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Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia

A book released August 16, 2005 by Gore Vidal

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Imperial America -- Lots of paranoia, little else

  • Oct 13, 2010
Gore Vidal’s Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia is basically a series of older essays lamenting portions of the Constitution and the branches of government with a couple of essays specifically about the current president (Bush 43) and how he got there. By any measure the book is sloppily edited. Looking at the book, there is nothing to indicate that it is essentially a collection of earlier essays (some so dated as to be almost irrelevant).

The first essay is more of a prologue and sets out what he intends to explain. It is really more personal history than thesis statement however. The second essay is an explanation of various frauds believed to be committed to elect any number of men president. This is certainly the best essay as far as control and argument. He calls for the impeachment of the president based on a federal law: Title 18: SS1001. This law makes it a felony for any one involved in any branch of government to lie to any other branch of government. Mr. Vidal explains 6 lies given during 3 States of the Union speeches that should create the palate of the articles of impeachment. The remaining essays border on the paranoid. Mr. Vidal says that from the dropping of the second atomic bomb, that the country has been on a permanent war footing due to the military-industrial complex owning so many politicians. This is tied into the effort in the early 20th century for America to build her own empire. The strangest essay is about how Chase Manhattan (now just Chase) is behind both the Trilaterial Commission (a frequently listed group by the paranoid who believe in some sort of shadow super government) and being responsible for maintaining the permanent war footing. The only paranoid thing missing from the book is an obvious absence of freemansonry.

Typically due to reasons of weight (3 pound books are difficult to lug around), I have avoided Mr. Vidal. Imperial America is decidedly very small, 181 pages of mostly previously published essays; all of the essays are easy to read even if they are difficult to swallow.

There are a few themes that are repeated, verbatim, throughout—which is why I consider the book to be edited poorly. We need a new constitutional congress that will create a parliamentary system. No candidate can buy time on television or print; the media will have to give free and equal time to all candidates, and the campaign period can only last from four to eight weeks. There is only one party with two different names. Education has suffered due to huge defense budgets that favor wealthy donors at the expense of the average American student who will only be taught two things anyway: loyalty to authority and consumerism.

The book sounds like the ravings of a frustrated and curmudgeonly historian. Unfortunately, what he writes is probably more true than not, but the tone he strikes and the fact that he quotes others without referencing them makes it difficult to accept. A couple of days ago, I reviewed the movie Network which is a satirical, but very bleak, view of television in general and television news specifically. I mention this because there is a line in the movie that fits Imperial America: paraphrasing here, “no one likes to be told how hopeless things are.”

I don’t mind reading bad news or well documented jeremiads against the state of American society or politics so long as something is covered: a potential antidote. Mr. Vidal leaves this out. His only antidote is dead on arrival—a new constitutional congress to draft a new document. He explains how so few people shaped the first one and how little they expect from it (with Ben Franklin and others suggesting that republics always end up being ruled by a despot). Not only does he paint a crappy picture of today’s world, he really lays bare the attitudes and philosophies of the framers of the Constitution (anyone taking a college level government class will be aware that the framers feared mob rule, so they limited who could vote and for what office). The problem is that Mr. Vidal offers nothing but the bitter pills. For him, anything shy of revolution will be worthless because it does nothing to change the influence of oil interests, banks, and the defense industry.

What is sad is that there are probably several gems of ideas in the essays in this short book, but because of the woe-betide attitude it just left me feeling sort of hollow. I fight for civil liberties in all ways I am able short of the radical and unacceptable solution of arming myself and taking out a few lawmakers. I should feel, but don’t feel, less civilly protected despite the Patriot Act. Partly because I believe the Patriot Act will fail to be renewed the next time around. By then even more of the scope of the abuses of the Bush 43 White House will have come to light and legislation supported or started by that administration will be allowed to wither and die if not be attacked outright.

Mr. Vidal says that our system is broken. I will admit that it could be run better and more efficiently, but I cannot agree that it is broken. Remember, this is coming from a bred in the bone cynic. The country held an election in 1864 when the Civil war still had almost six months left in it. We held an election in 2004 despite laments that Mr. Bush would find a way around elections (Mr. Vidal was on that side as well)—it may not have turned out the way half the country wanted, but it did occur. Further, we had an election a few months ago that was a ‘throw the bums out election.” I cannot believe that this was orchestrated by some sort of secret cabal. It is still possible for the lame duck and hamstrung president to make mistakes, but with so many people in the senate running for president, I can’t see anything too controversial allowed to happen. Mr. Vidal gets around this by saying that sometimes the Bank (Chase) makes mistakes—as in not guessing that, after the fuel crisis in the 1970’s that Americans would shift their focus to smaller and foreign made cars. How convenient.

Another example of how poorly edited the book is has to do with the well known idea that the US incarcerates a larger portion of its population than any other industrialized country. With one in 250 people involved in some manner of our system of justice, this would fly in the face of a bank controlling all. Think about it. You only make money off of building a prison once—it doesn’t keep paying once the loans have been settled. The people who work there aren’t paid very well and the people incarcerated are paid even less, if anything. When the inmates are released, their ability to get decent employment is difficult and it is as likely as not that they will not get paid whatever they were prior to being sent to prison. That is a relatively large number of consumers who cannot consume at the rate of average people. So what, then, does the Bank gain from this? Eventually we will stop making prisons, but if we continue to limit the spending power of ex-cons (I’m not advocating that we change how felons are employed, just stating the obvious) then it isn’t that different than guessing wrong on the size of cars that Americans wanted after the fuel crisis.

I am automatically skeptical of any conspiracy involving more than two people—drug crimes and fraud are almost always conspiracies of the few and the criminal anyway. When you start talking wealth and politics, believing a conspiracy theory becomes nearly impossible. The more people involved, the less likely of success the conspiracy will have. Besides, what does someone who is uber-wealthy gain from being part of a conspiracy that might be found out? That is just one of dozens of similar questions that make the idea of a conspiracy controlled by Chase Bank something not just hard to swallow but hard not to laugh at.

I would love to say that the book held more promise. Unfortunately it just comes across as the ravings of an old man looking for reasons to despise our last few presidents (no one needs to look as hard as he did to discover that).

I cannot say that I agree with epiner kiethpruitt that what Mr. Vidal does is rewrite history. He isn't rewriting it, he is telling it from a different perspective (which is not the same thing). I do think that the conclusions he comes to are not correct, but that isn't the same as rewriting or being a revisionist with regards to history. I also don't see his attack on religion as out of the ordinary because he gives it an historic context; it isn't Mr. Vidal may believe along with the most of the framers that there is no supreme being, but I don't see what Mr. Vidal does directly as attacking religion (he does this obliquely by expounding on the anti-mob beliefs of the framers of the Constitution).

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Paul Savage ()
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About this book


Gore Vidal has been described as the last ‘noble defender" of the American republic. In Imperial America, Vidal steals the thunder of a right wing America—those who have camouflaged their extremist rhetoric in the Old Glory and the Red, White, and Blue—by demonstrating that those whose protest arbitrary and secret government, those who defend the bill of rights, those who seek to restrain America's international power, are the true patriots.

"Those Americans who refuse to plunge blindly into the maelstrom of European and Asiatic politics are not defeatist or neurotic," he writes. "They are giving evidence of sanity, not cowardice, of adult thinking as distinguished from infantilism. They intend to preserve and defend the Republic. America is not to be Rome or Britain. It is to be America."

State of the union, 2004 --
The privatizing of the American election --
The day the American empire ran out of gas --
A cheerful response --
Armageddon? --
Notes on our patriarchal state --
The national security state --
The state of the union, 1980 --
The second American revolution --
We are the patriots --
Interim report : election 2004.
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ISBN-10: 156025744X
ISBN-13: 978-1560257448
Author: Gore Vidal
Publisher: Nation Books
Date Published: August 16, 2005
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