Gore Vidal died on Tuesday at the age of 86 from complications of pneumonia. Vidal was a national icon who authored some 25 novels, several plays, two memoirs and multiple volumes of essays. He was one of the best-known and most prolific chroniclers of American history and politics, dedicating his work to critiquing the injustices of U.S. society. We air an excerpt of a Democracy Now! interview with Vidal from 2003 in the early stages of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We end our show with the late, great author Gore Vidal, who died Tuesday at the age of 86, complications of pneumonia, at his home in Hollywood Hills, California. A national icon who authored some 25 novels, several plays, two memoirs, multiple volumes of essays, he was on of the best-known and most prolific chroniclers of American history and politics, dedicating his work to critiquing the injustices of U.S. society. He made two unsuccessful bids for office: in 1960, when he was the Democratic congressional candidate in New York, and in '82, when he campaign in California for a seat in the Senate. Described as the last noble defender of the American republic, America's last small-R republican, I spoke to Gore Vidal many times, but this time in 2003 with Juan González. I want to play an excerpt of our conversation. I asked him where he was on September 11, 2001.
GORE VIDAL: The United States is not a normal country. We are under—we’re a homeland now, under military surveillance and military control. The president asked the Congress right after 9/11 not to conduct a major investigation, "as it might deter our search for terrorism, wherever it may be in the world." So Congress obediently rolled over.
There was—I remember Pearl Harbor. I was a kid then. And within three years of it, I had enlisted in the Army. That’s what we did in those days. We did not go off to the Texas air force and hide.
I realized the country has totally changed, that the government is not responsive to the people, either in protecting us from something like 9/11, which they should have done, could have done, did not do, and then, when it did happen, to investigate, investigate, investigate. So I wrote two little books, one called Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, in which I try to go into the why Osama bin Laden, if it were he, or whoever it was, why it was done. And I wrote another one, Dreaming War, on why we were not protected at 9/11, which ordinarily would have led to the impeachment of the president of the United States who had allowed it to happen. They said they had no information. Since then, every day the New York Times prints another mountain of people who said they had warned the government, they had warned the government. President Putin of Russia, he had warned us. President Mubarak of Egypt, he had warned us. Three members of Mossad claim that they had come to the United States to warn us that sometime in September something unpleasant might come out of the sky in our direction. Were we defended? No, we were not defended. Has this ever been investigated? No, it hasn’t. There was some attempt at the midterm election. There was a pro forma committee in Congress, which has done nothing thus far. What are we? Three years later. This is shameful.
The media, which is controlled by the great conglomerates, which control the political system, has done an atrocious job of reporting, though sometimes good stories get in. I’ve worn my eyes out studying the Wall Street Journal, which despite its dreadful editorial policies, is a pretty good newspaper of record, which the New York Times is not. If you read the Wall Street Journal very carefully, you can pretty much figure out what happened that day.
At the time of the first hijacking, according to law, FAA, it is mandatory, within four minutes of a hijacking, fighter planes from the nearest airbase, military base, go up to scramble. That means go up and force the plane down, find out who they are, find out what’s happening. For one hour and 50 minutes, I think it was, no fighter plane went up. During that hour and 20 minutes, we lost the two towers and one side of the Pentagon. Why didn’t they go up? No description from the government. No excuse. A lot of mumbling stories, which were then retracted, and new stories replaced them. That, to me, was the end of the republic.
We no longer had a Congress which would ask questions, which it was supposed—in place to do, of the executive. We have a commander-in-chief who likes strutting around in military uniform, which no previous commander-in-chief ever did, as they’re supposed to be civilians keeping charge of the military. This thing is surrealistic now, and it is getting nastier and nastier as we are more and more kept in the dark about those things which most affect us, which are war and peace, prosperity and poverty. These are the main things that a government should look after and we, the people, should be told about. We have been told nothing. And every voice is silent.
So I wrote two little books, which were then noticed by people who like to look at the internet, and then a few hundred thousand people have bought them. And I don’t come out with conspiracy theories. I never became a journalist. I’m a historian. Because journalists give you their opinions and pretend they’re facts. I don’t give you my opinions, because they may be valuable to my mother, but they are of no value to anybody else. They may be of value to me. But I give the facts as I find them, and I list them. And they’re quite deadly.
This government is culpable of, if nothing less, negligence. Why were we not protected? With all the air bases, fighter planes, up and down the Eastern Seaboard, not one of them went aloft while the hijackings took place. Finally, two from Otis Field in Massachusetts arrived at the Twin Towers, I think at the time the second one was hit. If anybody had been thinking, they would have gone on to Washington to try and prevent the attack on the Pentagon. They went back to Otis, back to Massachusetts. So I ask these questions, which Congress should ask, does not ask, which the press should ask, but it’s too frightened. It’s a reign of terror now.
AMY GOODMAN: The late author, activist, essayist, Gore Vidal, died Tuesday at the age of 86 from complications of pneumonia at home in Hollywood Hills, California. You can watch all of our interviews with Gore Vidal on our website, democracynow.org.