In a piquant collection (originally published in Italy), Vidal (The Last Empire, 2001, etc.) asks readers to consider the forces that motivated Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden—and perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to heed the beating the Bill of Rights has been taking recently.
When President Bush (“a powerless Mikado ruled by a shogun vice president and his Pentagon warrior counselors”) tells his public that the nation is embarking on a “very long war,” a “secret war” against operators like bin Laden, who has been reduced to a Shakespearean motiveless malignity, warning bells should be heard. Citizens ought to wonder, Vidal suggests, how we got in such a fix. Have our actions in the Middle East been not only self-serving, but open to misinterpretation as well? Plain hypocritical? Should we give with one hand, take away with the other: support Saddam Hussein or bin Laden one day, vilify him the next? When “Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return” (Auden), is self-righteousness an option? As for McVeigh, does he bear witness to rage in the heartland? Is there a reason for the surge of militias? Has the destruction of the family farm anything to do with it? Have the trouncing of the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, the carte blanche given to the ATF/FBI/DEA/IRS to step on those rights, the abominations of Waco and Ruby Ridge, followed by the government’s smug refusal to accept any culpability, at the very least boomeranged on their proclaimed intent? Deserves some thought by anyone with a shred of skepticism, thinks Vidal. He provides plenty of examples to sustain his shimmering abhorrence for current American politics (e.g., his contention that FBI Director Freeh was “placed” in his job by Opus Dei).
Challenging as ever, Vidal quotes Justice Brandeis: “If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for laws; it invites every man to become a law unto himself.”