Whatever happened to Vonnegut

Vonnegut is one of my favourite writers. But apparently he is letting his brain drain out of him one day at a time (Hat tip: Haitham)

But in discussing his views with The Weekend Australian, Vonnegut said it
was “sweet and honourable” to die for what you believe in, and rejected the idea
that terrorists were motivated by twisted religious beliefs.

“They are dying for their own self-respect,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing to deprive someone of their self-respect. It’s like your culture is nothing, your race is nothing, you’re nothing.”

Asked if he thought of terrorists as soldiers, Vonnegut, a
decorated World War II veteran, said: “I regard them as very brave people, yes.”

Sometimes I find such logic baffling. In uncertian terms what Vonnegut does is look only at actions (a soldier kills and so does a terrorist) instead of context. If Vonnegut is anti-war, he should be anti-terrorism as well. Or maybe he thinks that suicide bombing is different from terrorism. Something people do when they are really bored perhaps?!?

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5 Responses to Whatever happened to Vonnegut

  1. My first time here. Wonderful blog – i liked the Tube story. Reminded me of travelling in locals in Mumbai – wit hall street children singing songs and collecting money – but i dont think U can find them now as there is not an inch of place in the locals I presume.

  2. But maybe that’s the point – to look at the individual and his/her act rather than the larger context. I don’t support suicide bombing but going beyond flat condemnation is progressive.

    The author of that article takes a leap when he insinuates that Vonnegut is supporting terrorism – in fact, he’s just putting it on the same plane as conventional warfare. It’s true that one (ostensibly) doesn’t target civilians and the other does, but beyond that (albeit very significant) point, there exists some commonality between the soldier and the suicide bomber.

    Anyways, generally, you’re right that he ignores the context, but on the flipside, discussion of individual suicide bombers has simply been repeating the same old refrain “disaffected -> crazy religion -> suicide bomber”. He’s going beyond that by discussing the individual on another level… I don’t fully agree with him but I don’t find it abhorrent either.

  3. Anantham: I agree somewhat with you. To die for, and to kill others while you are at it are two different concepts. Vonnegut as far as I know is anti-war especially in the current war-mongering atmosphere. But in the same vein, you have to criticize terrorism. It’s two-way. You can’t support one and diss the other.

    Besides – Vonnegut doesn’t justify suicide bombers and terrorists – he calls it ‘sweet and honourable’. I understand that there is a commonality between a soldier and a terrorist. (One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter etc.), but soldiers are closer to mercenaries anyway. I can understand if Vonnegut stuck to the concept of self-respect – but to link it to ‘sweetness’ – oh well!

  4. kyonki

    Well i could not find the orginal interview where he made those comments. The australian article was quoting something he said in another interview.
    I can however see the point that they are dying for their own selfrespect and i’ll also buy that they feel that their culture isnt anything.
    But whose fault is that?
    Why did the saudi’s in particular screw their society and political systems so badly. Despite being a wealthy society. In 1980’s saudis had a percapita income of 30k(high end of the world) and in 2000’s they are still higher(relatively) at 12k.
    Yet the saudi’s who bother getting an education. Even in oil industry the saudi’s only have claim to the land. Not a single refining process nor drilling process or the associated industrial techniques are developed by them.
    Unfortunately self interest is not pervaling as much as self respect, and thus the choices they make.
    An analog would be a kid who in highschool who would allways have the opposing defiant, FU viewpoint towards anything. He reaches 30 and then realizes he hasnt made anything of his life. Kids from a poorer background and those who he considered as less intelectual(that he derided and looked downupon) are doing good for themselves and the larger communitiy in general and then he looses self respect. But instead of doing something good with his life he still has the attitude with him and blames the world for not being fair and engages in activities that harm him and the larger community in general.

  5. Anonymous

    Twisting Vonnegut’s views on terrorism
    By Mark Vonnegut | December 27, 2005

    FOR THE past month or so it’s been said and repeated that my father supports terrorism. The desire to have it be true is almost palpable. If novelist Kurt Vonnegut supports terrorism, then maybe all critics of the war are on some level proterrorist.

    It’s my fervent hope that if I’m alive at 83, I’ll have enough left in my tank to make people this angry.

    My father cares not a fig about the Middle East. He’s never been there, doesn’t think about their art or writing, may or may not be able to pick out some of their capitals and important rivers on a map. His true heroes are Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain.

    He doesn’t listen to me. When he was going to go on national television he told me he was going to call for the impeachment of President Bush. I told him he’d do better talking about growing up in Indiana in the Depression, how people took care of each other, how much he has loved and celebrated freedom. Kurt Vonnegut calling for the impeachment of Bush is not news.

    Like most people, my father can be wrong. I’ll bet you can take most 83-year-olds out to lunch and they’ll say one or two stupid things. It wouldn’t be that surprising if he had said something outrageous and unforgivable, but the plain fact of it is that he didn’t.

    At no point did he say that blowing yourself up in a crowd of people was a good thing to do. What most outraged his interviewer was Kurt’s disinclination to dismiss the terrorists as mentally ill. He said that suicide bombers believed that they were dying for a just cause and that he imagined they were probably brave people. It was all speculation. Neither he nor his interviewer had any knowledge about suicide bombers or radical Islam. Nowhere in the interview did he say anything in support of terrorism, though I’m quite sure he enjoyed horrifying his interviewer by skating around it. Kurt, every so often, will play with people a little.

    What Kurt can do better than most people is reframe things and turn them around in a way that creates a new perspective. Even if you disagree with that perspective, the plausibility and novelty of his vision are enough to make you think. We need to think a little more, not less.

    Kurt loves to be gloomy and tragic. It’s a loss to him that his life has mostly gone so well. He envies Twain and Lincoln their literary talents, but also their dead children. If my sisters and I were a little more devoted, we would have drawn straws. More than once or twice I’ve been fed to the teeth with my father’s negativity and provocative posturing, but that doesn’t make him un-American or proterrorist.

    If these commentators can so badly misunderstand and underestimate an utterly unguarded English-speaking 83-year-old man with an extensive public record of exactly what he thinks, maybe we should worry about how well they understand an enemy they can’t figure out what to call.

    The outcome in Iraq will not depend on what we believe and how hard we believe it.

    I’m not an expert on the Middle East or terrorism or the use of military force or politics. It’s all I can do to know a little bit about how to help people raise their kids and what to do when they get sick. When a war happens, I just hope it gets over with quickly so that how we take care of children becomes more important again.

    I didn’t like the ’60s because it was too important what people who had nothing to do with the war thought about it. From the beginning I have hoped our leaders were right but feared that they might be wrong. I hoped we would be welcomed as liberators.

    I take care of military families. Their sacrifices are very real. The harm done them by this war is very real. Our government won’t even give them decent medical insurance. I hope I can be forgiven for hoping we can give them decent strategic thinking and a better understanding of the enemy we’re asking them to fight.

    I hope I’m wrong, but if the people actually in charge of this war can’t listen and think better than the people beating up my dad, it’s not good news for military families and no amount of flag waving will make it so.

    Mark Vonnegut is a pediatrician in Milton.