In Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How We Got To Be So Hated, the prolific and self-confident Gore Vidal describes the United States as a plutocracy, run by and for the wealthy few, rather than a democracy, run for the good of all. The book’s title comes from the historian Charles A. Beard; Vidal uses it to highlight the war on terrorism and the war on drugs which, he claims, have given the government the authority to engage in military aggression and domestic oppression at alarming levels. His analysis of “September 11, 2001 (A Tuesday),” in which he accuses the United States government of restricting Americans’ civil liberties to more harmful effect than the terrorist attacks, was considered too controversial even by magazine editors who had eagerly carried Vidal’s work before. Unable to find an English-language publication willing to run the piece, Vidal published the essay in Italy, where his comparison of the United States with Nazi Germany became a best-seller.
Much of the book is devoted to an essay about Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, followed by excerpts from letters between Vidal and McVeigh and analysis of McVeigh’s trial and execution. McVeigh read the piece in Vanity Fair, and wrote to thank Vidal for understanding that the bombing was a rational response to a government run amok, not simply a case of senseless evil. The last brief essay is an open letter to whomever would win the 2000 presidential election, with a plea to reduce military spending and international meddling.
In a sense, this book has already been put out of date by the war against Iraq. Readers will be equally divided as to whether they believe that the unfolding of the war confirms or refutes Vidal’s claims.