Gore Vidal, the writer, satirist and thinker who died on July 31, was known for his characterization of the United States as an empire. He also became notable for his work on what he called the “national security state” of America.
I ran a post that paid tribute to Vidal’s later years. In the past days, I have been reveling in the wisdom and spirit of Vidal by watching videos of his interviews and speeches. The following is essential viewing.
In March 1998, Vidal delivered an excellent speech on this subject at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. It was based on an essay he wrote for Vanity Fair in November 1997, and it highlighted the fiftieth anniversary of the National Security Act, which Vidal introduced as an act that, “without any national debate or the people’s consent, replaced the old American republic with a national security state very much in the global empire business.”
Vidal gives a brilliant description of the cultural post-World War II climate that created the conditions where the powerful could pass the National Security Act. He says, “A novelty, television, had begun to appear in household after household, its cold, gray, distorting eye relentlessly projecting a fun house view of the world.” This is all a setup for why the powerful in the country felt they needed to launch a Cold War.
As he notes, the “official explanations” given for why America needed to increase income taxes to pay for weapons to go after the Soviet Union made “very little sense.” But, Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson narrowly observed:
“In the State Department we used to discuss how much time that mythical average American citizen put in each day listening, reading, and arguing about the world outside his country. It seemed to us that ten minutes a day would be a high average.” So why bore the people? Secret bipartisan government is best for what, after all, is or should be a society of docile workers, enthusiastic consumers, obedient soldiers who will believe just about anything for at least ten minutes.
The NATO alliance and forty years of the Cold War all began at this moment. Elections from this point forward were meaningless when it came to challenging the wartime state at home:
Of course, there were elections during the crucial time, but Truman-Dewey, Eisenhower-Stevenson, Kennedy-Nixon were of a single mind as to the desirability of inventing first a many-tentacled enemy–communism, the star of the chamber of horrors–then, to combat so much evil, install a permanent wartime state at home, with loyalty oaths, the national peacetime draft, and secret police to keep watch over homegrown traitors, as the few enemies of the national security state were known.
Then followed forty years of mindless wars, which created a debt of $5 trillion that hugely benefited aerospace companies and firms like General Electric, whose longtime TV spokesman, Ronald Reagan, eventually retired to the White House.
Watch the full speech, which is posted in four parts below: