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“The corporate grip on opinion in the United States is one of the wonders of the Western world. No First World country has ever managed to eliminate so entirely from its media all objectivity — much less dissent.”

— Gore Vidal

The Decline and Fall
of the American Empire

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire, by Gore Vidal Odonian Press, 1992; ISBN 1-878825-00-3


The Day the American Empire Ran Out of Gas

The National Security State

Cue The Green God, Ted

Time For A People’s Convention

Should Our Intelligence Services Be Abolished?

Monotheism and Its Discontents

Eloquent excerpts:

Chapter 1:
The Day the American Empire Ran Out of Gas

The original republic was thought out carefully, and openly, in The Federalist Papers: We were not going to have a monarchy, and we were not going to have a democracy. And to this day we have had neither. For two hundred years we have had an oligarchical system in which men of property can do well and the others are on their own.

Or, as Brooks Adams [a 19th-century American politician] put it, the sole problem of our ruling class is whether to coerce or to bribe the powerless majority.

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Unlike the republic, the empire was worked out largely in secret.

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Brooks Adams, as usual, said the unsayable. “Laws are a necessity,” he declared. “Laws are made by the strongest, and they must and shall be obeyed.”

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We have never had a popular government... nor are we in any danger now. Our only political party has two right wings, one called Republican, the other Democratic. But Henry Adams [Brooks’ older brother] figured all that out back in the 1890s. “We have a single system,” he wrote, and “in that system the only question is the price at which the proletariat is to be bought and sold, the bread and circuses.”

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As early as the election of 1876, socialism had been targeted as a vast evil that must never be allowed to corrupt simple American persons. When Christianity was invoked as the natural enemy of those who might limit the rich and their games, the combination of cross and dollar sign proved — and proves — irresistible.

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Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: You liberate a city by destroying it. Words are used to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.

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Jingoism aside, Brooks Adams was a good analyst. In the 1890s he wrote: “Russia, to survive, must undergo a social revolution internally and/or expand externally. She will try to move into Shansi Province, richest prize in the world. Should Russia and Germany combine...” That was the nightmare of the Four Horsemen.

(Note: Gore Vidal jokingly refers to Brooks Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, Alfred Thayer Mahan and Henry Cabot Lodge as the “the Four Horsemen” (of the Apocalypse) because these four evil men had a seminal influence on the development of the geopolitical strategy of the genocidal American Empire.)

At a time when simpler folk feared the rise of Germany alone, Brooks Adams saw the world ultimately polarized between Russia and the United States, with China as the common prize. American maritime power versus Russia’s landmass. That is why, quite seriously, he wanted to extend the Monroe Doctrine to the Pacific Ocean. For him, “war [was] the ultimate form of economic competition.”

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Is rectification of our system possible for us? Henry Adams thought not. In 1910 he wrote: “The whole fabric of society will go to wrack if we really lay hands of reform on our rotten institutions.” Then he added, “From top to bottom the whole system is a fraud, all of us know it, laborers and capitalists alike, and all of us are consenting parties to it.”

Since then, consent has grown frayed; and we have become poor, and our people sullen.

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...too many of our resources have been wasted on the military. The Pentagon is like a black hole; what goes in is forever lost to us, and no new wealth is created.

[Table of Contents]

Chapter 2:
The National Security State

What is the national security state? Well, it began, officially, with the National Security Act of 1947 [NSC-68]; it was then implemented in January 1950 when the National Security Council produced a blueprint for a new kind of country, unlike anything that the United States had ever known before.

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Needless to say, the blueprint, the continuing plan, was not openly discussed at the time. But, one by one, the major political players of the two parties came around. Senator Arthur Vandenburg, Republican, told Truman that if he really wanted all those weapons and all those high taxes to pay for them, he had better “scare the hell out of the American people.”

Truman obliged, with a series of speeches beginning October 23, 1947, about the Red Menace endangering France and Italy; he also instituted loyalty oaths for federal employees; and his attorney general published a list of dissident organizations (on December 4, 1947).

The climate of fear has been maintained, more or less zealously, by Truman’s successors, with the brief exception of Dwight Eisenhower, who in a belated fit of conscience at the end of his presidency warned us against the military-industrial complex that had, by then, established permanent control over the state.

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We can date from January 1950 the strict governmental control of our economy and the gradual erosion of our liberties, all in order to benefit the economic interest of what is never, to put it tactfully, a very large group — defense spending is money- but not labor intensive.

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The Iran-Contra hearings were a sudden dramatic confrontation between the real government of the United States, as represented by Ollie North et al., and the cosmetic government. Ollie told us as much. But no one got the point.

[Table of Contents]

Chapter 3:
Cue The Green God , Ted   $$

Since the victory of 1945, the United States, as befits the leader of something called “the free world,” has fought open and unsuccessful wars in Korea and Vietnam; and relatively covert wars in Cambodia, Laos, the Caribbean, Central America, Africa, Chile, the Middle East, etc. In almost every case, our overwhelming commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights has required us to support those regimes that would deny freedom, democracy and human rights to their own people.

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To their credit, our rulers don’t often bore us with tortured rationalizations or theological nit-picking. They don’t have to. Since we have no political parties and no opposition media, there is always a semblance of “consensus” for these wars. Congress funds the Pentagon, which then responds to the national security state’s directives to overthrow an Arbenz here or a Sihanouk there or — why not? — devastate a neutral country like Cambodia to show how tall we can stand in all our marvelously incredible credibility.

Voices of dissent are either silenced or marginalized, while known apostates of the national religion [corporate capitalism] are either demonized or trivialized. Meanwhile, no one has noticed that the national security state, in its zeal to bring the national religion to all nations, has now deprived us of our original holy text — our Old Testament — the Constitution.

Every war that we have fought since 1945 has been by executive (or National Security Council) order. Since only Congress may declare war, these wars have all been in violation of the Constitution.

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...our quality of life, though better than that of Russia (all that really matters, our priests hum softly) is noticeably lousy. But the reasons for our decline are never made clear because the corporate ownership of the country has absolute control of the populist pulpit — “the media” — as well as of the schoolroom.

David Hume’s celebrated 1758 Of the First Principles of Government has never been more to the point than now:

“Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few, and the implicit submission with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers.

“When we inquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find that, as force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is, therefore, on opinion only that government is founded, and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments as well as to the most free and most popular.”

The corporate grip on opinion in the United States is one of the wonders of the Western world. No First World country has ever managed to eliminate so entirely from its media all objectivity — much less dissent.

Of course, it is possible for any citizen with time to spare, and a canny eye, to work out what is actually going on, but for the many there is not time, and the network news is the only news even though it may not be news at all but only a series of flashing fictions...

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...when our corporate rulers address us from their cathode pulpit... The level of the chat on those programs is about as low as it is possible to get without actually serving the viewers gin. The opinion expressed ranges from conservative to reactionary to joyous neofascist.

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I have been involved in television since the early 1950s, when it ceased to be a novelty and became the principal agent for the simultaneous marketing of consumer goods and of national security state opinion. Although I thought I knew quite a bit about the ins and outs of the medium, I now know a lot more, thanks to Ben H. Bagdikian’s The Media Monopoly and Manufacturing Consent a study of “the political economy of the mass media,” by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky.

These two studies demonstrate exactly how the few manipulate opinion.

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...most opinion is now controlled by twenty-nine corporations... one can then identify those twenty-nine CEOs as a sort of politburo or college of cardinals, in strict charge of what the people should and should not know.

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Since no voices other than those of the national consensus are heard, how could a viewer know that there are any other viewpoints?

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In 1972 the future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell wrote the US Chamber of Commerce proposing that they “buy the top academic reputations in the country to add credibility to corporate studies and give business a stronger voice on the campuses.” One wonders, stronger than what? But the advice was taken. Also, as corollary, keep off prime-time television those who do not support corporate America.

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Now, of course, with the megacorporate ownership of the media becoming more and more concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, structure is total, indeed totalitarian...

Currently, the principal dispenser of the national religion is Ted Koppel, a very smooth bishop indeed.

Henry Kissinger [is] Koppel’s guru and a longtime cardinal in the national security state curia...

[Table of Contents]

Chapter 4:
Time For A People’s Convention

...we are now in a prerevolutionary time.

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...I tried to explain to the [National] press club what it is they do that they don’t know they do. I quote David Hume: The Few are able to control the Many only through Opinion. In the eighteenth century, Opinion was dispensed from pulpit and schoolroom. Now the media are in place to give us Opinion that has been manufactured in the boardrooms of those corporations — once national, now international — that control our lives.

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The Supreme Court is no longer the Executive’s equal. Rather it is the Executive’s tool. The White House’s open coaching of the unqualified Clarence Thomas for a place on the Court made it dramatically clear that the Court now acts as a nine-member legal council to the Executive, its principal function the validation of Executive decrees. The current Court has also displayed a startling dislike of the American people, and the joy with which the nine nullities chop away at our Bill of Rights is a marvel to behold.

But then the hatred of those inside the fabled Beltway for those outside has now — what else? — created a true hatred on the part of the Many for the Few who govern them, or appear to govern, since the actual decision makers — and paymasters — are beyond anyone’s reach, out there in the boardrooms of the world.

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...journalists and politicians are hired by the same people and behind those people is the corporate wealth of the country, which requires that the [Federal] budget be faked.

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Social Security is a separate trust fund whose income and outgo have nothing to do with the actual budget.

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Every four years the naive half who vote are encouraged to believe that if we can elect a really nice man or woman President everything will be all right. But it won’t be. Any individual who is able to raise $25 million to be considered presidential is not going to be much use to the people at large. He will represent oil, or aerospace, or banking, or whatever moneyed entities are paying for him. Certainly he will never represent the people of the country, and they know it. Hence the sense of despair throughout the land as incomes fall, businesses fail and there is no redress.

Before the national security state was invented, we had something called “representative government.” It did not work awfully well but at least there was a sense that, from time to time, something might be done about a depression — the sort of thing that cannot be done by a system in which most public revenues are earmarked for weaponry and war and secret police forces...

“When we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without a government, our calamities are heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise.”

I quote from Common Sense, by Thomas Paine.

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...the war on drugs has nothing at all to do with drugs. It is part of an all-out war on the American people by a government interested only in control.

[Table of Contents]

Chapter 5:
Should Our Intelligence Services Be Abolished?

Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution requires government agencies to submit their budgets at regular intervals to Congress for review. Neither the CIA nor the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] does this. Occasionally, at the dark of the moon, they will send someone up to the Hill to mis- and disinform Congress, and that’s that. After all, to explain what they actually do with the money that they get would be a breach of national security, the overall rubric that protects so many of them from criminal indictments.

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[Table of Contents]

Chapter 6:
Monotheism and Its Discontents

The word “radical” derives from the Latin word for root. Therefore, if you want to get to the root of anything you must be radical. It is no accident that the word has now been totally demonized by our masters, and no one in politics dares even to use the word favorably, much less track any problem to its root. But then a ruling class that was able to demonize the word “liberal” in the past ten years [now twenty years] is a master at controlling — indeed stifling — any criticism of itself.

“Liberal” comes from the Latin liberalis, which means pertaining to a free man. In politics, to be a liberal is to want to extend democracy through change and reform. One can see why that word had to be erased from our political lexicon.

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Plainly, the ownership of the country is frightened that the current hatred of politicians, in general, may soon be translated into a hatred of that corporate few who control the many through Opinion, as manufactured by the [New York] Times, among others.

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The sky-god is a jealous god, of course. He requires total obedience from everyone on earth, as he is in place not just for one tribe but all creation. Those who reject him must be converted or killed for their own good.

Ultimately, totalitarianism is the only sort of politics that can truly serve the sky-god’s purpose. Any movement of a liberal nature endangers his authority and that of his delegates on earth. One God, one King, one Pope, one master in the factory, one father-leader in the family at home.

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Although the Jews were sky-god folk, they followed Book One, not Book Two, so they have no mission to convert others; rather the reverse. Also, as they have been systematically demonized by the Christian sky-godders, they tended to be liberal and so turned not to their temple but to the ACLU. Unfortunately, the recent discovery that the sky-god, in his capacity as realtor, had given them, in perpetuity, some parcels of unattractive land called Judea and Samaria has, to my mind, unhinged many of them.

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At least when Emperor Justinian, a sky-god man, decided to outlaw sodomy, he had to come up with a good practical reason, which he did. It is well known, Justinian declared, that buggery is a principal cause of earthquakes, and so must be prohibited. But our sky-godders, always eager to hate, still quote Leviticus, as if that loony text had anything useful to say about anything except, perhaps, the inadvisability of eating shellfish in the Jerusalem area.

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We are now, slowly, becoming alarmed at the state of the planet. For a century, we have been breeding like a virus under optimum conditions, and now the virus has begun to attack its host, the earth. The lower atmosphere is filled with dust, we have just been told from our satellites in space. Climate changes; earth and water are poisoned. Sensible people grow alarmed, but sky-godders are serene, even smug. The planet is just a staging area for heaven. Why bother to clean it up?

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Of course as poor Arthur (There Is This Pendulum) Schlesinger Jr. would say, these things come in cycles. Every twenty years liberal gives way to conservative, and back again. But I suggest that what is wrong now is not cyclic but systemic. And our system, like any system, is obeying the second law of thermodynamics. Everything is running down; and we are well advanced along the yellow brick road to entropy.

I don’t think much of anything can be done to halt this progress under our present political-economic system. We lost poor Arthur’s pendulum in 1950 when our original Constitution was secretly replaced with the apparatus of the national security state, which still wastes most of our tax money on war or war-related matters. Hence deteriorating schools, and so on.

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Another of our agreed-upon fantasies is that we do not have a class system in the United States. The Few who control the Many through Opinion have simply made themselves invisible. They have convinced us that we are a classless society in which anyone can make it.

Ninety percent of the stories in the pop press are about winners of lotteries or poor boys and girls who, despite adenoidal complaints, become overnight millionaire singers. So there is still hope, the press tells the folks, for the 99 percent who will never achieve wealth no matter how hard they work.

Happily, the few cannot disguise the bad times through which we are now going. Word is spreading that America is now falling behind in the civilization sweepstakes. So isn’t it time to discuss what we all really think and feel about our social and economic arrangements?

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When the white race broke out of Europe 500 years ago, it did many astounding things all over the globe. Inspired by a raging sky-god, the whites were able to pretend that their conquests were in order to bring the One God to everyone, particularly those with older and subtler religions.

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It should be noted that religion seemed to be losing its hold in the United States in the second quarter of this century. From the Scopes trial in ’25 to the repeal of Prohibition in ’33, the sky-godders were confined pretty much to the backwoods. Then television was invented and the electronic pulpit was soon occupied by a horde of Elmer Gantrys, who took advantage of the tax exemption for religion. Thus, out of greed, a religious revival has been set in motion and the results are predictably poisonous to the body politic.

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The party of man would like to re-establish a representative government firmly based upon the Bill of Rights. The party of God will have none of this. It wants to establish, through legal prohibitions and enforced taboos, a sky-god totalitarian state. The United States ultimately as prison, with mandatory blood, urine and lie-detector tests and with the sky-godders as the cops, answerable only to God, who sent us and then, mysteriously, took back his Only Son, H. Ross Perot, as warden.

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The famous tree of liberty is all that we have ever really had. Now, for want of nurture, it is dying before our eyes. Of course, the sky-god never liked it. But some of us did — and some of us do. So, perhaps, through facing who and what we are, we may achieve a nation not under God but under man — or should I say our common humanity?

[Table of Contents]

About the Author

photographic portrait of Gore Vidal
photo by Stathis Orphanos

Gore Vidal was born on October 3rd, 1925 in West Point, New York, where his father was an aeronautics instructor. His grandfather was Thomas Pryor Gore, the populist senator from Oklahoma. Vidal graduated from Philips Exeter Academy in 1943 and then joined the the U.S. Army at the age of 17, serving during World War II.

The author of 22 novels, five plays and numerous essays, articles and reviews, Vidal wrote his first novel at the age of 19 and was widely hailed as a young genius. Many of his subsequent novels have been number-one best-sellers, and his writing is said to have remained in top form for all this past half-century. If anything, he has gotten better with time.

While Gore Vidal is world-famous for his writing in general, he is particularly loved and respected for his courageously outspoken criticism of the predatory American Empire. Many consider his political essays to be his most important writing, but the consensus is that all of it is good: full of eloquent, humorous, insightful analysis of American society, history and politics.

Vidal is noted for such novels as Myra Breckenridge (1968), in which he lampooned contemporary sexuality and American culture. When asked in an interview about the gender of his first sexual encounter, he said: “It was dark and I was too polite to ask.”

Having thoroughly overcome such verbal inhibitions in the intervening years, he has, since the early 1950s, written screenplays for Hollywood and plays for live T.V., made numerous film cameos, spoken on T.V. talk shows, and given speeches before many an appreciative audience. (The unappreciative ones hardly matter, having pre-fabricated minds manufactured by the corporate mass-media.)

In addition to his literary career, Vidal has twice run for office. In 1960, he was a candidate for Congress in upstate New York, where he got the most votes in his district of any Democrat in half a century. Running for the U.S. Senate in the 1982 Democratic primary in California, he received half a million votes and finished second in a field of nine.

In 1982, Vidal won an American Book Critics Circle Award for his collection of essays, The Second American Revolution.

Major written works

Essay Collections

The Last Empire

From the Foreword (mysteriously removed from the published edition):

“I am writing this note a dozen days before the Inauguration of the loser of the year 2000 presidential election. Lost republic as well as last empire.

“We are now faced with a Japanese seventeenth-century-style arrangement: a powerless Mikado ruled by a shogun vice president and his Pentagon warrior counselors. Do they dream, as did the shoguns of yore, of the conquest of China? We shall know more soon, I should think, than late. Sayonara.”

Gore Vidal
11 January 2001

“Shredding the Bill of Rights”

The American Presidency

Virgin Islands

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire

United States

Screening History

A View from the Diners Club

At Home


Vidal in Venice

The Second American Revolution

Sex Is Politics and Vice Versa

Matters of Fact and Fiction

Homage to Daniel Shays

Sex, Death and Money

Reflections Upon a Sinking Ship

From the Preface:

“I have selected a title which seems to me altogether apt this bright savage spring with Martin Luther King dead and now Robert Kennedy. The fact that these deaths occurred at a time when the American empire was sustaining a richly deserved defeat in Asia simply makes for added poignancy, if not tragedy.”

Rocking the Boat



In a Yellow Wood

The City and the Pillar

The Season of Comfort

A Search for the King

Dark Green, Bright Red
1950, revised 1968
Ballantine Publishing Group (October 1986)
ISBN 0-345-33457-4

Dark Green, Bright Red is Vidal’s first novel to explore the fact that the United States is an imperialistic predator among nations. It was based on personal experience and observation. He lived for awhile in Guatemala, and the novel presages the bloody CIA-engineered overthrow of the democratically elected, progressive Jacobo Arbenz in 1954.

The “Dark Green” in the title refers to American money power, and “Bright Red” refers to the bloodshed of American state terrorism and popular rebellion, and also the alternative of communism.

The Judgement of Paris
1952, revised 1961


Messiah is another prophetic novel. It illustrates the power of the corporate mass-media to brainwash people by the tens of millions.


Washington, D.C.

Myra Breckinridge

Two Sisters







This satire of American culture (or the lack thereof) is one of Vidal’s personal favorites.



The title refers to the American Empire, baptized in the blood of 200,000 Philippine men, women and children, from 1899 to 1902. The novel deals with sordid intrigues among the American ruling-class of that era.


Live from Golgotha

The Smithsonian Institution

The Golden Age


Palimpsest: A Memoir


Views from a Window: Conversations with Gore Vidal

Interview of Vidal by Harry Kloman

Short Stories

Three Strategems

A Thirsty Evil


An Evening with Richard Nixon And...

Tricky Dick meets George Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Adlai Steventon, Spiro T. Agnew, Gloria Steinem, Harry S Truman, Helen Gahagan Douglas, Hubert H. Humphrey, Martha Mitchell, Nikita Khrushchev, Lt. William “Babykiller” Calley and many others. A satire of American political corruption.



On the March to the Sea

The Best Man

Visit to a Small Planet

Related sites

The Gore Vidal Index

Gore Vidal Reader:
books, interviews, reviews, sites, discussions

A foreword by Gore Vidal to the book:
Money and Politics: Financing Our Elections Democratically

His take on McVeigh arouses neocons’ wrath
by Justin Raimondo

Related books

The American Presidency
by Gore Vidal

Body of Secrets:
Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency
by James Bamford

In 1962, U.S. military leaders had a top-secret plan for committing terrorist attacks on Americans in Miami and Washington D.C., while blaming Cuba. Codenamed “Operation Northwoods”, the plan was intended to provide the propaganda necessary to create popular support for an invasion of Cuba.

A People’s History of the United States:
1492 — Present
by Howard Zinn

Pirates and Emperors, Old and New:
International Terrorism in the Real World
by Noam Chomsky

What Uncle Sam Really Wants
by Noam Chomsky

Market Elections:
How “Democracy” Serves the Rich
by Vince Copeland

Lies My Teacher Told Me:
Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
by James Loewen

Dumbing Us Down:
The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
by John Taylor Gatto

Democracy for the Few
by Michael Parenti

Against Empire
by Michael Parenti

Blackshirts and Reds:
Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism
by Michael Parenti

The Beast Reawakens
by Martin A. Lee

Killing Hope:
U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since WWII
by William Blum

Rogue State:
A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower
by William Blum

Western State Terrorism
Alexander George, editor; essays by Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman, Gerry O’Sullivan and others

The Fire This Time:
U.S. War Crimes in the Gulf
by Ramsey Clark

Desert Slaughter:
The Imperialist War Against Iraq
by the Workers League

Apocalypse 1945:
The Destruction of Dresden
by David Irving

Hidden Agenda:
U.S./NATO Takeover of Yugoslavia
by Ramsey Clark, Nadja Tesich, Michel Chossudovsky, Slobodan Milosevic, numerous authors

The Sword and the Dollar:
Imperialism, Revolution and the Arms Race
by Michael Parenti

Deadly Deceits:
My 25 years in the CIA
by Ralph W. McGehee

The Culture of Terrorism
by Noam Chomsky

Manufacturing Consent:
The Political Economy of the Mass Media
by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky

Inventing Reality:
The Politics of News Media
by Michael Parenti

The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media:
Decoding Spin and Lies in Mainstream News
by Norman Solomon

Toxic Sludge is Good for You!:
Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry
by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton

War, Lies & Videotape:
How media monopoly stifles truth
edited by Lenora Foerstel; multiple authors

Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy
by Robert W. McChesney

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