Gore Vidal always insisted that President Franklin Roosevelt more or less allowed the attack on Pearl Harbor to occur. As Vidal wrote in his September 2001 essay "The End of Liberty":
I have written lately about Pearl Harbor. Now I get the same question over and over: Isn't this exactly like Sunday morning 7 December 1941?
No, it's not, I say. As far as we now know, we had no warning of last Tuesday's attack. Of course, our government has many, many secrets which our enemies always seem to know about in advance but our people are not told of until years later, if at all. President Roosevelt provoked the Japanese to attack us at Pearl Harbor. I describe the various steps he took in a book, The Golden Age. We now know what was on his mind: coming to England's aid against Japan's ally, Hitler, a virtuous plot that ended triumphantly for the human race.
In May of 2001, in the pages of The New York Review of Books, Vidal lays out his case more in depth in an exchange with Ian Buruma about the matter of Pearl Harbor. He summarizes:
Japan looked for a compromise. We looked for war. The Japanese ambassadors to the US, Kurusu and Nomura, were treated to a series of American ultimatums that concluded, November 26, with the following order: “The government of Japan will withdraw all military, naval, air and police forces from China and Indo-China” as well as renounce the tripartite Axis agreement. It was then, as Lincoln once said on a nobler occasion, the war came.
From the Facebook page GoreVidalNow: an announcement and photograph that Gore Vidal (1925 – 2012) was interred in Rock Creek Cemetery on June 24, 2016 in a small private ceremony.
“Every time a friend succeeds, something inside me dies,” Vidal famously said, and the phrase has been pressed into service as the title for the British edition of Parini’s book. But on the evidence of both Parini and Mewshaw, Vidal could be a generous, thoughtful and attentive friend to those who passed his muster, and the list of those who did was considerable, somehow including even Princess Margaret. His closest relationship was with [his longtime companion Howard] Austen, who in Parini’s book emerges as a thoroughly winning character.
Parini’s guess is that it’s [Vidal's] historical novels — especially “Julian,” “Burr” and “Lincoln” — that will last, if any do, but he also suggests that it was both Vidal’s gift and his limitation that no single literary form could contain him. The essay came closest, and it’s there that Vidal most gets to show off his wit, stylishness and erudition — to be Vidal. But as Vidal was painfully aware, unless you’re Montaigne, essays won’t make your reputation. It’s possible, in fact, that Vidal will live on most vividly not on the page but on YouTube. No other American writer has been so at home on television, a medium to which he was ideally suited and where, funny, urbane, glamorous and magisterial, he could capture the attention of millions and become the imperial self he imagined.
A good read about Gore Vidal in The Guardian: "A life in feuds: how Gore Vidal gripped a nation," by Jay Parini, poet, novelist, critic, and author of Every Time a Friend Succeeds Something Inside Me Dies: The Life of Gore Vidal (published by Little, Brown this month).
Vidal vs. Capote:
Vidal lived in New York after the war, as did Capote, and they moved in the same social circle, over which Tennessee Williams presided.
Theirs was a minor squabble, with neither side missing a chance to make a joke about the other. But the feud expanded in the 60s, after Vidal had been – according to Capote, in an interview with Playgirl – tossed out of the White House by Bobby Kennedy because he was “drunk and obnoxious”. In fact Kennedy had taken offence at Vidal’s apparent intimacy with Jacqueline Kennedy – the first lady was distantly related to Vidal by marriage – and the writer had left in a huff. Vidal sued Capote over the remark, and Capote countersued. The legal case dragged on with Vidal winning in the end, though Capote had no money by then, so it was a Pyrrhic victory.
Their wrangling continued until Capote, ill from his abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs, died in the late summer of 1984. When Vidal’s editor called from New York with news of his rival’s death, Vidal remarked after the briefest pause: “A wise career move.”
Mailer had made a huge splash with The Naked and the Dead, his bestselling novel of the Pacific war, frustrating Vidal, whose own war novel, Williwaw, had barely registered. The two young writers circled each other warily, and a complicated friendship began that would play out over the next five decades. The two had little in common. “Norman imagined himself by nature a kind of boxer – though he wasn’t, not really,” says Gay Talese, a friend to both men. “In reality, Norman was soft. But he put on this aggressive mask. Vidal had another kind of mask: cool, suave, worldly-wise. It was a good contrast with Norman. They played well together, but it was always a kind of act. They both understood the publicity value of this contest, and they let it play out in different ways.”
Vidal vs. Buckley:
Their most infamous confrontation came in 1968, events now captured in the feature-length documentary film Best of Enemies.
[ABC's live broadcast of the] Buckley-Vidal debates attracted 10 million viewers for each session and the saturation coverage turned both men into celebrities.
The evening debate [on the 28th of August] contained fireworks of a kind never before seen on prime-time American television. Buckley spoke for the older generation when he decried the lawlessness in the streets. He exuded patriotism. When asked by Smith if raising a Viet Cong flag in the midst of the Vietnam war was unduly provocative, Buckley nodded, saying it was like raising a Nazi flag in the US during the second world war. Vidal shook his head, referring again and again to the “right to assembly”. “What are we doing in Vietnam if you can’t freely express yourself in the streets of Chicago?” he wondered.
Buckley and Vidal, each deemed a “national treasure” at the time, are now largely forgotten, which is sad. And we have no one like them today, which is sadder. We do have plenty of “public intellectuals” — scholars, thinkers, and literary types who write for the middle-to-highbrow press and give lectures at the 92nd Street Y. Some of them tub-thump against religion; some take brave stands on sexual culture; some run for political office. But their disputes play out on Twitter and other social media, before an audience fragmented into a thousand niche groups. And none of them are glamorous and magnetic the way Buckley and Vidal were....
Read the article at nymag.com.
Gore Vidal and William J Buckley were on opposing sides of the 60s political divide, and Best of Enemies adroitly shows what happened when they met head on....It’s set in a pre-culture wars America, where anti-intellectualism was prevalent but two articulate, self-indulgent and arrogant debaters could pull in huge television audience while lamenting the other’s inability to grasp 'axiomatic' theories.
From John Patterson's review in The Guardian for the general release of Best of Enemies, "The Best Of Enemies: political feuding from the golden age of TV":
The intense 1968 TV debates between Gore Vidal and William F Buckley are preserved forever in a film that shows up the moronic TV screamers of today."
How one yearns for a little of their exquisitely distilled poison among the moronic TV screamers of today.
Literary aristocrats and ideological foes, [Gore] Vidal and [William F.] Buckley attracted millions of viewers to what, at the time, was a highly irregular experiment: the spectacle of two brilliant minds slugging it out — once, almost literally — on live television. It was witty, erudite and ultimately vicious, an early intrusion of full-contact punditry into the staid pastures of the evening news.
[The documentary's] directors, Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon, present their ideas with a wide scope....
“They don’t make people like Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley anymore,” Mr. Neville said in a recent interview. “Their lives are the kind of American lives that people don’t have anymore. To me, just on a theatrical level, it seemed operatic: this kind of grand battle.”
Best of Enemies, a film about the 1968 Vidal-Buckley live televised debates. The documentary includes, of course, appearances by Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr., but also John Lithgow, Kelsey Grammer, Dick Cavett, Noam Chomsky, Christopher Hitchens, Matt Tyrnauer, Ginia Bellafante, Sam Tanenhaus, and Brooke Gladstone among others.
Sundance, SXSW official selection, and in cinemas July 31, 2015.
For American viewers of an intellectual/historical persuasion, there could scarcely be any documentary more enticing, scintillating and downright fascinating than Best of Enemies. A sort of brainy equivalent of the Ali-Frazier boxing matches of the same general era, the televised debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal during the two national political conventions in the convulsive year of 1968 comprised a watershed event in several ways, all of which are reflected in this outstanding documentary that will prove riveting both to those who have general memories of watching the broadcasts at the time and to younger political buffs who may never before have seen these titans of articulation and elocution in action.
No one would call Gore Vidal a big old sweetie pie, but some people who knew him were aware that this most acerbic of wits and nettlesome of contrarians could be generous and kind. One such is Michael Mewshaw, a freelance journalist and novelist, whose Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal purports to be what its title suggests: a memoir of friendship, and it is that, I guess, in the sense that Mewshaw occupied the position of friend. As such, he is able to show us aspects of Vidal — fastidious and unflappable in his public persona — that the man might have preferred to remain private; specifically a few instances of quiet benevolence and discreet charity, and many more of anger, resentment, churlishness, and drunkenness.
The difference between the private, welcoming Vidal and the tough customer he presented himself as in public fascinated Mewshaw:
"This astringency, this belligerent self-sufficiency, might have been necessary early in his career. But even after he achieved riches and renown, he gave the impression of being pereptually embattled. Maybe it galvanized him; maybe the struggle produced better work. Still, I wondered how much it cost him to keep fighting against enemies real and imagined."
Michael Mewshaw's new book is Sympathy for the Devil. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.)