Gore Vidal: Anti-war Veteran Extraordinaire
I entered the United States Naval Academy in 1999 thinking that I would one day become an Admiral. After realizing the imperial nature of our government and armed forces, I left the Navy in 2005. The transition to civlian life was the most difficult task I have ever had to accomplish - ongoing, really. From 2005 to 2008 I lived in New York City and gave a lot of my time to Iraq Veterans Against the War and a group called Military Resistance. These two groups were my identity for those three years. They still are a part of me, but I have since found balance and peace with myself and the entire world - the two are actually inseperable.
Finding that balance began when I moved to Los Angeles in September 2008. Two months later in November I called a woman named Jean Stein, who had invited me to her home earlier in the year to meet with other prominent activists, especially those who had been prominent during Vietnam. Jean was busy, and couldn't meet, but suggested instead that I meet Gore Vidal, who lived in the Hollywood Hills. That was fine with me, and Jean told me that she'd back in touch with details. Instead, the next day, Gore Vidal himself called me on my cell phone, catching me in the middle of a slight hangover, and invited me to his house the following day. Jean, he said, had told him I was a Naval Academy graduate and engaged with anti-war organizing.
The next day, Gore received me in his bedroom (where he passed away yesterday, July 31, 2012) and thus began a 22 month partnership that finally got my head settled into the civilian world, and made me mature into a man at a rate that was at times overwhelming. He pushed my brain and body to the brinks of exhaustion as I accompanied him and pushed his
wheelchair all over Los Angeles, New York, and much of Europe. He never referred to me as his assistant, rather as his Naval Attache. Serving Gore was the greatest duty of my life.
It is impossible to label Gore Vidal - his skills are too vast and his accomplishments too deep. He lived the way he wanted, and that created a diverse personality unrecognizable to many people. However, at his core, Gore Vidal was an anti-war veteran. Even in high school he was one of the few boys in debate club to take the side against U.S. intervention in World War II. But, he had to serve, and did so as an Army Warrant Officer aboard a freight-supply ship in Alaska. He avoided front-line duty (thanks to his family connections to West Point), but lost most of his best childhood friends. His best friend (also a lover), a Marine named Jimmie Trimble, was killed on Iwo JIma. Gore never forgave the Navy or the entire military machine for Jimmie's death, or the deaths of all those used as cannon fodder. Iwo Jima was a battle of vanity, unnecessary for the conquest of Japan. Jimmie Trimble, and so many others, were slaughtered for the glory of America and her Generals.
Having such intimate knowledge of Gore has shown me that the loss of Jimmie Trimble, with Gore's anti-imperial sensibility, permeate throughout most of his work. To my IVAW friends, and all members of the military community looking for the real history of the United States, I suggest you read Gore Vidal. His Chronicle of American Empire - seven historical novels telling the history of the United States from conception to modern times - is a masterpiece too undervalued by modern progressive activists. At the very least, I recommend getting through Burr and Lincoln.
America is going through a spiritual evolution right now, an evolution that is leading to some sort of revolution. Gore Vidal was on the leading edge of that evolution - the "tip of the spear" as we military types like to so often think of ourselves. Many people in "the movement" are familiar with the works of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn (who are great for sure), but it is Gore Vidal who has longest been teaching, and fighting against, the perils of a 1% accumulating most of the wealth. And for my taste, Gore did it the best. His Chronicle of American Empire gives personality and emotion to our country's founding, and understanding this context will make any future movements more united, and therefore, more successful.
Finally, to all the anti-imperial veterans organizing together out there, I'm happy to tell you that Gore Vidal viewed you with the greatest respect. He always first introduced me to his friends as "Fabain, a Lieutenant in the Navy who is against the wars." And, inevitably, I ended up explaining the birth of IVAW and its ongoing work. Gore truly believed that the health of the anti-war veteran organizations in America would reflect the health of the movement as a whole. Unfortunately, viewing the movement in this way doesn't really lead one to a positive conclusion in this moment, but without question there is change coming, and the role of the anti-war, rather, pro-humanity veterans movement will continue to evolve and become more pertinent.
Gore Vidal the man won't make it to the revolution he hoped for America, a revolution that he thought would end consumerism. But he leaves behind a body of work unprecedented in American history. For those of you not ready to plow through a thick novel right now, try Gore Vidal's collected essays: United States. He also has a collection titled The Last Empire, covering the 90s. One cannot understand 20th century American liberal radicalism without knowing Gore Vidal. So, start with United States! I think you'll find Vidal's prose full of humor, and exciting to read - which is why I prefer him to Zinn and Chomsky.