Thursday, April 12, 2007

So it goes

LI has written a beautiful post about the passing of Kurt Vonnegut. Go read the whole thing, but here is a small taste:

He survived the firebombing of Dresden – as did another now famous literary figure, Victor Klemperer. Fire responds to fire – the fire that destroyed Dresden on February 13, 1945 was of the same flame as that which destroyed Dresden’s synagogue on the night of 9 November 1938, even though the happy German crowd in 1938, entertained by the torching and the fortuitous torture of a Jewish teacher, forced to bow to the crowd and take off his hat, couldn’t see the obvious message in those flames. What power, high on its arrogance and so indebted to its power that it can only up the ante, ever has?

Vonnegut subtitled his most famous novel ‘The Children’s Crusade”, and the way it got that subtitle is incorporated into the book in the first chapter, when Vonnegut goes to visit his ‘war buddy’, Bernard V. O'Hare, and discovers that O’Hare’s wife doesn’t like him. And then she tells him why:

“Then she turned to me, let me see how angry she was, and that the anger was for me. She had been talking to herself, so what she said was a fragment of a much larger conversation. "You were just babies then!" she said.
"What?" I said.
"You were just babies in the war -- like the ones upstairs!"
I nodded that this was true. We had been foolish virgins in the war, right at the end of childhood.
"But you're not going to write it that way, are you." This wasn't a question. It was an accusation.
"I -- I don't know," I said.
"Well, I know," she said. "You'll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you'll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we'll have a lot more of them. And they'll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs."
So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry. She didn't want her babies or anybody else's babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books and movies.
* * *
So I held up my right hand and I made her a promise: "Mary," I said, "I don't think this book of mine is ever going to be finished. I must have written five thousand pages by now, and thrown them all away. If I ever do finish it, though, I give you my word of honor: there won't be a part for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne.
"I tell you what," I said, "I'll call it 'The Children's Crusade.' "

Kurt Vonnegut did as much as he could to take the piss out of the ‘glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men’. He lived to see their children set fires that call to other fires in the future, fire to fire. News of his death comes on the same day that the Pentagon announced “that most active duty Army units now in Iraq and Afghanistan and those sent in the future would serve 15-month tours, three months longer than the standard one-year tour.”

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