Gore VidalOriginally appearing in La Jornada of Mexico, on 9/19/2001. No US publication dared run it. Many thanks to our heroic translators Greg Bresiger and Richard Wall who also brought the article to our attention.
As told in the Koran, Tuesday was the day that Allah created the darkness. The 11th of September, when suicide pilots crashed American airlines into skyscrapers, I didn’t have to leave my television set to know what the day was: Black Tuesday had cast its shadow over Manhattan and all the way to the Potomac River. And neither was it a surprise that, despite the $7 trillion that we have spent since 1958 on what is euphemistically called the defense budget, there was no warning from the FBI, CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency, or any other institutions. Neither was there a single combat plane that was able to fulfill its obligation.
Despite our government’s usual assignment of blame to the wrong person, it appears that this time it was right, at least in part: a multimillionaire Saudi Arabian, educated at Harvard living for some time in Afghanistan, pulled a dirty trick on us.
While Bush administration officials anxiously prepared for the next war – a war in which North Korean missiles would reign down on Portland, Oregon, only to be intercepted by scud missiles – the smart Bin Laden knew that he only needed smart pilots ready to kill themselves together with the passengers who they had kidnapped. There was something new under the sun that Black Tuesday.
My sister, who lives in Washington, had a friend on one of the planes. Quietly, she called her husband on a cellular phone. "They kidnapped us," she told him. She then described the last moments before the plan crashed into the flank side of the Pentagon. It was her husband’s birthday.
We have always depended on wise and courageous civilians. It is the military, the politicians, and the media that make me nervous. After all, we haven’t collided with suicide bombers since the kamikaze, as we called them in the Pacific, where I served as an idle solider during World War II. Japan was the enemy. Now, Bin Laden…the Muslims…the Pakistanis.
The telephone didn’t stop ringing. I live south of Naples, Italy. Italian editors, television, radio all asked for my commentary. I recently wrote about Pearl Harbor. I ask myself the same question again and again. Is this the same as December 7? No, it isn’t.
We didn’t have any warning before Tuesday’s attack. Only then did we know. Our government had many, many secrets; that our enemies appeared to know beforehand, but our people we’re not informed of for years.
President Roosevelt provoked the Japanese to attack us at Pearl Harbor. I described this in detail in my book, The Age of Gold. I described the distinct steps that he took. We know what he had in mind: Support for England against the ally of Japan, Hitler. But what was – and is – in the mind of Bin Laden?
During the last few decades there has been an implacable sanitizing of the Arab world in the American media. Given that I am a loyal American, I can’t say why this has happened, but, at the same time, it isn’t normal for us to examine the reason for these things. On the other hand, we blame others for our faults.
The Bush administration, despite its disturbing ineptitude in doing its work – except the primary task, which is to exempt the rich from taxes – has been capable of breaking treaties signed by civilized nations such as the Kyoto Protocol and a missile treaty with Russia. But the Bush administration has pillaged the Social Security Trust Fund (supposedly a trust fund). It has permitted the FBI and the CIA to operate without the least controls, and with complete the indifference of Bush, leaving in their hands the control of the last global empire, like the Wizard of Oz feigning magic tricks and hoping no one would discover him.
But to be just, we can’t blame the occupant of the Oval Office for our own ignorance. Bush’s predecessors were assiduous servants of the one- percent that are the owners of the country and cast adrift the rest of the population. Bill Clinton is very guilty of this. If he was the most capable chief executive since FDR, in his frenetic search for election victories he constructed he triggered a kind of political state, that his successor – as I write this – merely has to push a button to start. Political state? What do I mean by that? In April 1996, a year after the events in Oklahoma, President Clinton signed an anti-terrorist law, a supposed consensus law, in which many, many trembling hands had a part, including Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole.
Although Clinton was to win the election, he did many opportunistic, but dim-witted things. He battled the opponents of the anti-terrorism law – which gave the attorney general the power to use the army against the civil population – by annulling the Posse Comitatus principle of 1878, which prohibited, under any circumstance, the use of the military against our people.
Habeas corpus, the heart of Anglo-American liberty, can remain suspended if there is a terrorist in the city. Upon being criticized by groups and individuals demanding respect for the Constitution, Clinton called them "unpatriotic." Then he waved the flag and, in true blockhead fashion, said: "No one can be patriotic or pretend to love his country and despise his government."
This is terrifying, since, from one moment to the next, it can include the majority of the people. I view this from another perspective. In 1939, could a German have considered unpatriotic for detesting Nazis? Black Tuesday is already exerting considerable pressure on our society, pushing it to become more militarized.
In 1979, the FBI reinvented itself. Originally it was made up of a group of "generalists," trained in law and accounting. Its agents wore suits and ties (J.Edgar Hoover, the unlikely paladin, was one of those who directed the FBI to cross the line into civil life), it assembled a team of gunmen and tactical specialists, or SWAT teams, that was designed for confrontation. It was an army of guerillas who enjoyed disguising themselves. They included the use of ninja black belts, depending on the mission.
At the beginning of the 1980s, an FBI super SWAT rescued 270 hostages. This group didn’t really specialize in the rescue of hostages or in the saving of lives, but, more than a few times, in launching assassinations against groups that offended them. They operated independently. This is what happened in the case of the Branch Daividen sect, an Evangelical Christian group that lived peacefully in Waco, Texas until an FBI-SWAT team killed 82 of them, including 25 children, using illegal military tanks. This happened in 1993.
Since Black Tuesday, the SWAT teams can be used to persecute Arab-Americans or, in effect, anyone can be found guilty of terrorism since it lacks a legal definition. (How can one combat terrorism by suspending the writ of habeas corpus?)
But after the Oklahoma trauma, Clinton said that those who didn’t support his Draconian anti-terrorist legislation were terrorist conspirators who were "coverting the United States into a sanctuary for terrorists." If the usually calm Clinton could so foam at the mouth, what can expect of the bellicose Bush after Black Tuesday?
If the American public has no power to directly influence its government, then their opinions are reflected in public opinion polls. According to CNN/Time poll in November 1995, 55% of the population believes, "the federal government has become so powerful that a represents a threat to the average citizen. And this must take into consideration that there is a large amount of disinformation in the media."
The New York Times is the principal channel for corporate opinion in the nation and the also an exact barometer of the mood of our leaders. The Wall Street Journal lacks this editorial power. On September 13, the editorial columns of the New York Times exploded, with the exception of the reasonable conservative Anthony Lewis. I believe that television had already exhausted us. The images of destruction and collapsing buildings were repeated time and again before our eyes, but we had never seen the exploding torpedoes as they were exploded before our eyes.
Under the heading, "Demands of Leadership," the Times was actually a bit optimistic. All would be well, the Times said, if the president would work hard and keep his eye on the ball. Apparently he faced many challenges, "but his most important work is leadership," the Times said. Thank God!
More still: The Times on how things should and shouldn’t be: "The administration spent a large part of the day trying to counter the image that President Bush was weak and wouldn’t return to Washington after the terrorist attack." But from what I understand, that didn’t matter to anyone. Most of us would not feel more secure if Bush was in a bunker in Nebraska.
The New York Times also assured us that it would not be necessary for Bush to put Democrats in his cabinet, as had previous previous presidents in time of war. There it is, almost as if it was discovered now, the phrase, "in times of war." The New York Times patiently almost deciphered it for Bush and for us: "In the next days, Mr. Bush will be able to ask the nation for its support for many actions that many citizens, especially those in the legal profession, will find alarming. He ought to demonstrate that he knows what he is doing."
If only Roosevelt could have read editorials like this from Arthur Krock in the old New York Times!
"Allied Against Terror" is the title of the following editorial. Apparently we need to be allied. "Like his father in the Gulf War, he must form a coalition of nations that are prepared to act," according to the editorial. Very, very good advice. Also, he must find a way that those allies can pay in advance for a war that – like the Gulf War, will help all of humanity. Bush’s father had many difficulties so he had others help him pay for his television war. The Japanese dared to quibble about the costs and ask for change.
By the weekend, the Pakistanis were being ominously questioned by CNN, who suggested that they were unofficially the protectors of the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan. "It is believed that the Taliban are protecting the most dangerous international terrorist, Osama Bin Laden." How brave you are, New York Times. But how is it adopted this mantra: "Washington failed yesterday to make it clear to the Pakistanis that its patience is exhausted." I wouldn’t want to be in its shoes.
The Times would continue on the national defense theme: "The fight against terror must be transferred from the periphery to the center of national security concerns. No one believes that this would be an easy or cheap business, but, given the close to $20 billion that Washington spends on espionage, the nation should know more about terrorist networks and their plans. If one can invest in a useful manner…."
The New York Times is spending more than our taxes: "The United States must transplant democracy in order to save the world without destroying the rights and privileges of a free society that we are defending." Exactly right! Exactly right!
The "Third World War," by Thomas L. Friedman (a New York Timesman), is direct. Its author is very young and still hasn’t had his war. But now he intends have it, with a few objections from Colin Powell and two or three senators.
Friedman’s expertise is in the Middle East. It is often an interesting subject. Of all the voices of the New York Times, his is the only one that suggests that, "our support of Israel" bothers the Arabs; that speaks of the intense hatred of the Arabs for our predominance. Soon it will be baying: "Does my country really understand that this is the Third World War?"
The question isn’t rhetorical.
"The people who planned the attacks combined a level of worldwide depravity with a level of worldwide ingenuity in order to achieve a devastating result. At least we are now ready to put our best brains to work to battle it – the Manhattan Third World War Project." This, in effect, is a recipe to create problems.
William Safire, in his column "New Day of Infamy," predicts: "The next attack probably will not be a hijacked jet, a thing for which we are already prepared. In all probability it will a nuclear missile bought by terrorists or a germ warfare attack."
Finally, Lewis believes it is wise to reject the unilateralism of Bush in favor of cooperation with other nations in order to contain the darkness of this Tuesday and to understand its origins at the same time that we allow ourselves to provoke a culture opposed to us and our agreements. Surprisingly, one New York Times writer, Lewis, is in favor of peace now. I agree. But we are both old. We have been in garrets and we value our liberties as they become fewer and fewer, unlike those patriots who beat their tom-toms in Times Square and prefer to declare a total war in which all Americans must fight.
Gore Vidal is an American writer known for his historical novels.
Copyright 2001 by Gore Vidal