He had many things to say in his essays throughout his career; and just a handful would be worthy of any writer's legacy. He had razor wit; and prescient observations a hundred times a handful. The man oozed intellectual confidence - a Mark Twain for the 20th Century. In watching his many recorded conservations and debates, one could start to feel that a person that took an opposing stand on any current event just had their hands over their eyes, ears and mouth.
How could you not love a man that coined "The United States of Amnesia" in describing our nation's collective personality?
If I had been responsible for an obituary, however, I would credit him with the singular observation early that Harry Truman's true legacy would be the fact that the National Security Act was created and passed under his Presidency; and as a result the United States remained at a heightened military state after World War II.
We have been mired in it's grip for almost 70 years.
"I would put the time and place of our fall as the White House in 1950. Harry Truman and his advisers decided that is would be a good idea to keep the United States on a full wartime basis even though there was no enemy on earth who could challenge us militarily or economically. Therefore an enemy had to be invented....He then goes on in a tremendous essay that details exactly how that enemy was invented and the steps taken by the Truman Administration and Congress to lock in our new way of life in America. This essay, originally entitled, "How to Take Back Our Country", begins as thus:
Out of fairness to our inadvertent totalitarian, there was an urgent economic motive in 1950. We had made our recovery from the Depression in the 1930s only when the war put everyone to work. After the war, rather than run the terrible risk of a free economy in which General Motors would have to make something people wanted, like a car, we decided to take all the revenue - two-thirds, anyway - of the federal government and put it into armaments."
- from the essay "Notes on our Patriarchal State" in a collection Imperial America.
"Every now and then, usually while shaving, I realize that I have lived through nearly one-third of the history of the United States, which proves not how old I am but how young the Republic is. The American empire, which started officially in 1898 with our acquisition of the Philippines, came to a peak in the year 1945, while I was still part of that army which had won us the political and economic mastery of the two hemispheres. If anyone had said to me then that the whole thing would be lost in my lifetime, I would have said it is not possible to lose so much so quickly without an atomic catastrophe, at least. But lose it we have."If anyone would like to see some more information of Truman's true legacy, follow these bread crumbs.
He also doesn't stop at - in his words - these "gloomy prospects" however; he lays out a plan. We would do wise to listen, though many may scoff at the idea of even so glibly suggesting such actions as if it were so easy. These were honest proposals 25 years ago when this essay was written; and with the exception of a fifth solution about re-examining our relations with the then Soviet Union (just due to its irrelevance with international and economic current events) , they ring clearly still today (a link to the full article.)
Vidal's blueprint to a true democratic republic:
1. Limit the Presidential campaign to eight weeks.
2. Stop falsifying the budget and miss-classifying Social Security as part of the federal budget (and instead define Social Security by what it really is which is an independent trust fund). This will clearly identify the true size of our military spending to the American people.
3. Withdraw from NATO and reduce US presence in Europe drastically.
4. End the War on Drugs by "repealing every prohibition against the sale and use of drugs".
"Radical" for his time, and more radical still today - a true indication that things have gone more dark since 1988 when this essay first appeared in The Nation.
Brood on these words, maybe not as a (sadly) realistic proposal to resolve all our problems today, but as a representation of a brilliant man that first identified without hesitation the year in our history when our current national situation became written - no - burned on to the wall; and then, without hesitation, lists an ambitious prescription to the right path back to his country pre-national security state.
Perhaps we can truly honor Vidal by revisiting his essays, because his condemnations and solutions are not only mostly still accurate now, they are served succinctly and are a pleasure to read.
He never stopped speaking the truth. His definition of a true journalist.
My definition of a true patriot.