The Guardian 28 February, 2007
Republic vs. Empire:
An interview with Gore Vidal (part 2)
RM: Do you blame Harry Truman for the United States becoming the authoritarian country it is today? Many Americans do not share this opinion. George W. Bush, for example, has said recently that the man who dropped the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a good president.
GV: Well, remember two things: most Americans have no information at all on history, on geography, or on whatís going on in the world.
Truman was personally rather popular. He knew nothing at all about geography, history, religion, he knew nothing. Behind him he had Ö Dean Achinson, the Secretary of State, and a great international lawyer.
Achinson knew everything. He was the one who then designed the totally militarised state that emerged by 1949/50 under Harry Truman. And it all comes down to one document, the National Security Council Document Number 68. There were several points:
We were to be forever at war with somebody.
We were going to fight communism everywhere on earth even if it didnít threaten us.
It was a holy war, just as now weíve made one on terrorism and Islam, equally stupid and equally irrelevant.
Everybody who knows nothing admires Harry Truman, and they donít know why. He was just a nice little man.
But he ended the Republic and set us on this wave of conquest. He went yelling and screaming to the people that the Soviet Union was on the march, that they were about to seize Greece, that they were immediately going into Italy, they could then cross over to France, and cross the Atlantic at any time.
We hear echoes of this in the current little man, Mr. Bush, who says: [imitating GW Bush] "Well we if canít fight them over there weíre going to have to fight íem over here".
We donít have to fight them; they have no way of getting here. But no American can ask questions like that because they will be thought unpatriotic or silly.
RM: According to your own words, "the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995 are explained according to a law of Physics: there is a reaction to every action". You were speaking about the hatred spread by the United States around the world and in its own country. Was this a prophecy?
GV: What happened after McVeigh [was that] the Clinton administration ó and we now look back on it as being a very American one, in the best sense of the word ó drew up draconian rules about terrorism in the United States. And that became the USA Patriot Act.
After 9/11 happened the Bush Administration found these papers from the Clinton administration in the Justice Department. They activated all of them and that is the USA Patriot Act. It has just about removed our Constitution. It just annulled everything about sacred liberties and that was the result of McVeigh.
A child of five who knows nothing about the law can tell you that 9-11 requires a police response.
[But] you canít go to war without an enemy nation to attack. You canít have a war without a country. Try and explain that to an American, I donít think they know what a country is.
We certainly know 80 percent of them believe that Saddam Hussein who had a country called Iraq was working in tandem with Osama Bin Laden, who was living in a beautiful palace in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Itís all nonsense. They had no connection the two.
But Bush wanted to complete the work of his father, and to show that he was bolder than his father, he would be "Bush of Baghdad". Americans think they [Bin Laden and Hussein] are the same person, and that both of them attacked us on 9/11.
RM: A recent CBS poll shows that 75% of the population in the US is not in favour of him or his policies. His popularity has plummeted to historic levels. Will Bush be the most hated president in US history?
GV: When I said I am not a prophet that doesnít mean I canít occasionally guess whatís coming.
I knew that what those they call the "neo conservatives" in the United States (the old word that was used to describe them was "fascist"), they want to use American power in order to get the corporations which are generally gas and oil to maximise profits. They want to manipulate the constitution so that it is rendered meaningless. They want supreme power, and circumstances allowed us to elect a man thatís a real fool, literally a fool.
If the American people had a free press, an alert media, he could never have been elected anything. Heís not competent; if you listen to him talk for ten minutes its clear he doesnít know what he is talking about. Heís desperately trying to read a teleprompter and nothing really makes sense, and without one of his advisors he canít face anybody when it comes to a question.ī
Since Woodrow Wilson left the oval office in 1921, no US president has written his own speeches. The president reads what other people write. Sometimes the President agrees with it, and sometimes he doesnít. Eisenhower used to read his speeches as if he were discovering something new on the paper. During his first presidency, the country was astonished when he said in the middle of a speech: "If Iím elected president I will go to ó Korea!?" He was serious. Nobody had said anything to him before that surprise. But anyway, he went to Korea.
Well had the American people seen that and if we had a media that was interested in the Republic, and not in profits, the whole story would have been different; after all, Albert Gore did win the election in 2000 by the popular vote, some 600,000 votes ahead of Bush. And eventually the intervention of the Supreme Court into that election falsified the entire election. So we became overnight a banana republic without any bananas to sell. And that is our problem at the moment.
RM: The Bush administration has led the country into such a disaster that Fidel himself said recently that he believes the United States public will oust President Bush before he finishes his term. Do you see this happening?
GV: The people running the Bush Administration are so mindless and radical that theyíre apt to start bombing Russia, or start bombing Iran. They would have to start a diversion, so they can scream: "true patriots come to the aid of the Commander in Chief in war time" [imitates Bush].
In other words, they create events. They create panic.
Two days after 9/11 there was somebody in the government saying, "itís not if they attack again, itís when!" The nonsense had already begun. Then we say, well itís been seven or eight years and they havenít attacked and they say "well thatís because of the precautions that we take at the airports. Oh! You donít like them! Because you have to take your shoes off, but at the same time that is what has saved you from an attack." Well, prove it! We canít prove it, they retort, without revealing our secret sources. Itís circular.
I hope that the Democratic Congress which comes in, with the chairmanships of congressional committees, including the Judiciary, gets every last one of them under oath before Congress to answer these questions.
RM: What would be necessary to re-establish the Republic?
GV: Listen to the great words of our greatest president, Mr. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, at his first inauguration. The country was collapsing, economically the banks were coming down, money was short, and he struck a great political note which other presidents have generally imitated until we get down to this junta he said [imitating Roosevelt] "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." That is the basis of the Republic. Donít be taken in by fear. There are people who make money out of fear. Thatís their job, just to frighten.
I think weíre going to have [an] economic collapse.
There was a headline in one of the big American papers the other day that the army was begging the administration for money. They donít have the money to make fools of themselves in Baghdad. Theyíve got to raise it somewhere; we have no tax revenues because all the rich people have been exempted from tax as well as corporations.
It used to be that 50% of the revenues of the Federal government came from the taxes on corporate profits. Its about 8% now, theyíve just eliminated it. Corporations donít pay tax and rich people donít either.
So theyíve not only helped all their rich friends who now have enough money to finance the Republican Party with billions of dollars so they can tell lies about anybody in the country and pretend that the patriots of the country are traitors. Itís a very good trick both economically for them and itís a bad trick on us real Americans, we donít like it.
Weíve lost the Bill of Rights; we lost the Magna Carta, on which all of our liberties are based for 700 years. No, itís not been an amusing time.
Florida, Cuba & the mafia
RM: In your memoirs, you mention that during a conversation with JFK he told you about his plan to assassinate Fidel, and that his alliance with the extreme Cuban American right had become a nightmare for him and his brother, Robert. Are these groups related to their deaths?
GV: Well it had total control [and] Kennedy had to give his life for it. The assassination [as] we now know was done by Mafia. A man called [Carlos] Marcello was in charge of it. Marcello was the boss of New Orleans and also of the Havana casinos at one point.
They were trying to get Bobby Kennedy. [Santos] Trafficante who ran the Mafia in Tampa Florida, said "weíve got to get rid of Bobby". They have this recorded, the FBI.
"Weíve got to get rid of him", and Marcello said, "If a dog bothers you, you donít cut off the tail," and that was the death sentence for Jack Kennedy.
RM: What is you perception of the true influence this Cuban American community has had on US policy towards Cuba in the last 40 years?
GV: Florida has been a corrupt state from the beginning, from the days of the confederacy. The addition of a bunch of angry Batista-lovers did not help the political situation down there, and a lot of these people had a lot of money or they made a lot of money and could be counted upon to support anybody who hated Castro and hated what is being done in the modern Cuba and theyíd vote for him.
Well Florida is beautifully situated for any demagogue who appeals to the Batista-ites, or just anybody who still wants to fight communism. "Theyíre still marching, and theyíre going to arrive on the beaches in no time at all".
We have a misinformed population and Florida is still one of the first places candidates go to and try and get votes. Florida is a big state; itís a key State. We have something called an Electoral College which often decides elections and it has so many voters which are based on how many representatives get elected to Congress and so on.
The Electoral College is a piece of very complex 18th century machinery to keep us from having democracy. Our founders didnít like democracy, I find I often have to repeat that a few times, but they didnít like it. And now of course weíre bringing democracy to Iraq and all these other countries who are longing for it.
RM: Silence and lies have kept five Cubans unjustly imprisoned in the US. Could you comment on what you know about the case and your opinion on it?
GV: I know of the case through lawyers, not through the media. And it seems another stupid thing our government is doing. It is my understanding that President Clinton and President Castro got together on this one, to try and stop the terrorists in Miami who were bombing tourist offices to discourage tourism to this country.
The two presidents were in agreement that this was a bad thing and that they should try and stop it. So Clinton put the FBI on it and I donít know what Castro did, but he went along with it and then the FBI suddenly starts to arrest five Cubans who were dedicated to protecting Cuba and innocent tourist owners of tourist agencies from terrorism, from bombers.
We love imprisoning people almost as much as we like the death penalty, which is just the brightest star in our diadem. So you have a country mad about torture, murder, execution, and lifelong sentences in prison.
The mindset is all there: If youíre rich God loves you: thatís the proof. And if youíre poor, he doesnít like you: thatís the proof. Itís not a healthy mindset for any people and Iím afraid the State of Florida has got a great many of those people.
The truth, the whole truth
RM: Oliver Stone was recently sanctioned by the US State Department for violating the blockade against Cuba. His crime was traveling to Cuba to make two documentaries about Fidel. Are these measures constitutional?
GV: Well of course itís a violation, as the first amendment grants us freedom of speech, the fourth amendment of the constitution is the bill of rights, which guarantees our rights to assembly and so forth.
We have had since 9/11 a coup dīetat in the United States, the first weíve ever had, in which a group of rather dishonest oil and gas people were able to seize the power of the State and by so doing they ended up with the Congress in their hands. They ended up with the presidency and much of the judiciary and much of the courts.
It happened very fast. Itís quite unique. It will be a great story one day at the moment itís just something the people donít understand. What theyíve never seen before doesnít exist really.
Out of that come the sanctions, as you put it, on Oliver Stone, who has every right to make any movie that he wants to make and in whatever circumstance, as long as he breaks no laws, and no laws have been broken here.
They [Bush and Cheney] just donít like it. Oh! My goodness me!
RM: Are you afraid of any reprisals against you when you return to the US?
GV: I trust theyíll never like anything I say or write or do.
RM: One last question. Youíve been here for a few days already. Is Cuba anything like what the media presents to North Americans?
GV: [Laughs] Are you crazy?!!! NO! Weíre told everybody hates it here; everybody is starving to death.
They put out stories about how in Cuba they say they have wonderful doctors but in fact they are terrible doctors and nobody goes to them ó any Cuban who is sick goes to the Mayo Clinic in America!
There is no lie that our government will not tell and has not told. So no correct picture gets through.
One of the reasons Iím doing television here, is I feel every now and then I do have some audience out there. I can talk about what Iíve seen. Iíve seen the influx of doctors, would be doctors into Cuba. Iíve been in that building which used to be a Russian Naval Base, and is dedicated to teaching a whole generation about medicine, about community services, something Americans hate, you know: Everybody is help for himself, grab all the money you can and then run away, to Tahiti or someplace.
I was talking to eight or nine Americans from New York, Massachusetts, who are studying medicine here. I said, "well, is it as good as they say," they said, "oh yes it is, its better than anything we could get at home, going to ordinary medical universities".
Why donít we do the same for the health of our people and other countries? I see what youíve done with medicine, from Africa to the deepest Amazon or wherever.
We had a great Constitution, and a great legal system. Only by the restoration of that can we have a country with aspirations and with indeed successes like Cuba. Donít think I donít get extremely jealous for the United States. I am a super patriot ó I get very jealous.
RM: Will you return?
GV: Never make predictions.