cover image PERPETUAL WAR FOR PERPETUAL PEACE: How We Got to Be So Hated


Gore Vidal, . . Thunder's Mouth/Nation, $10 (168pp) ISBN 978-1-56025-405-8

In this collection of essays, noted novelist and critic Vidal turns his acerbic wit on the United States. Never shy about expressing his opinion, Vidal questions U.S. assumptions regarding the Oklahoma City and World Trade Center bombings: "That our ruling junta might have seriously provoked McVeigh and Osama was never dealt with." His critique of the coverage of September 11 is slim, mostly centering on already reported truisms about why many in the Muslim world sympathize in some way with Osama bin Laden. Some readers, however, will share his unease with the willingness on the part of the American government—and the American people—to put concerns for civil liberties on the back burner during the war on terrorism. Vidal's criticisms of McVeigh, with whom he struck up a correspondence and a relationship, is more detailed. In Vidal's view, it is unlikely that McVeigh was solely responsible for Oklahoma City, and he saw himself as a martyr for a libertarian cause that would rescue America. But in this book, the tone is as important as the text. Vidal gleefully skewers American capitalism and the role of the religious right in American politics at every opportunity. Critics of American policy and American life, as well as those prone to conspiracy theories, are likely to find a lot of fodder. Many will not be surprised that Vidal's views have not received a wider hearing—a piece on McVeigh was rejected by Vanity Fair, another by the Nation—but even at his most contrarian, Vidal's writing is powerful and graceful. (May)

Forecast: Vidal's piece on September 11 appeared in a book that became a bestseller in Italy. Will it do the same here? Not likely, but the success of Noam Chomsky's 9-11 makes it clear that at least some readers are ready for an alternate view. They may also welcome A Just Response (reviewed on p. 69), a collection from the Nation.