believe
wouldn't be surprised. The Bush administration is so extremist and has people
with such empty minds that it is capable of bombing Russia or Iran [...] simply
to distract people's attention from the other war and to keep the administration
from crumbling ahead of schedule. We even know what he would shout. [IMITATING
BUSH] 'The true patriots help and support the commander in chief in times of
war.' [SPEAKS NORMALLY] That's his signature, even though it doesn't make sense
and is stupid. They are expert in fabricating pretexts to create panic.
after Sept. 11, someone in government said: 'The problem is not if they
will attack again but when.' That's when all that foolishness began. When
we remind them that five years have passed and [the terrorists] haven't attacked
us, they answer: 'That's because of the precautions we have taken at airports!'
say [LOOKS AND SPEAKS AS IF TERRIFIED] 'We don't like those precautions either,
because we have to take our shoes off at the airport. But it's those measures
that have saved us from the attacks!' [SPEAKS NORMALLY] Well, if that's so,
prove it. [TERRIFIED] 'But we can't prove it without revealing our secret
sources!' they answer. [NORMALLY] It's a vicious circle.
that the Democrats, who now are taking over the chairmanship of legislative
committees, especially the Judiciary Committee, will summon those generals to
Congress, put them under oath, and make them answer our questions seriously."
people make money generating fear
is needed to restore the republic?
• "To heed
the great warning by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our best president, during his
inaugural speech when the country collapsed, money was scarce and the banks
failed. He said [IMITATES ROOSEVELT] 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself.'
[SPEAKS NORMALLY] That's the basis of our republic. I would tell the American
people: Don't let yourself be fooled by fear. There are many people in the
United States who make money thanks to fear. That's their job: to scare you.
"I am not
in favor of a violent revolution now, because revolutions usually bring the
opposite of what they sought. The French Revolution gave the world Napoleon
Bonaparte, and Louis XVI was not as bad as Napoleon. But I think that in the
United States we're going to have a revolution because of the economic collapse.
Some days ago, one of the big headlines said the army was pleading with the
government for money.
don't have enough money to continue to make fools of themselves in Baghdad!
They're going to collect the money any way they can, and not at the expense of
the rich. The rich don't have an obligation to pay taxes. Nor do the
corporations. In the past, 50 percent of the United States' revenues came from
taxes on corporate profits. Now, corporations pay less than 8 percent. [The
administration] has freed all its rich friends from paying taxes, so they can
donate the money to the Republican Party, with the commitment that [the party]
will continue to tell lies to the country and certify that the patriots are
a great trick for them, from an economic point of view, but an awful plan for us
Americans. And we don't like that. We lost the Bill of Rights and the Magna
Carta, on which all our freedoms were based for more than 700 years. No, it has
not been a good time, and won't be."
delight in jailing people and in imposing the death penalty
you aware of the case of the five Cubans imprisoned in the United States for
keeping the island government informed about terrorist plans in South Florida?
• "I know
the case through the attorneys but not through the media. It seems to be another
of the idiotic things our government is doing. I understand that presidents
Clinton and Castro exchanged messages to stop the Miami terrorists, who had
placed bombs in hotels and offices that sent tourists to the island. The two
presidents agreed that this situation had to be halted. Clinton asked the FBI to
come to Cuba and Castro agreed to that. Instead of arresting the terrorists, the
FBI arrested the Cubans.
delight in jailing people, as much as we like the death penalty. It's the
brightest star in our diadem. Our country is crazy about torture, murder,
executions, life sentences. It's a perverse mentality that comes from a
background of Protestant Puritanism. Everybody has to suffer if they have
sinned. But if you're rich, God loves you. That's the proof. If you're poor, you
don't please God. That's the proof. That kind of thinking is not healthy for
anyone and in the state of Florida there are many people who think like that, in
addition to those who arrived with Batista.
that imprisoned and sentenced them did so knowing full well the consequences.
The Bush-Cheney, gas-and-oil junta is not as stupid as it seems. It does wicked
things because that's how it keeps everything under control. Don't think that
they didn't learn from the 20th-Century dictatorships. The case of The Five is
one more proof that we have a crisis of law, a political crisis and a
Oliver Stone has been punished by the U.S. Treasury Department for violating the
blockade against Cuba. His crime was to have traveled to the island to film his
two documentaries about Fidel. Are those measures constitutional?
course not. It's a violation [of the Constitution]. But on Sept. 11 there was a
coup d'état in the United States, the first one in our history. A coup in which
a group of dishonest people, an oil junta, usurped the power of the state and
overthrew the Congress. It's a unique event and its details will make for a
great story someday.
something the people cannot quite understand, because Americans have a very
simple mentality. What they don't know or haven't seen previously does not
exist. Well, they're living it now, in situ, but they'll find out about it
someday, like archeologists, and it won't be pleasant at all. The sanctions
against Americans who want a normal relationship with Cuba are born of those
circumstances. But Oliver Stone and any other American citizen have every right
to many any movie they want under any circumstances, so long as they do not
break the law. It's their constitutional right. He has not broken the law. What
happens is that the junta doesn't like what he's doing. Oh, my goodness!
you fear any reprisals against you?
• "I am
usually prepared for the fact that nothing I do, say or write about this
government will please the people in it."
have spent several days in Havana. Is Cuba the satanic island the press and the
politicians show the Americans?
• "Are you
crazy? No! They're always telling us that Cubans hate to be here. That everybody
is starving. They come up with those tales that say that hospitals are terrible
and that nobody goes to them. That the Cubans who get sick go to the Mayo Clinic
in the United States. There isn't a lie that our government hasn't told us, when
it comes to Cuba. In the United States, the lie is the lingua franca of
know why I go on television? Because I feel that there is someone who will see
me and listen to me and to whom I can talk about what I've seen, without
tendentious intermediaries. I can talk to them, for example, of the marvelous
medical plans in Cuba. I visited a medical school that trains doctors from many
countries to give community service to the poor, which is something the American
system hates. In the United States, you learn medicine so you can grab all the
money you can and flee to Tahiti or some other vacation spot and forget the
people who suffer.
talking to eight or nine people from New York and Massachusetts who are studying
medicine in Cuba. I asked them if the training the received was as good as I had
been told and they answered 'Yes,' that it's better than any training they might
get in the United States. Why don't we do the same for our people and for the
health of other people?
doctors are in the most forgotten places, from Africa to the Amazon jungle. Only
if we restore the Constitution could we have a country with aspirations and
successes like those of Cuba. Don't think that I, as an American, don't feel
envy of what I've seen in Cuba. I am a great patriot, yet I feel envy."
• "I never
Miriam Elizalde is an outstanding Cuban journalist who contributes to the
national and international media.