August 17, 2009
The Wreck of Empire

This passage by Gore Vidal appeared in the October, 1963, issue of Esquire. He failed to foresee our increasing physical fatness, but he nailed the rest.

Historians often look to the Roman Empire to find analogies with the United States. They flatter us. We live not under the Pax Americana, but the Pax Frigida. I should not look to Rome for comparison but rather to the Most Serene Venetian Republic, a pedestrian state devoted to wealth, comfort, trade and keeping the peace, especially after inheriting the wreck of the Byzantine Empire, as we have inherited the wreck of the British Empire.

Venice was not inspiring but it worked. Ultimately, our danger comes not from the idea of Communism, which (as an Archbishop of Canterbury remarked) is a “Christian heresy” whose materialistic aims (as opposed to means) vary little from our own; rather, it will come from the increasing wealth and skill of other Serene Republics which, taking advantage of our increasing moral and intellectual fatness, will try to seize our markets in the world.

If we are to end, it will not be with a Bomb but a bigger Buck. Fortunately, under that sanctimoniousness so characteristic of the American selling something, our governors know that we are fighting not for “the free world” but to hold onto an economic empire not safe or pleasant to let go. The Arab world — or as a salesmen would say, “territory” — is almost ours, and we must persevere in landing that account. It will be a big one some day.

Vidal wasn’t the only one to have seen that coming. In 1973 I searched out my old two-story wooden barracks at Fort Bragg’s Special Warfare Center to show my young and uninterested sons. By then the building was being used as office space by the Special Forces. I mentioned to a sergeant inside that back in the day we used to have classes in Thai, Lao and Vietnamese. Was the language program still alive?

Oh, yeah, he said, only now it’s Arabic.



Posted by Jerome Doolittle at August 17, 2009 05:34 PM
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