Tuesday, December 25, 2007

O'Hare's dad's diary: http://lehighvalleyramblings.blogspot.com/

This is marvelous, if sad, reading:

But for one week, my father chronicled his post-release experiences in amazing detail. Just twenty-two at the time, he was a pretty good writer himself. Occasionally, he mentions Vonnegut, who was just a "minor being" at the time. For the next few days, I'll share my dad's thoughts with you, day by day.


Our mangy but well-fed crew left DiHille's at noon today. We proceeded over the Elbe to Russian headquarters in the city and after much confusion - due to our ignorance of the Russian language and vice versa - we were directed to the Hitler Caserne on Konigsbage Strasse. Here we find ourselves confronted with the perpetual situation of no one knowing anything about anything. However, we are being looked after like pet children by the Russians. We have been here only four hours at the most and have already been fed twice, showered, de-loused and billeted. As near as we can gather from speaking to the limeys and G.I.'s here, we are to stay put until our troops come seeking us. Except for the anxiety that we all have concerning our parents and families, we don't give a damn how long it takes them to root us out.

I heard my first radio program since I was captured. Dannine and I went across the compound and fell in with a few Tommies who have a wireless set in their flat. We heard an A.M.G. broadcast from Hamburg. That American music certainly sounded good. The Tommies surprised us before the evening was over with a meal of spuds, meat and beans. We rejoined our crew with a full stomach and a highly satisfied mien. I don't believe I'll ever get up out of bed again. Goot nacht.

2 of 2

In a public radio interview, Vonnegut speaks of a conversation he had with my father, some twenty years later.

"What did you learn?" Vonnegut asks.

"I will never believe my government again."

Churchill, who had advocated the firebombing, was knighted.


We moved over to the other compound today. That seems to be the chief benefit accruing to those who have been deloused. The rooms here are much cleaner and better equipped. We eat three times per day restaurant style and the shilly (chile?) is both good and thick - a happy set of circumstances not found readily in Germany. We spent most of the day getting our loot in order and this afternoon learned to our gratification that we were scheduled to move out. About an hour later a sergeant from the 1st Rangers division put in an appearance and announced that trucks were on their way to bring us either to Riesa or Leipzig where there are concentrations of former P.O.W.'s. I had no idea the sight of a G.I. would be so sensational. Needless to say, the limeys hogged him before any of his own countrymen had a chance to learn much from him concerning the good old U.S.A. Well, the trucks finally arrived and after the normal red tape we piled into them and took off. Approximately two hours later we found ourselves in Riesa. Temporary quarters were provided for us in some Jerry barracks. We are supposed to move in the morning to some other place in town where there are more G.I.'s. Our present barracks aren't at all bad except for the lack of anything soft upon which to lay our weary bones. There are some limeys here who have been waiting to get out for almost a month. It seems that Stalag W-B was liberated by the Russians on April 23.

Bernard V. O'Hare III releases Vonnegut letter

So It Went

By Kurt Vonnegut
December 24, 2007 (Blog published in Allentown paper)

It became 'Slaughterhouse Five'

What follows is a letter that the writer Kurt Vonnegut sent to family and friends in 1945. It was made available to The Morning Call by Bernard V. O'Hare III of Nazareth, who first posted it on his blog, lehighvallyramblings.blogspot.com.

O'Hare's father, the late Bernard V. O'Hare Jr., was imprisoned with Vonnegut in a German POW camp. He went on to have a law practice and serve as district attorney in Northampton County. His family kept in touch with Vonnegut until his death on April 11 of this year.

The younger O'Hare said his ''packrat'' brother found the letter after a biographer asked the O'Hares for information about the friendship between the former soldiers. Vonnegut had sent it to his family not long after he and O'Hare were released at the end of World War II. The younger Mr. O'Hare noted, ''In many ways, this three-page letter is his first draft of 'Slaughterhouse Five.' (Vonnegut's 1969 novel and his best-known.) Vonnegut sent my family a copy of that letter, apparently as a Christmas present, in 1996.''

Dear people:

I'm told that you were probably never informed that I was anything other than 'missing in action.'' Chances are that you also failed to receive any of the letters I wrote from Germany. That leaves me a lot of explaining to do -- in precis: I've been a prisoner of war since December 19th, 1944, when our division was cut to ribbons by Hitler's last desperate thrust through Luxemburg and Belgium. Seven Fanatical Panzer Divisions hit us and cut us off from the rest of Hodges' First Army. The other American Divisions on our flanks managed to pull out. We were obliged to stay and fight. Bayonets aren't much good against tanks: Our ammunition, food and medical supplies gave out and our casualties out-numbered those who could still fight -- so we gave up. The 106th got a Presidential Citation and some British Decoration from Montgomery for it, I'm told, but I'll be damned if it was worth it. I was one of the few who weren't wounded. For that much thank God.

Well, the supermen marched us, without food, water or sleep to Limberg, a distance of about sixty miles, I think, where we were loaded and locked up, sixty men to each small, unventilated, un-heated box car. There were no sanitary accommodations -- the floors were covered with fresh cow dung. There wasn't room for all of us to lie down. Half slept while the other half stood.

We spent several days, including Christmas, on that Limberg siding. On Christmas eve, the Royal Air Force bombed and strafed our unmarked train. They killed about one-hundred-and-fifty of us. We got a little water Christmas Day and moved slowly across Germany to a large P.O.W. Camp in Muhlburg, South of Berlin. We were released from the box cars on New Year's Day. The Germans herded us through scalding delousing showers. Many men died from shock in the showers after ten days of starvation, thirst and exposure. But I didn't.

Under the Geneva Convention, Officers and Non-commissioned Officers are not obliged to work when taken prisoner. I am, as you know, a Private. One-hundred-and-fifty such minor beings were shipped to a Dresden work camp on January 10th. I was their leader by virtue of the little German I spoke. It was our misfortune to have sadistic and fanatical guards. We were refused medical attention and clothing: We were given long hours at extremely hard labor. Our food ration was two-hundred-and-fifty grams of black bread and one pint of unseasoned potato soup each day. After desperately trying to improve our situation for two months and having been met with bland smiles I told the guards just what I was going to do to them when the Russians came. They beat me up a little. I was fired as group leader. Beatings were very small time: One boy starved to death and the SS Troops shot two for stealing food.

On about February 14th the Americans came over, followed by the R.A.F. their combined labors killed 250,000 people in twenty-four hours and destroyed all of Dresden -- possibly the world's most beautiful city. But not me.

After that we were put to work carrying corpses from Air-Raid shelters; women, children, old men; dead from concussion, fire or suffocation. Civilians cursed us and threw rocks as we carried bodies to huge funeral pyres in the city.

When General Patton took Leipzig we were evacuated on foot to ... the Checkoslovakian (sic) border. There we remained until the war ended. Our guards deserted us. On that happy day the Russians were intent on mopping up isolated outlaw resistance in our sector. Their planes (P-39s) strafed and bombed us, killing fourteen, but not me.

Eight of us stole a team and wagon. We traveled and looted our way through Sudetenland and Saxony for eight days, living like kings. The Russians are crazy the American lines at Halle in Lend-Lease Ford trucks. We've since been flown to Le Havre.

I'm writing from a Red Cross Club in the Le Havre P.O.W. Repatriation Camp. I'm being wonderfully well fed and entertained. The state-bound ships are jammed, naturally, so I'll have to be patient. I hope to be home in a month. Once home I'll be given twenty-one days recuperation at Atterbury, about $600 back pay and -- get this -- sixty (60) days furlough!

I've too damned much to say, the rest will have to wait. I can't receive mail here so don't write.

May 29, 1945

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Kurt--a charming program

And I’m Shirley Griffith with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we tell about Kurt Vonnegut, a writer and thinker who shook up the country with his unusual writing style and subjects. He helped energize huge numbers of young people to protest the Vietnam War and to always question the powers that be.



It took Kurt Vonnegut about twenty-five years to write his most famous book, “Slaughterhouse-Five.” It was published in nineteen sixty-nine. The book remains required reading in high school and college English classes across the country. It includes this description of the fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany, by Allied forces during World War Two, as witnessed by a soldier named Billy Pilgrim:


“There was a fire-storm out there. Dresden was one big flame. The one flame ate everything organic, everything that would burn.

It wasn’t safe to come out of the shelter until noon the next day. When the Americans and their guards did come out, the sky was black with smoke. The sun was an angry little pinhead. Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but minerals. The stones were hot. Everybody else in the neighborhood was dead.

So it goes.”


Kurt Vonnegut, a prisoner of war like Pilgrim, witnessed the bombing of Dresden. The waste of human life and other treasures greatly angered him. His novels contain some of that anger. But Vonnegut always balanced his work with humor and the use of wildly unlikely events presented as normal.

For example, in "Slaughterhouse-Five," Billy Pilgrim visits the make-believe planet Tralfamadore. He and a beautiful movie star named Montana Wildhack fall in love there in a clear ball of a house. They are studied by the Tralfamadorians and find happiness.

Kurt Vonnegut compared the science fiction in “Slaughterhouse-Five” to the clowns in the plays of sixteenth century English writer William Shakespeare. Vonnegut believed such literary devices give the reader a rest before the story gets serious again.



Kurt Vonnegut’s own life was also filled with tragedy and laughter. He was born in nineteen twenty-two in Indianapolis, Indiana. His father was a building designer. His mother was from an extremely wealthy family. She suffered from mental illness and unhappiness as a failed writer. Vonnegut said his mother would have periods of madness where she would emotionally abuse his father. Vonnegut said his father was the gentlest man on the planet. Edith Vonnegut killed herself on Mother’s Day, in nineteen forty-four. The act affected her son his whole life.

In nineteen fifty-eight, Kurt Vonnegut’s sister and her husband died within two days of each other. Vonnegut and his wife at the time adopted the couple’s three children.


Kurt Vonnegut was interested in writing from at least his teenage years. He worked on his high school’s newspaper. Later he studied at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and became an editor of that school’s newspaper. Vonnegut studied biochemistry. He followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Bernard, who was a scientist. However, Kurt Vonnegut was not a very good student. He left Cornell in nineteen forty-three and joined the army during World War Two. German forces captured him during the Battle of the Bulge in Western Europe.

Vonnegut’s experiences as a soldier and the bombing of Dresden were among the major influences in his life. He was a pacifist, someone who opposes war and violence for settling conflict. He once said: “You can teach people savagery. They may need savagery, but it’s bad for the neighbors. I prefer to teach gentleness.”

He was not always gentle on himself, however. He battled depression for most of his life. In nineteen eighty-four, he tried to kill himself by taking too much sleep medicine. He said later that children of a parent who committed suicide will naturally think of death as a sensible solution to any problem.



After World War Two, Vonnegut married a childhood friend, Jane Cox. They moved to Chicago, Illinois in nineteen forty-five. They had three children. Vonnegut studied anthropology at the University of Chicago. He also worked as a reporter.

Kurt Vonnegut also began writing short stories. They were published in literary magazines. In nineteen fifty-two he wrote his first novel. “Player Piano” was influenced by Vonnegut’s work at the power company, General Electric. Vonnegut said it was there that he got the idea of everything being controlled by computers. He told Playboy Magazine in nineteen seventy-three that it made perfect sense to have little clicking boxes, as he called them, make all the decisions for humans. But he said it was not good for human workers to be replaced by machines.

Vonnegut said that he wrote science fiction because General Electric was science fiction to him. “Player Piano” describes a place called Ileum where the humans have surrendered to a computer.

Writers of science fiction are often considered less serious than writers of other kinds of fiction. As a result, Vonnegut’s work was published in paperback and ignored by critics for several years.


But people started listening more closely to Kurt Vonnegut’s literary voice in the nineteen sixties. There was great public anger and protest over American military action in Vietnam. Distrust for the United States government was growing. Young people and minorities especially were speaking up against America’s leaders and cultural restrictions.

Vonnegut’s statements about America, its people and its leaders mixed perfectly with that atmosphere. His novels became favorites of many people involved in the anti-establishment, politically progressive movement of that time.

“Cat’s Cradle,” published in nineteen sixty-three, is one example. It tells the story of a fictional scientist who helped invent the atomic bomb and something even more dangerous – a substance called ice-nine. “Cat’s Cradle” is an extremely funny condemnation of many things. These include the arms race at the time -- efforts by countries to increase their nuclear weapons. It also makes jokes about organized religion and the United States government.


In nineteen sixty-four, “Cat’s Cradle” won a Hugo Award for science fiction. Also that year, Kurt Vonnegut began teaching at the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa. He was a professor for many years and taught English at several universities and colleges. He wrote at least fifteen more books, including non-fiction.

''Breakfast of Champions''
One of those books was “Breakfast of Champions,” published in nineteen seventy-three. Vonnegut tells the story of a wealthy and crazy car salesman named Dwayne Hoover. Hoover reads science fiction books written by a man named Kilgore Trout. Hoover becomes more and more sure that the books are not fiction but reality.

Here Kurt Vonnegut reads from an early version of “Breakfast of Champions.” The reading took place in New York City in nineteen seventy.


"My name is Dwayne Hoover and I am an experiment by the creator of the universe. I am the only creature in the entire universe who has free will. I am the only creature who has to figure out what to do next and why. Everybody else is a robot.

I am pooped. I wish I were a robot too. It is perfectly exhausting having to reason all the time in a universe I never made."


Kurt Vonnegut and his wife Jane separated in nineteen seventy. Vonnegut married photographer Jill Krementz nine years later. They adopted a daughter.

Vonnegut continued to be politically outspoken. He used the American political crime called the Watergate scandal in his novel “Jailbird.” He was also an early environmental activist. He spoke often and loudly about the long-term dangers of fossil fuel use, pollution and waste of natural resources. Vonnegut also condemned the Bush administration and the war in Iraq that began in two thousand three.


Kurt Vonnegut published his last book in two thousand five. “A Man Without A Country” is a collection of his opinions of many subjects, including issues in modern American society.

He died in two thousand seven after suffering brain injuries from a fall in his home. He was eighty-four. Kurt Vonnegut’s children placed notes of thanks to his fans on the Vonnegut Web site. His daughter Nanny wrote: “I am so sorry for your loss as well as mine.”



Our program was written and produced by Caty Weaver. Jim Tedder read the "Slaughterhouse Five" passage. I'm Steve Ember with Shirley Griffith. You can learn about other famous Americans at voaspecialengish.com. And join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Vonnegut recollection

Sunday, June 17, 2007
Wish he had said more

Would have loved to hear more about Vonnegut on this Cornell Sun post:

It was gorges. My first summer in Ithaca was the summer of '78. I was a 16 year old football recruit preparing for the hotel school.
I was two years younger than most of my teammates. I was intimidated by the reputation of the school. I found solace and accreditation while lying in the cold flow of the stream under the bridge.
I was fortunate to have a great roommate, Dave Kimichek, great floormates in our U-Hall and great brothers a Delta Upsilon. I was priviledged to study with great chefs, Carl Sagan, and meet my fraternity brother Kurt Vonnegut.
What a summer, fall, winter, spring that year of 1978 was.

By Jim Gibbons at June 17, 2007 - 1:31pm | reply

Posted by Hank Nuwer at 7:15 PM 0 comments

Thursday, June 14, 2007
Vonnegut on Broadway

Simonson's Slaughterhouse-Five Adaptation Aiming for NYC's 59E59 Theaters

By Kenneth Jones
14 Jun 2007

Slaughterhouse-Five, Eric Simonson's adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's anti-war novel, which was based on the author's experiences in World War II, is expected to make its New York City premiere in the next year.

Godlight Theatre Company will present the new production, aiming for 59E59 Theaters. Dates in September-October 2007 were released prematurely (an incorrect item appeared in the New York Times June 14). Future dates are being explored for a run at the Off-Broadway venue, but not in fall 2007, a spokesperson for 59E59 told Playbill.com.

Godlight artistic director Joe Tantalo will direct the play, subtitled or: The Children's Crusade. The text was adapted for a production that was seen at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.

According to Godlight, the creative team will include production designer Maruti Evans, composer and sound designer Andrew Recinos, fight choreographer Josh Renfree and movement director and choreographer Hachi Yu.

The Godlight cast will feature Daniel Ball, David Bartlett, Katherine Boynton, Alisa Burket, Enid Cortes, Darren Curley, Lawrence Jansen, Gregory Konow, Deanna McGovern, Nick Paglino, Aaron Paternoster, Mike Roche, Cyrus Roxas, Michael Shimkin, Michael Tranzilli and Sam Whitten. If the staging is bumped to 2008, this list may change.

According to Godlight notes, "Part history, part time-traveling science-fiction, Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a naïve American optometrist from Illium, New York, who survives the firebombing of Dresden, Germany by American and British troops during World War II. Back home, Pilgrim is kidnapped by aliens who instruct him in the nature of the fourth dimension, where time is an eternal present, and he brings this knowledge back to earth."

Simonson, a writer and director, received an Oscar for Best Documentary Short for his film "A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin" in 2006. He was Tony-nominated for his direction of Steppenwolf's The Song of Jacob Zulu, with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. He subsequently directed an Oscar-nominated documentary about the acclaimed South African singing group. He directed and adapted Steppenwolf's Slaughterhouse-Five as well as the plays Work Song: Three Views of Frank Lloyd Wright, Moby Dick and Carter's Way.

59E59 Theaters is at 59 East 59th Street (between Madison and Park).

Visit www.59e59.org for further information.

Vonnegut course in Indianapolis

Note: I've seen Jim speak years ago. He's bright, energetic, and entertaining. Should be a great class. Hank Nuwer

from the Indy Star
The early works of a notable Hoosier are featured in a class called Discovering Kurt Vonnegut.

Taught by Jim Powell, the class will cover "Welcome to the Monkey House" (1968), "Cat's Cradle" (1963) and "Slaughterhouse-Five" (1969).
It's from 7 to 9 p.m. July 10, 17 and 24 at the Writers' Center of Indiana, 812 E. 67th St.
Cost is $75 for members and $90 for nonmembers.

Hoosier literary links
Speaking of Vonnegut, writer Susan Neville recalls a late-night phone conversation when she helped him recall the words to "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away."
Neville recounts that incident, calling it her "most important contribution to American literature," in "Sailing the Inland Sea" (Quarry Books, $19.95), a new collection of essays, lectures and interviews.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Obituary of Kurt Vonnegut by Ed Beitiks

The only reason I caught this is that I like reading columns by CW Nevius. Here he offers an obit written long before KV's death. Ironically, the obit writer died before Vonnegut died. Here's the link.

The Best Vonnegut Obit You Haven't Read

Just for a moment of proof that the good men do lives after them, Chronicle copy editor Allen Johnson rescued this obituary of Kurt Vonnegut written many years ago by the late Examiner writer Ed Beitiks. (Obituaries of famous people are often written long in advance of their death.) Beitiks was a fine writer, a very nice man, and someone who passed away much too soon.

Allen sent this to members of the Chronicle staff, but it seemed a shame not to let more people read it.

By Edvins Beitiks

Of the Examiner Staff

In July of 1982, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. rejected attempts by his hometown of Indianapolis to honor him. He refused to attend the ceremonies, saying from his New York City home, ""I personally find it embarrassing. It seems to me this is the kind of thing you do for an author after he's dead.''

In the years since, Vonnegut has played the role of cantankerous jester, outspoken conscience of America, a voice supporting the oddness of this country while warning, ""The system promotes to the top those who don't care about the planet.''

Vonnegut's voice was stilled overnight on Wednesday several weeks after a fall that left him with permanent brain damage, his wife, Jill Krementz, told the New York Times on Thursday.

If there was a quality separating Kurt Vonnegut Jr. from the other World War II vets who turned their talents to the novel, it was a tongue-in-cheekness, a continually raised eyebrow, an inability to believe that all this crazy stuff was really happening. Even Joseph Heller, whose ""Catch-22'' set the tone for postwar insanity, tried to find a plumb line for his world, working it out with each successive book.

But Vonnegut wrote books that threw up their hands at the goings-on, delving into sci-fi when the down-to-earth wasn't enough, or turning to the reader and simply asking, ""Do you know what's going on? Because I'm having problems.''

>Vonnegut wrote 24 books, selling more than 10 million copies, and all 14 of his novels are still in print. His success started with ""Player Piano'' in 1952, followed by ""The Sirens of Titan,'' ""Mother Night,'' ""Cat's Cradle,'' and his most successful book, ""Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children's Crusade,'' written in 1969. ""Timequake,'' the last of Vonnegut's novels, was written in 1997 to mixed reviews. His last work, "A Man Without a Country," a collection of essays written in reaction to George W. Bush's presidency, was published in 2005.

""Slaughterhouse-Five'' was a remembrance of the firebombing of Dresden on Feb. 13, 1945, seen through the eyes of the narrator, Billy Pilgrim. Vonnegut himself, taken prisoner of war in the Battle of the Bulge, lived through that firebombing, hiding underground below a Dresden slaughterhouse. The war colored his writings, as it did with other WWII vets such as Heller, Norman Mailer, James Jones and Irwin Shaw, but Vonnegut seemed to take it more in stride.

His postwar life was filled with other attacks and tragedies. Vonnegut's older sister, Alice, died of cancer when she was 40, two days after her husband died in a train crash. His son was diagnosed as a schizophrenic.

In 1971, ""Slaughterhouse-Five'' was outlawed in Oakland County, Mich., for its language and its ""degradation of the person of Christ,'' and in 1973 copies of the book were burned by the Drake School Board in South Dakota, a playing-out of Ray Bradbury's fears in ""Fahrenheit 451,'' the temperature at which a book bursts into flame.

Vonnegut, once a public relations man for General Electirc, took a light-hearted look at the world outside as he lazed in the general comfort of postwar America. But by the time ""Bagombo Snuff Box'' was put together he was writing, ""You can't fight progress. The best you can do is ignore it, until it finally takes your livelihood and self-respect away. General Electric itself was made to feel like a buggy whip factory for a time, as Bell Labs and others cornered patents on transistors and their uses, while GE was still shunting electrons this way and that with vaccum tubes ... Too big to fail, though, as I was not, GE recovered sufficiently to lay off thousands and poison the Hudson River with PCBs.'' The short stories in ""Bagombo Snuff Box,'' written from 1949-63, during some of the strongest years for corporate America, are smilingly described by Vonnegut as ""a bunch of Buddhist catnaps.''

Vonnegut, a fourth-generation German-American born in Indianapolis on Nov. 11, 1922, sometimes took delight in the irony of being born on the fourth anniversary of Veterans Day, which ended the First World War. He said he owed his scientific bent to his father, an architect, and his politics to his family's New Leftism, which distrusted all ""granfallons, political or theological.'' After graduation from Shortridge High School in 1940, Vonnegut studied chemistry at Cornell and the Carnegie Institute of Technology before being drated into the Army.

Captured at the Bulge, he wound up in Dresden during the firebombing, which killed 135,000 civilians -- more than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined -- a firebombing carried out, according to some historians, as a naked demonstration of Allied air power to Russians moving toward Berlin. When he came out of the Dresden bomb shelter, Vonnegut wrote, ""Everything was gone but the cellars where 135,000 Hansels and Gretels had been baked like gingerbread men. So we were put to work as corpse miners, breaking into shelters, bringing bodies out.''

On Sept. 1, 1945, Vonnegut married a childhood sweetheart, Jane Marie Cox, and the couple had three children, Mark, Edith and Nanette. The family also included three adopted nephews, the children of Vonnegut's deceased sister.

After the war Vonnegut studied anthropology at the University of Chicago, worked as a police reporter for the city news bureau, then became a PR man for GE in Schenectady, N.Y., a job he quit in 1950 to turn to full-time freelance writing that included short stories for magazines like Galaxy, Fantasy, Collier's, Cosmopolitan, Saturday Evening Post.

The stories inspired ""Player Piano,'' ""The Sirens of Titan'' (1959) and ""Mother Night'' (1961). After ""Cat's Cradle'' in 1963 came ""Slaughterhouse-Five,'' leading New York Times' critic C.D.B. Bryan to compare Vonnegut to a mix of H.G. Wells and Mark Twain, saying the two messages he found in Vonnegut were ""Be kind'' and ""God doesn't care whether you are or not.''

In 1986, Vonnegut appeared before a Senate subcommittee to argue for repeal of the McCarran- Warren Act, which allowed the State Department to bar foreign visitors whose views were unacceptable to the government. ""All citizens are entitled to hear absolutely any idea anyone from anywhere may care to express,'' he said. ""And where did I get the notion there was such an incredible entitlement? I got it from the junior civics course that was given in the seventh grade at Public School 35 in Indianapolis.''

Vonnegut called censorship ""a disease that's been around a long, long time, like Legionnaires' disease, maybe, or Altzheimer's.'' That same year he appeared at Berkeley's Sproul Plaza to join demonstrations against South African apartheid, and soon after he flew to Mozambique as part of a relief mission.

At the height of his popularity, Time magazine insisted that a sign hanging in his home -- ""God damn it, you got to be kind'' -- ""lies at the heart of Vonnegut's work.'' Vonnegut also kept a self-signed report card on one wall that gave him an A for ""Slaughterhouse-Five'' and ""Cat's Cradle'' and lower marks for later work, including a D for ""Slapstick.''

Time defended Vonnegut's books against those claiming the works were anti-religious, saying his ""satiric forays are really an appeal for a return to Christlike behavior. For Vonnegut, man's worst folly is a persistent attempt to adjust, smoothly, rationally, to the unthinkable, the unbearable.''

In a Life magazine piece, Wilfred Sheed wrote, ""What he is, most profoundly, is an American humorist. He even walks like one, in a diffident bloodhound lope. And when he laughs, it is with a wild glee that stops just this sound of coughing.'' Vonnegut backed that up with ruminations of his own, including, ""Most of us are made up of basketball hoops and old cars.''

Over the years Vonnegut taught literature at Harvard, City College of New York and the University of Iowa writers workshop. He was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, receiving their Literary Award in 1970, as well as receiving a Guggenheim grant.

Life changed for Vonnegut across the years. He created an alter-ego sci-fi writer, Kilgore Trout, wrote some mediocre novels, drew Geraldo Rivera as a son-in-law, took part in periodic demonstrations and made periodic commencement speeches. One bogus speech credited to him made the rounds of the Internet -- a commencement at MIT in which he supposedly advised, ""Ladies and Gentlemen of the Class of 1997: Wear sunscreen.''

In 1979, Vonnegut married photographer Jill Krementz and together they had a daughter, Lily, both of whom were at the family's brownstone on East 48th Street in New York in January, when a fire broke out in a rear bedroom and Vonnegut had to be rushed to the hospital with smoke inhalation. Vonnegut, a lifelong smoker already ill with emphysema, was pronounced in critical but stable condition in the intensive care unit at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Faced with his sudden mortality, the literary world began searching through its files to put together a suitable Vonnegut obituary. No matter how long people looked, though, there wasn't going to be a much better epitaph for Vonnegut than novelist Jay McInerney's description of the man as ""a cynic who wants to believe ... a moralist with a whoopee cushion.''

The Library Journal piece on Kurt Vonnegut

Excerpt and Link:

This is a piece done when Vonnegut was at his most creative and marketing himself furiously in 1973.

The Globe and Mail lunch with Vonnegut

This is an interview with a most observant reporter for the Globe and Mail. You'll enjoy it. I've linked to the larger piece.

Vonnegut wears a grey-green cardigan, tan slacks and white tennis shoes. He has long workman's hands, with fingers that are thick like dowels. In 1976, he described himself as having "the low-keyed amiability of an old family dog. In general his appearance is tousled: The long curly hair, mustache and sympathetic smile suggest a man at once amused and saddened by the world around him."

That description still holds true, though Vonnegut's face is now lined so sharply it could be a maquette for his own monument on Mount Rushmore. Something else: For decades, though he has been known variously as a science-fiction author, an experimental writer of postmodern narrative, and an essayist who has plumbed his own tragedies for material, many have seen him as following in Mark Twain's plainspoken humanist tradition. He gave his first-born, his only biological son, the name Mark. Now, Vonnegut bears a startling physical resemblance to Twain.

And like Twain, whom he once noted grew bitter toward the end of his life, Vonnegut is also more cynical than he has ever been. A Man Without a Country is shot through with despair for the Earth's poisoned fate and disappointment in the American body politic. Indeed, he says he considered an alternate title for the collection, The Fifty-First State, to evoke "the state of denial," which is, he says, America's natural state.

"I have a huge disappointment about what this country might have been instead of what it's become," he says. "You forget there was something great about the Great Depression. The president was Franklin Roosevelt, who cared generally about all of us. And things were getting better -- talk about audacity, giving women the power to vote, in 1919. It took a while for even women to adjust to it. Only now are they really getting the feeling of it. And then after the war when the civil-rights movement came in, that was exciting! So there were these huge improvements, where we were becoming what we always imagined ourselves to be. No shit, becoming that!"

But life is a series of cosmic disappointments and absurdities, which Vonnegut knows from first-hand experience. He saw his father's dreams of becoming a great architect foiled by fate and the Depression. His mother, who suffered from her own depression, killed herself on Mother's Day in 1944, when he was only 21. Nine months later, as a prisoner of war in Germany, he witnessed the firebombing of Dresden, which he later immortalized in Slaughterhouse-Five. His older sister Alice died of cancer at age 41, within 24 hours of her husband being killed in a train crash, leaving Vonnegut and his wife to adopt three of their children. After his son went off to British Columbia during the Vietnam War to start a commune, Mark went crazy and Vonnegut had to retrieve him and place him in an institution (which thankfully cured him). One of his daughters was briefly married to Geraldo Rivera. In the mid-1980s, Vonnegut himself attempted suicide, but failed. Who wouldn't see the world as a cosmic joke?

Even his own success is tinged with absurdity. "I never thought it was my destiny to be a writer. It just turned out it was the only way I could make a living," he says. "It was lucky that way, because I have survivor's syndrome, for a number of reasons. Obviously because of the firebombing of Dresden, but also all the really wonderful writers who've crashed and burned.

"I feel like a certain kind of horse's ass, like somebody born rich. I don't deserve it, and those who crashed and burned didn't deserve it, either. So I'm the asshole who broke the bank at Monte Carlo."

And he can't stop breaking the bank when he puts pen to paper. A Man Without a Country is on The New York Times extended bestseller list. But he's not sure its success means much of anything. "Nothing I can say can have any effect, except to say to somebody else, 'You're not alone.' That's as far as it goes," he says. "No political effect whatsoever." I remind him that his readers are clearly numerous and clearly hungry for anything he has to say. "Well, that's very nice, but it's politically meaningless. They have to have a majority, for God's sake." I tell him that, just because there wasn't a majority who voted against George W. Bush in the last election doesn't mean his words didn't have an effect; it just means they didn't have enough of an effect.

He pauses for a long time and then shakes his head dismissively. "I'm just the asshole who broke the bank at Monte Carlo," he replies, leaning back on his stock phrase.

And he'd just as soon have it all end. "I felt as I did when the Second World War ended: 'Please, I've done everything I'm supposed to do, can't I go home now?' " he says.

Enjoy the original

Vonnegut: "I avoid irony"

Excerpt and link below:

K U R T V O N N E G U T ,


Q: It is a weird moment in history, don't you think?

Kurt Vonnegut: Well, my late brother Bernie, who was a great expert on weather — at one point he knew more about tornadoes than anybody else on the planet, I imagine — was always approached by people who knew his background and wanted him to be an expert about it. "Bernie, isn't this weather unusual?" And he would say, "The weather is always unusual." I mean, this is a very special time in history, but every time is.

Q: I enjoyed God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian very much.

Vonnegut: Well, that's nice.

Q: You spend the entire book going back and forth between this mortal coil and the afterlife.

Vonnegut: Oh, it's just a short book. A pamphlet, really.

Q: Well, in your pamphlet, then, you spend a good deal of time talking with the dead. What do you think we can learn from those who have bailed-out before us?

Vonnegut: Well, there were — or maybe there are — a number of dead people out there. [Laughs] It's a very crowded place. There is a Beethoven and a Shakespeare and a Hitler and an entire family out there. But, fortunately, you don't have to go to Heaven to talk to some of them. A lot of them have left us amazing things on paper, and so their lives persist here anyway. Wonderful words. Beautiful music. Stunning things that resonate. I am, as we talk, quoting Shakespeare. I'm writing about the death of eloquence. Eloquence was so ordinary back then, in the time of Shakespeare. In contrast to Shakespearean speech, I was watching one of those television talk shows the other night where people air their disagreements with other people. There is a scene in Othello where Iago wants to get Cassio drunk on alcohol and.... Well, wait. Do you want to hear it?

Q: Sure.

Vonnegut: Hold on. I'll get it. [Long pause, papers shuffling] Okay. I've got it. So Iago says, "Come, lieutenant, I have a stoup of wine; and here without are a brace of Cyprus gallants that would fain have a measure to the health of black Othello." Cassio turns down the drink and says, "Not tonight, good Iago; I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking: I could well wish courtesy would invent some other custom of entertainment." And then we get back to what I saw the other guy say on tv — well, I read his lips actually, because we don't get anything real on our televisions. And this talk show guy said, "Fuck you — you know what I'm saying?" [Laughs] I just don't think people get off on language anymore. Language used to be an elevated art. It used to be for people what music can be. But people don't learn to do that anymore, so eloquence is merely a matter of waste now. Who needs a good vocabulary and proper English? Eloquence — it's dead and who needs it? We use shorthand nowadays. Fuck you — you know what I'm saying? [Laughs]

Q: By way of eloquence, you've said that you write in the voice of a child. Do you think —

Vonnegut: Well, that makes me readable in high school. Not too many big sentences. But I hope that my ideas attract a lively dialogue, even if my sentences are simple. Simple sentences have always served me well. And I don't use semicolons. It's hard to read anyway, especially for high school kids. Also, I avoid irony, too. I don't like people saying one thing and meaning the other. Rest here

Vonnegut: "I avoid irony"

Excerpt and link below:

A R E D A N G E R O U S ,
K U R T V O N N E G U T ,
P A R T O N E .


- - - -

Q: It is a weird moment in history, don't you think?

Kurt Vonnegut: Well, my late brother Bernie, who was a great expert on weather — at one point he knew more about tornadoes than anybody else on the planet, I imagine — was always approached by people who knew his background and wanted him to be an expert about it. "Bernie, isn't this weather unusual?" And he would say, "The weather is always unusual." I mean, this is a very special time in history, but every time is.

Q: I enjoyed God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian very much.

Vonnegut: Well, that's nice.

Q: You spend the entire book going back and forth between this mortal coil and the afterlife.

Vonnegut: Oh, it's just a short book. A pamphlet, really.

Q: Well, in your pamphlet, then, you spend a good deal of time talking with the dead. What do you think we can learn from those who have bailed-out before us?

Vonnegut: Well, there were — or maybe there are — a number of dead people out there. [Laughs] It's a very crowded place. There is a Beethoven and a Shakespeare and a Hitler and an entire family out there. But, fortunately, you don't have to go to Heaven to talk to some of them. A lot of them have left us amazing things on paper, and so their lives persist here anyway. Wonderful words. Beautiful music. Stunning things that resonate. I am, as we talk, quoting Shakespeare. I'm writing about the death of eloquence. Eloquence was so ordinary back then, in the time of Shakespeare. In contrast to Shakespearean speech, I was watching one of those television talk shows the other night where people air their disagreements with other people. There is a scene in Othello where Iago wants to get Cassio drunk on alcohol and.... Well, wait. Do you want to hear it?

Q: Sure.

Vonnegut: Hold on. I'll get it. [Long pause, papers shuffling] Okay. I've got it. So Iago says, "Come, lieutenant, I have a stoup of wine; and here without are a brace of Cyprus gallants that would fain have a measure to the health of black Othello." Cassio turns down the drink and says, "Not tonight, good Iago; I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking: I could well wish courtesy would invent some other custom of entertainment." And then we get back to what I saw the other guy say on tv — well, I read his lips actually, because we don't get anything real on our televisions. And this talk show guy said, "Fuck you — you know what I'm saying?" [Laughs] I just don't think people get off on language anymore. Language used to be an elevated art. It used to be for people what music can be. But people don't learn to do that anymore, so eloquence is merely a matter of waste now. Who needs a good vocabulary and proper English? Eloquence — it's dead and who needs it? We use shorthand nowadays. Fuck you — you know what I'm saying? [Laughs]

Q: By way of eloquence, you've said that you write in the voice of a child. Do you think —

Vonnegut: Well, that makes me readable in high school. Not too many big sentences. But I hope that my ideas attract a lively dialogue, even if my sentences are simple. Simple sentences have always served me well. And I don't use semicolons. It's hard to read anyway, especially for high school kids. Also, I avoid irony, too. I don't like people saying one thing and meaning the other. Rest here

The 1999 Salon interview with Kurt Vonnegut

Excerpt and Link below:

Is this really it? The last Vonnegut book?

I have one more I'm shopping around, but publishers have found the subject rather dated, and so I guess this probably is my last book. What I've been shopping around is the story of my love affair with O.J. Simpson. [Laughs.]

Tough sell.

Yes, most people have forgotten who he is. And it was so long ago. It was in Buffalo, and I went to the dressing room after the game. I asked him to autograph my football, but I didn't realize that was code.


Well ... the beginning of a love affair. But I felt used. Anyway, nobody's interested, so please, let's go on.

OK, OK. Your introduction to the new collection gives a quick career rundown. Did it make you nostalgic to be writing it for your last published book?

I wanted to repair every story, because the premise of each story was pretty good, and I wanted to do more with it now. But no -- it is archaeology, and the artifact is from the past. I was nostalgic just for the sake of future generations. It was very easy to get started as a writer during the golden age of magazines, before TV. The Saturday Evening Post published five stories every week; Collier's published five stories every week; Cosmopolitan, which is a sex manual now, published five stories a month; and the country was short-story-crazy. "Hey, did you see the short story in Collier's last week?" "No, but I heard about it and I want to read it." A woman, an English major, pregnant with a baby to pay for, could sit down in the kitchen late at night and write a love story and send it off to the Ladies' Home Journal or Cosmo or whatever, and pay for the baby, because the magazines were really hungry for stories.

Link to a fine WiredforBooks interview

Excerpt and Link: Kurt Vonnegut Jr., author of Breakfast of Champions, Mother Night, Player Piano, Slapstick, Slaughterhouse Five, The Sirens of Titan, and Cat's Cradle, talks with Don Swaim in 1981 about profanity, religion, agnosticism, freedom, censorship, living in New York and the dangers of carelessness.

The Good Uncle and The Bad Uncle

Here is a link to a fine PBS interview by
DAVID BRANCACCIO in the NOW section.

Excerpt follows about Vonnegut's bad Uncle Dan:



His is a chaotic universe…remember SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE and CAT'S CRADLE? Kurt Vonnegut is back.

KURT VONNEGUT: We've killed the planet, the life support system. And it's so damaged that there's no recovery from that. We're very soon going to run out of petroleum which powers everything's that modern-Razzmatazz about America."

DAVID BRANCACCIO: He's on the bestseller list this week with powerful words about the state of the world and the failure of politics.

KURT VONNEGUT: It's the winners. And then everybody else is the losers. And, the winners divided into two parties. The Republicans and the Democrats.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Vonnegut on life, democracy, and the importance of being funny.

BRANCACCIO: Welcome to a special edition of NOW.

This country has been through a lot in the last month and we've been out there covering it.

But I'm thinking its time to pause for the big picture and when the brilliant and irascible Kurt Vonnegut said he was up for an interview, we jumped at the chance.

It's rare to get to sit across the table from a giant. Do yourself a favor and read SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE again …like now, this weekend.

Before it's too late.

Mr. Vonnegut has a new book challenging us to think about how life works or doesn't work. He's 82, but I'll tell you what, he's still a total riot.

And this icon of American literature has got some choice words for our political parties, our president, and our planet.

Mr. Vonnegut, thanks for coming by.

KURT VONNEGUT: My pleasure.


KURT VONNEGUT: Well, it's practically over, thank God.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: For Heaven's sake.

KURT VONNEGUT: I'm 80-- I'm practically 83. It won't be that much more of-- for me to put up with. I don't think.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Well, you were writing about maybe you want to sue your cigarette companies? You smoked all those years and there's a warning on the package saying that this will --

KURT VONNEGUT: Brown and Williams, on their package, promise to kill me. And they haven't done it. I mean, here I am 83.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: False advertisers on the cigarettes?


DAVID BRANCACCIO: You know as I grabbed every Kurt Vonnegut I could find to re-read--


DAVID BRANCACCIO: --knowing you were coming. I was looking at the beginning of SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE.


DAVID BRANCACCIO: The good uncle in that novel complains that people tend not to notice when they're happy.


DAVID BRANCACCIO: Maybe the character's right. You don't notice when the good stuff that's around us.

KURT VONNEGUT: Yeah. Well, this was my uncle Alex. And I had a good uncle and a bad uncle. The bad uncle was Dan. But the good uncle was Alex. And what he found objectionable about human beings was they never noticed it when they were really happy.

So, whenever he was really happy, you know he could be sitting around in the shade in the summertime in the shade of an apple tree, and drinking lemonade and talking. Just sort of this back-and-forth buzzing like honey bees. And Uncle Alex would all of a sudden say; If this isn't nice what is? And then we'd realize how happy we were and we might have missed it.

And the bad Uncle Dan was when I came home from the war which I was quite painful. He clapped me on the back and said; You're a man now. I wanted to kill kill 'em.

The Paris Review interview with Kurt Vonnegut

This is a revealing piece published in George Plimpton's prestigious literary magazine.

Link and excerpt below:

The Art of Fiction No. 64
Interviewed by David Hayman, David Michaelis, George Plimpton, Richard Rhodes
Issue 69, Spring 1977
View a manuscript page

From the Interview
Reprinted from The Paris Review Interviews, I

This interview with Kurt Vonnegut was originally a composite of four interviews done with the author over the past decade. The composite has gone through an extensive working over by the subject himself, who looks upon his own spoken words on the page with considerable misgivings . . . Indeed, what follows can be considered an interview conducted with himself, by himself.
The introduction to the first of the incorporated interviews (done in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, when Vonnegut was forty-four) reads: “He is a veteran and a family man, large-boned, loose-jointed, at ease. He camps in an armchair in a shaggy tweed jacket, Cambridge gray flannels, a blue Brooks Brothers shirt, slouched down, his hands stuffed into his pockets. He shells the interview with explosive coughs and sneezes, windages of an autumn cold and a lifetime of heavy cigarette smoking. His voice is a resonant baritone, Midwestern, wry in its inflections. From time to time he issues the open, alert smile of a man who has seen and reserved within himself almost everything: depression, war, the possibility of violent death, the inanities of corporate public relations, six children, an irregular income, long-delayed recognition.”
The last of the interviews that made up the composite was conducted during the summer of 1976, years after the first. The description of him at this time reads: “ . . . he moves with the low-keyed amiability of an old family dog. In general, his appearance is tousled: the long curly hair, mustache, and sympathetic smile suggest a man at once amused and saddened by the world around him. He has rented the Gerald Murphy house for the summer. He works in the little bedroom at the end of a hall where Murphy, artist, bon vivant, and friend to the artistic great, died in 1964. From his desk Vonnegut can look out onto the front lawn through a small window; behind him is a large, white canopy bed. On the desk next to the typewriter is a copy of Andy Warhol's Interview, Clancy Sigal's Zone of the Interior, and several discarded cigarette packs.
“Vonnegut has chain-smoked Pall Malls since 1936 and during the course of the interview he smokes the better part of one pack. His voice is low and gravelly, and as he speaks, the incessant procedure of lighting the cigarettes and exhaling smoke is like punctuation in his conversation. Other distractions, such as the jangle of the telephone and the barking of a small, shaggy dog named Pumpkin, do not detract from Vonnegut's good-natured disposition. Indeed, as Dan Wakefield once said of his fellow Shortridge High School alumnus, ‘He laughed a lot and was kind to everyone.’”


Yes. I want a military funeral when I die—the bugler, the flag on the casket, the ceremonial firing squad, the hallowed ground.




It will be a way of achieving what I've always wanted more than anything—something I could have had, if only I'd managed to get myself killed in the war.


Which is—?


The unqualified approval of my community.


You don't feel that you have that now?


My relatives say that they are glad I'm rich, but that they simply cannot read me.


You were an infantry battalion scout in the war?


Yes, but I took my basic training on the 240-millimeter howitzer.


A rather large weapon.


The largest mobile fieldpiece in the army at that time. This weapon came in six pieces, each piece dragged wallowingly by a Caterpillar tractor. Whenever we were told to fire it, we had to build it first. We practically had to invent it. We lowered one piece on top of another, using cranes and jacks. The shell itself was about nine and a half inches in diameter and weighed three hundred pounds. We constructed a miniature railway which would allow us to deliver the shell from the ground to the breech, which was about eight feet above grade. The breechblock was like the door on the vault of a savings and loan association in Peru, Indiana, say.


It must have been a thrill to fire such a weapon.


Not really. We would put the shell in there, and then we would throw in bags of very slow and patient explosives. They were damp dog biscuits, I think. We would close the breech, and then trip a hammer which hit a fulminate of mercury percussion cap, which spit fire at the damp dog biscuits. The main idea, I think, was to generate steam. After a while, we could hear these cooking sounds. It was a lot like cooking a turkey. In utter safety, I think, we could have opened the breechblock from time to time, and basted the shell. Eventually, though, the howitzer always got restless. And finally it would heave back on its recoil mechanism, and it would have to expectorate the shell. The shell would come floating out like the Goodyear blimp. If we had had a stepladder, we could have painted “Fuck Hitler” on the shell as it left the gun. Helicopters could have taken after it and shot it down.


The ultimate terror weapon.


Of the Franco-Prussian War.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Vonnegut's prints and origin


Excerpt: By 1965, Kurt Vonnegut had published four novels in paperback, but Slaughterhouse Five was several years in the future.
Hardly famous and far from rich, Vonnegut accepted an invitation to teach in the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Among his students was Loree Rackstraw. They became close and lasting friends. Although she aspired to writing herself, after taking her degree Rackstraw returned to Cedar Falls and became a member of the University of Northern Iowa English faculty.

In 1984, Vonnegut used brightly colored magic markers to make a suite of eight untitled drawings on 14×17 inch sheets of art paper. Shortly after he created them, Vonnegut sent the drawings to Rackstraw, and they hung, framed, in her living room until Vonnegut and artist Joe Petro asked to borrow and photograph them as the base of a set of silk screen prints titled Enchanted I.O.U.s. The prints restore a depth of color somewhat faded in the original drawings.

Vonnegut's College Paper Lauds Him



During his three years at Cornell -- Vonnegut never graduated, having been drafted into the U.S. Army -- the Sun was his salvation. "I spent the whole time I was here working on the Cornell Sun, and that's how I got my liberal arts education," Vonnegut once said. "I never made a systematic study of literature, so I don't have the usual vocabulary for discussing it." The great writer also remembered making the gaffe of a tyro editor: He spelled Ethel Barrymore "Ethyl" in a Sun headline.
Kurt Vonnegut yearbook photo
The Cornellian
In this 1943 yearbook photo, part of a group photo of Delta Upsilon fraternity, then junior Kurt Vonnegut is in the center at right. Copyright © Cornell University

"Cornell was a boozy dream," Vonnegut once remembered, "partly because of the booze itself, and partly because I was enrolled in courses I had no talent for." He later elaborated: "Being drunk was utterly acceptable. That's when I first decided this country was crazy."

In 1983 Vonnegut told his Cornell audience that there are two kinds of writers: those who build on existing literature and those who respond to life itself. "I'm in the latter category," he said. "That's probably why I'm always uneasy in the presence of other novelists. There's no evidence I'm building on the past at all."

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Vonnegut remembrance

This is also a charming tale by Glynnis Eldridge carried on a blog published by Ethan Bodner.

Excerpt: When her feet’s sleeping sensation struck her, Glynnis winced and bit down on a piece of a crushed ice cube. She crinkled her nose and squeezed her eyes closed, and then the man with the gray curly hair looked over in her direction and smiled. He excused himself from the conversation he had been having with the other famous people in the room, and smiled down in the direction of the black Mary Janes dangling off of the end of the armchair.

“Are they sleeping?” the curly haired man asked in between glances at the shiny shoes, and sips of some beverage that Glynnis assumed was ginger ale. Glynnis didn’t say anything, but instead gave him an exaggerated nod of the head. Yes. Her feet were very much asleep. She picked up her glass of ginger ale.

“My feet fall asleep sometimes too,” he continued, “not long ago I ran into a little boy about your age who also liked ginger ale. Do you know what he said?”
Glynnis grinned and shook her head, “No”.

“Well, he told me that his feet feel like ginger ale when they fall asleep,” he gulped down the last of the liquid in his glass, “How about that?”

Saturday, May 19, 2007

From Joan Uda at the Helena Independent

I LOVED this remembrance. Hank Nuwer

At the Water’s Edge
By Joan Uda - 05/19/07
God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut

Novelist Kurt Vonnegut died last month aged 84. In the mid-60s, I was his student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

I spent two years studying with Kurt, and regarded him as my friend as well as my teacher. He said nice things about my writing. I thought he was wonderful.

Kurt was a writer, not a critic, and he was all about writing and publishing what you wrote. He ran his classes with little formal criticism. I recall him holding up a James Joyce story one day and saying, “This is so great, so perfect, all you can really do is look at it and admire.”

Kurt urged young writers to forget artsy pretensions and write to earn a living. “Some guys call me a crass commercialist,” he’d say, “but nobody writes to stuff it in a trunk.”

I have quite a few Vonnegut stories, such as the time he and his wife came to dinner and I worked for days on the dinner.

Then there was the time I had an appointment with Kurt, and the temperature dropped to 30 below. My car wouldn’t start. I called and he offered to pick me up. His car was running, he said, because he had a new battery. He brought the old one inside and stuck it in the oven to warm it up. “Would you believe?” he said. “It just fell apart.”

Kurt tried to help me by sending my novel to a contest, which I didn’t win. He put me in touch with a man in New York City looking for a writer for a long-running soap.

I corresponded with this man for weeks, but he eventually — and correctly — decided that I was more concerned with social issues than with writing for his show.

My favorite Vonnegut novel was Mother Night (1961). I liked it because it was so dark. I was young, and dark appealed. The author’s foreword contained my favorite Vonnegut quote.

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”

I spent years thinking about that, and concluded that it is, in Kurt’s quirky way, true. It convinced me that I could become who I wanted to be by pretending to be that person.

It loosely parallels an experience of John Wesley, founder of Methodism. When he was a young Anglican priest, Wesley confided in a friend that his faith was weak, that he was not “a convicted believer.”

The friend said Wesley should keep practicing his spiritual disciplines until his faith caught up with him. That’s always worked for me too.

Kurt was not overtly a religious man. When I knew him, I wasn’t religious either, at least not on the surface.

But Kurt was all about kindness. His one “sermon” was that we must be kind to each other. “It’s what we have,” he’d say.

I agree. Kurt is an important influence in my spiritual formation. I owe him. Thanks, Mr. Vonnegut, and goodbye.

Joan Uda is a retired United Methodist minister who lives in Helena. Her email address is joanuda@yahoo.com.

Friday, May 18, 2007

James Brady on Vonnegut and Heller

Halberstam's Tab
James Brady, 05.17.07, 6:00 AM ET

The writers are dying off, guys my age or thereabouts, good guys I knew. Allen Drury and Capote and Peter Maas and Schaap a while back, Bill Manchester and Jim Michener. Joe Heller a couple of years ago; Art Buchwald exited laughing; Kurt Vonnegut, last month after a fall; David Halberstam, too young and too soon in a stupid car crash in California.

I'm tired of writing obits about them and about my own sense of loss. Intimations of mortality, we subjectify death, don’t we?

When Kurt died I went back to reread off the bathroom wall of my house the graceful little farewell he wrote Heller in the form of a 14-line poem published by The New Yorker two years ago, May 16. Vonnegut knew the value of brevity and said more in 50 words than most of us do in books. His poem was titled simply, "Joe Heller." Here it is, punctuated and indented just this way:

True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
now dead,
and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island.

I said, "Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money
than your novel 'Catch-22'
has earned in its entire history?"
And Joe said, "I've got something he can never have."
And I said, "What on earth could that be, Joe?"
And Joe said, "The knowledge that I've got enough."
Not bad! Rest in peace!

--Kurt Vonnegut

We all mourn in our own ways, and that was Kurt's, a bit of poetry.

I guess I've read all the obituaries about Halberstam, how he was big and powerful, a bit arrogant, but talented, courageous, passionate, a worker. How he wasn't afraid of the VC or his bosses at the Times or the generals and rear-echelon colonels in Vietnam force-feeding body counts and phony info to the reporters, very little of which David was buying and therefore making himself not very popular back there in Saigon.

Out in the field where the infantrymen lived and died, the attitude toward Halberstam may have been somewhat different. Which is, I think, what a correspondent wants, what a good writer deserves.

Here is one little anecdote about David Halberstam I don't think was in any of the important obits, one that reflects well on all parties. When I heard about his death last month on his way to interview Y.A. Tittle for a book about a single football game in 1958, I went up to Elaine's on Second Avenue to sit at the bar and have a glass in his memory.

Back in the late '60s and early '70s, after he won the Pulitzer for reporting and had come home to New York to work on books, he was one of the regulars at Elaine's. He and his then-wife Elzbieta, a Polish actress and I believe movie star he met while he was in Warsaw for the Times, were always there with other regulars, Nick Pileggi, Bruce Jay Friedman, Gay Talese and Jack Richardson and Ed Hotchner, and when the bill came, signing with a flourish.

He'd been given a healthy advance from his publishers for a book that would become his chef d’oeuvre, The Best and the Brightest, but the book was taking longer to write than he calculated, those big Hollywood roles for Elzbieta weren't coming along (her accent, maybe?) and David's advance was running out. Still, he continued to attend Elaine's with his chums, and, as a gentleman and a Harvard man does, signed his share of tabs.

Finally, it seemed interminably, The Best came out, an instant hardcover triumph! A paperback auction was swiftly arranged and suddenly, once again, Halberstam had some dough (the figure of three-quarters of a million was bandied about). Several weeks later, according to the story, David sauntered into Elaine's and said, "I believe I have a tab." Elaine dove into the cluttered register where she may still collect such things, pulled out a sheaf of rumpled receipts and said, "Yes, here." Halberstam studied the total, scribbled a check and handed it over. Elaine said, "Thanks." Nothing more.

I've heard various amounts, $25,000 or so (Elaine won't say), and years later I asked if the story were true. Yes, she said, issuing no detail. As for why she'd carry any patron that long, Elaine Kaufman just growled, "I bleeping knew him. He was one of the bleeping guys!"

An epitaph even shorter than Kurt's about Joe. "Not bad! Rest in peace."

Monday, May 14, 2007

Vonnegut handprints

I recently toured the Kurt Vonnegut boyhood home in Indianapolis with my wife. I have included a picture of
myself with handprints of the Vonnegut family. The one farthest from me in the photo is that of young Kurt at about two years old. The other shows my wife with stained glass that was present in that same house. Hank Nuwer

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Vonnegut on Colby Buzzell's Iraq blog


My War by Colby Buzzell is nothing less than the soul of an extremely interesting human being at war on our behalf in Iraq."
-Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Inside powerful forces that they cannot fathom

Nice job by Li Wang. Very nice.

Sunday, May 06, 2007
Of The Patriot-News

The darkly comic author Kurt Vonnegut died on April 12, reason enough to revisit his work.

I chose "Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children's Crusade," because the novel is his crowning achievement and he wrote it surrounding his firsthand experiences of the bombing of Dresden, Germany, during World War II. The attack killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Like my last Book Club pick, Joseph Heller's "Catch-22," "Slaughterhouse-Five" illustrates the absurdities of war through a clever non-linear narrative structure that combines his own memories with science fiction elements. By revisiting how Vonnegut, as well as his friend Heller processed the events surrounding war, the hope is that the observations and questions raised in these works can help us process the strange circumstances that led to our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Can we really change our course?

In "Slaughterhouse-Five" the lead character, Billy Pilgrim, is a prisoner of war that is forced to stay in an underground meat locker, the place where the book gets its title. Pilgrim gets "unstuck in time" as he's captured by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. He is able to travel through time to revisit stages in his life, especially the events in Dresden.

Vonnegut writes of the hopelessness of people who are caught inside powerful forces that they cannot fathom. As with his other works, the larger questions of man's existence linger over the proceedings, which makes the alien abduction a natural device to explore issues that are beyond this Earth.

What stands out about "Slaughterhouse-Five" is its easygoing prose. The book combines bleak imagery (collecting burned bodies) with humor (the phrase "so it goes" follows every mention of death) to try to process the senselessness of the death that surrounds him. LI WANG: 255-8168 or lwang@pnco.com

You see more scenery from the edge of the cliff

From FreeMarketNews.com

Far too many people seek the shelter of predictability by avoiding even calculated risks whenever possible. Looking back, a certain wistfulness for "what might have been" frequently ensues. The late Kurt Vonnegut phrased it thusly:

"I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you can see all kinds of things you can't see from the center."

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Vonnegut on Iraq

Here is an older interview with Vonnegut on the Iraq invasion

Hoppe's interview with Vonnegut

Link here to Nuvo in Indianapolis

Excerpt from Hoppe: One evening not that long ago, my son and I met Mr. V for dinner at a downtown hotel. As he came down the stairs, before so much as saying hello, with eyes wide, he asked, “Why did we ever leave Indianapolis?”

“So you could be an artist?” I asked in return.

Kurt Vonnegut’s relationship to this city was complicated. It was a city his family helped build, a place where he claimed to have a happy childhood and a public school education that he treasured. But his father, an architect, couldn’t find sufficient work here and his mother committed suicide. When Mr. V, arguably at the height of his powers, went to the department store L.S. Ayres for a book signing in the late 1960s, it’s said nobody showed up.

This, of course, changed.

Most recently, people waited for hours for the box office to open at Clowes Hall so that they might get tickets for the speech he was going to give here this April 27. Many were disappointed when it quickly became clear the supply wouldn’t come close to meeting the demand.

I met Kurt Vonnegut for the first time here in Indianapolis, in 1991. He had agreed to be the keynote speaker at a book festival I organized called Wordstruck. Although I read “Cat’s Cradle” when I was in college, for some reason I hadn’t picked up a Vonnegut book since. Maybe that was because he was everywhere, a ubiquitous part of the cultural landscape. At any rate, I was just hoping the guy it was my job to drive around town would be easy to get along with.

I had nothing to worry about. Mr. V was staying with childhood friends near Williams Creek. When I delivered him there, I was asked to come inside for lunch. This was a gift. The afternoon was spent drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and catching up. At one point our hostess leaned close to me and whispered, “He was such a beautiful boy, with the longest eyelashes I’d ever seen.”

Needless to say, I began reading the books — all of them, as their author took justifiable pride in saying, still in print. Oh, what I’d been missing! There was the humor, that dark sense of human comedy and hapless mischief. But there was also Vonnegut’s slapstick way of collapsing fact and fiction, like that boy he wrote about, rough-housing with his favorite dog on the living room carpet, as a way of seeking something like the truth.

And there was the voice. The voice above all.

Mr. V told me he learned to write when he worked for the Chicago News Bureau after the war, covering accidents and crime. The reporters called in their stories on the phone; they spoke and someone on the other end typed the words. No wonder reading a Vonnegut book is like having the man himself by your side. That voice is what enabled an otherwise avant-garde artist to be embraced by a massive public. It made Kurt Vonnegut the literary equivalent of the Beatles.

Many people, even admirers, persist in calling Kurt Vonnegut cynical. I’ve never understood this. A cynic believes the truth doesn’t matter. If going to war suits him, he’ll make up reasons for doing it and to hell with the consequences. A cynic believes the only real crime is getting caught.

Truth, or at least our efforts to try and figure out what that means, always mattered to Mr. V. What he’d seen of human behavior made him a pessimist about the future we’re making for ourselves. But this was also a man who, upon hearing of the almost inconceivably simultaneous deaths of his sister and her husband, responded by adopting three of their children.

“There’s only one rule I know of babies,” he wrote. “‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’”

Tonight the sunset breaks through heavy clouds. Birds are singing in the crisp, platinum-colored air. I can imagine the smile this scene might put on Kurt Vonnegut’s face, him calling out: “Get a load of this!”

It’s all he ever wanted us to really, really see.

Link to the interview and other Nuvo coverage

What's your favorite Vonnegut book?

Link to Indy blog on Vonnegut

The night the lights came on in South Carolina: high school censorship

Wonderful article on Vonnegut's response to a teacher who tried to introduce his books to young readers.


Excerpt and Vonnegut's letter follow:

After his Novello lecture, Vonnegut went to the library to sign books. The line of fans snaked along East Sixth Street, around the corner and up North Tryon.In his letter, [Gary] Black had invited Vonnegut to spend the night at his house. Or, if he was too busy, just to find a place to chat.

Chat, not as Kurt Vonnegut, noted author, but as Kurt Vonnegut, the guy who cared enough about just some little guy to call him up one day and offer to help him out.

Vonnegut responded right away.

What I did so long ago now was cheap and easy, and made me feel good about myself, so you don't owe me anything ... I wish I could spend time with you in Charlotte. But I will be on a very short leash there, and the servant of my employers.

He wrote that he was off to Asheville after Novello. But he told Black he would see him briefly.

He included a line drawing of himself with a pointed nose and cigarette between his lips.

And he said he'd be "honored" to sign the paperback that helped shape Gary Black's life.


Dear Gary Black --

I'm glad you're OK and have a house. What I did so long ago now was cheap and easy, and made me feel good about myself, so you don't owe me anything.

But I am in debt to you for your really swell letter, and I wish I could spend time with you in Charlotte. But I will be on a very short leash there, and the servant of my employers.

I will be going to Asheville the next day, disappointingly by air, since I imagine there is a lot to see and remember on the ground.

I will see you briefly, at least, and would be honored to sign the book which so enflamed the rubes.


Kurt Vonnegut

Sep. 21, 1994

Thursday, May 3, 2007

POW muses over Vonnegut in Dresden

This is a wonderful interview by a German journalist, possibly the last to talk to Kurt Vonnegut:

Local vet recalls his POW days with the late Kurt Vonnegut
By Daniel Sturm
Athens NEWS Contributor

When Kurt Vonnegut called my home on Feb. 23, I was thrilled. It was so exciting to hear the famous writer's voice on the phone that I didn't mind so much that he was calling to cancel a sit-down interview I'd suggested, to discuss his experiences in Dresden during WW II, and current views on war. As a captive POW, Vonnegut had survived the 1945 firebombing in an underground meatpacking cellar known as "Schlachthof 5." His experiences are memorialized in his best-selling 1969 novel, "Slaughterhouse-Five," and the film by the same name.

The 84-year old Vonnegut was frank but polite in his refusal of the interview. "I am [*******] sick and tired of talking about war," he said. "I don't know what else to say about all these [*******] wars. I'm afraid I have nothing new to add to what I've already said."

Vonnegut passed away a few weeks later.

For a special issue of a journal I am editing on the topic of war, my plan had been to ask the novelist to revisit the scene of Dresden's destruction (where an estimated 75,000 civilians died within 14 hours), and to compare it to the Bush administration's "shock and awe" attack of Iraq and, more recently, to Israel's cluster bombing of southern Lebanon. A German colleague offered to contribute a companion piece on the evolution of Dresden's peace movement in the wake of 9/11.

When I heard of Vonnegut's death, on April 11, after he had suffered brain injuries from a fall several weeks earlier, I realized that I may have been the last journalist to speak with him. Joel Bleifuss, his last editor at In These Times, had also been unsuccessful at persuading Vonnegut to put something more on paper. "He would just say he's too old and that he had nothing more to say," Bleifuss said. "He realized, I think, he was at the end of his life."

Last week, I sat down with OU professor emeritus of history Gifford Doxsee, who'd experienced the firebombing of Dresden with Vonnegut. Doxsee had gotten to know this "tall and slender" man as the interpreter of his group of POWs, and had witnessed how Vonnegut was psychologically tortured after calling one Nazi guard a "swine." During the interview, Doxsee shed light on the real "Schlachthof 5" and shared his memories of the great American writer, Kurt Vonnegut.

STURM: When did you last talk to Kurt Vonnegut?

DOXSEE: In September 1997, he gave a lecture at Ohio Wesleyan University, which I attended with my wife. Somebody in the audience asked him, "Mr. Vonnegut, as a writer, what is your judgment of the impact of the computer on our society?" And Kurt said, "If I were a stock broker advising clients, I would advise to buy stocks in companies that manufacture laxatives, because the computer is making us so sedentary." Who but Kurt Vonnegut would say it this way? He saw the world differently from the way most of his contemporaries did. After the lecture we chatted briefly. But Kurt had an assistant, you might call a bodyguard, who allowed him to talk with us for about five minutes and then spirited him away.

STURM: Could you describe the circumstances under which you got to know Vonnegut?

DOXSEE: After we were captured in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, we walked for a couple of days and then were put in box cars for eight and a half days, until we got to STALAG ("Stammlager") IV B, which is just outside of the village of Muhlberg, about 35 miles Northwest of Dresden, right on the Elbe River. There, we were processed as POWs. A section of the camp was occupied by British non-commissioned officers. We were there barely two weeks, and I did not know Kurt. And then 150 of us were shipped off, even though Kurt talked about 100 in "Slaughterhouse-Five." When we got to Dresden, where Kurt was named the interpreter, that's when I first became aware of him. In the first months before the bombing of Dresden, our group of 150 was divided into about 10 teams of roughly 15 each. Most of us went to the factories to provide labor. In "Slaughterhouse Five," Kurt talked about the malt factory where people produced malt syrup for pregnant women. Kurt and I were in the same detail there, in the Koenigs-Malzfabrik. Little by little, we got to know each other better.

STURM: When you first learned of his passing, could you describe what went through your mind?

DOXSEE: A feeling that we had come to the end of an era. He epitomized for many others the experience we had in Dresden. Not only because of his novel, "Slaughterhouse-Five," but also because of his role while we were there. When we arrived in Dresden, we were welcomed by an English-speaking German captain, who said to us that our guards would not know English. He selected Kurt to be our first interpreter. Not only was Kurt tall and slender in those days, so that he stood taller than the rest of us, and was therefore visible, but as an interpreter he became the best-known person in our group for the first month of our time in Dresden.

STURM: So Vonnegut worked as an interpreter throughout the entire time?

DOXSEE: The thing that led to Kurt's dismissal from his role as interpreter was that, one day, the guards decided that the tables and chairs needed to be scrubbed down with hot water and soap, and they assigned five of the soldiers to do this. The German guard who was in charge of this detail noticed that one of the five was not working as hard as the other four. Now, bear in mind, we were not getting Red Cross food packets. We were slowly starving. This soldier had diarrhea and very little energy. So he was making an effort, but he wasn't doing very much. The guard warned him, "You have to work harder, you are not doing your share." Vonnegut had to interpret this. But he also said to the guard, "The guy is sick; take it easy." The guard wouldn't pay attention, and he finally struck the prisoner. At which point Kurt lost his patience, and under his breath said, "You dirty swine." The German word "Schwein," and the English word "swine," sound just the same. So the guard knew what Vonnegut said. He marched off to his superior and said, "Kurt Vonnegut has insulted the honor of the German army." He must be punished. He was dismissed from being interpreter and went back into the ranks. Very soon after that we had the bombing.

STURM: Was Vonnegut punished?

DOXSEE: I think he was tortured psychologically more than any of the rest of us. One 16-year old Hitler Youth kid that we nicknamed "Junior" took it upon himself to punish Kurt for having used the word "swine." After the firebombing, when we had to clean up rubble, we were usually given two blocks of rubble to clean. "Junior" would come out there on the work place with a bayonet attached to his rifle, with the scabbard removed, and would follow Kurt around from morning until night, literally taunting him. "You lazy American, you don't know how to work," he said. "We Germans know how to work. I will teach you." And he would jam him in the rear end with the point of his bayonet. My sense was he was taunting Vonnegut, hoping that Kurt would strike back. I think that Kurt would have paid with his life. He realized that, and so he developed an iron discipline not to respond. He went through this kind of psychological torture for a month. I know from the conversation we had in 1945 that he was furious at "Junior" (Doxsee visited Vonnegut in August of 1945, during his 75-day convalescence furlough in Indianapolis).

STURM: Vonnegut thought of naming his last book "The 51st state." He explained this during one of his last interviews: "That would be the state of denial which we are all living in now, because the game is all over. We have irrevocably ruined the planet as a life-support system." Instead he chose as a title, "The Man Without a Country." Do you share his criticism of technology?

DOXSEE: I guess I am on the fence in this matter. I learned my livelihood in education, as a teacher and a professor. And I have to feel that education has an important role in the lives of people. One aspect of education is the advancement of science technology. So I guess I don't entirely agree with him on this.

STURM: Vonnegut was slated to become a chemist. WW II made him a pacifist. Do you think that his experiences in Dresden may have turned him against technology?

DOXSEE: Very likely. He studied chemistry at Cornell University, but he never went back to Cornell after the war. He went to Chicago to study anthropology and became much more a humanist than a scientist. His scientific training made it possible for him to write science fiction. I should tell you a little bit more about Billy Pilgrim, who is the epitome of the anti-soldier. It's Vonnegut's way of thumbing his nose at the military by having the main character an anti-hero. I wondered from the time that "Slaughterhouse Five" was published in 1969, until the 1990s, whether Billy Pilgrim was a figment of Kurt Vonnegut's invention or whether he was based on one of our fellow POWs. And finally, in the 1990s, Kurt told the world who his role model was: Edward Reginald Crone. He was a student at Hobart College in Geneva, New York, when I was a freshman at Hobart. So I knew Crone before we were in the military. We ended up in the same division. And finally we ended up in Dresden. Crone died of malnutrition before the war ended, at a hospital in Dresden. He was planning to become an Episcopal priest.

STURM: Was Vonnegut's portrayal of Billy Pilgram, aka Edward Crone, realistic?

DOXSEE: It was exaggerated for the purpose of the book. Crone wasn't quite as disorganized as Billy Pilgrim was. But the fact that he let himself starve to death, and died before the war ended, is an indication that he wasn't entirely rational. Most of us saved our food and managed to survive.

STURM: Describe the firebombing of Dresden, on Feb. 13, 1945, as you experienced it.

DOXSEE: The two British raids were at night. One was around 10 p.m. and the other one at around 2 a.m. Both of those times the guards got us up and made us walk a hundred yards or so, to another building, also in the slaughterhouse compound. It had what Vonnegut called a "meat locker." This was a refrigerated room two stories below ground. That's where we went as a kind of air-raid shelter. When the bombing came, we could feel the ground shake, and the plaster from the ceiling fell on us. So we knew this was very serious. During the first raid the bombs didn't seem to be as close as the second raid. After the second raid, the guards got us above ground. The building that we had been in had been hit by incendiary bombs and was burning. The guards were afraid that we would die of asphyxiation. So they got us above ground as soon as they could. We saw a city on fire all around. A terrifying sight.

STURM: Vonnegut wrote that after the firebombing there were too many corpses to bury. So instead, the Nazis sent in guys with flamethrowers. Did you have to do this yourself?

DOXSEE: We had to carry corpses out of the cellars. The most vivid memory was when we went to the Central Railroad Station where there were probably hundreds of people who had children. By the time we were assigned to carry these corpses out, they had been there for long enough that they were decomposing. When we tried to pull them by their arms, we'd be holding limbs in our hands. This was an existentialist experience. The German carriers carried them to the funeral parlors.

STURM: Can you describe a scene from the book that resonated with your own experience?

DOXSEE: One of the things I learned in talking with other survivors has been how different our memories are. But the one event that everybody remembered was the execution by the SS of one of the POWs. In Vonnegut's novel, it's Edgar Derby, for stealing a teapot. In reality, there was no Edgar Derby and there was no teapot. But there was a POW in our group by the name of Michael Palaia, from Philadelphia. The guards, who were sympathetic, let it be known that if we found food in the basements we could eat it. If we found anything valuable, like silverware or jewelry, we were to tell the guards. We were warned not to take anything out of the cellars, because that was defined as looting. And looting by international law was punishable by death. Michael Palaia found a jar of unopened string beans. He would have gotten away with it, except there was an unexpected inspection by the SS just as he was climbing over the rubble. And one of the SS soldiers saw what looked suspicious and found a jar of string beans. So Michael was a marked man. The next morning at roll call he was called out of formation and taken away. Several days later, four of our other POWs were called out, and when they came back in the evening, shaken, they had had to dig the grave and bury Michael.

STURM: What did you learn in Dresden?

DOXSEE: The fragility of civilization. After I got out of the army I got a job as a messenger boy for the New York Times. Every night at 2:30 a.m. I walked alone from Times Square, down 7th Avenue to Penn Station. Eleven blocks. New York was a safe city then. When I looked at those skyscrapers in 1945, I said to myself, "I wonder if New York will ever be subjected to the destruction of Dresden?" It happened. So, the lesson from my time in Dresden was that the line between civilization and chaos is a very fine line, indeed.

STURM: Vonnegut said that there wasn't much in Dresden worth bombing, according to U.S. intelligence. In his view, burning the whole place down wasn't an exercise in military intelligence, but was "religious. It was Wagnerian. It was theatrical." What's your analysis?

DOXSEE: Anything that would have shortened the war by even one day was worth it. My view is that if something like this had happened in 1938, it would have created a moral outrage throughout the world. But when you have a war like WW II, people become hardened, little by little, until eventually things that would have been unthinkable before the war are just accepted as commonplace.

STURM: In 1973, Vonnegut said that there was "a complete blank where the bombing of Dresden took place, because I don't remember. And I looked up several of my war buddies and they didn't remember either. They didn't want to talk about it." Did you also draw a blank?

DOXSEE: I am not sure to what extent he was telling the whole truth, or whether he was exaggerating. While I was visiting my parents in my convalescence furlough, in the summer of 1945, I decided one day to jot down some of my memories from Dresden. My mother came in the room and casually asked me what I was doing. When I told her, she became very emotionally upset. Now my mother was a very tranquil lady. I don't think I saw her upset more than half a dozen times in all the years that we lived together. She said, "Don't write this. This is behind you, get on with your life." I realized that she had suffered more psychologically than I had. She had gotten a telegram from the War Department on Jan. 12, 1945, that I was missing in action. My mother went through three entire months not knowing whether I was dead or alive. It was very hard on her. So in deference to her wishes, I never put anything on paper until 1981, five years after she died. A copy of this essay is in the archives of the Alden Library (http://ohiomemory.org).

STURM: From his youth, Vonnegut has the memory of being a prisoner in Nazi Germany, and witnessing the Dresden massacre. At the time of his death, suicide bombers, terrorism and torture are now much more in the news than peace negotiations and diplomacy. That must have been bitter for him.

DOXSEE: I think he had a cynical side to his personality from a very young age, and it probably increased as time went on. I see the world in a more optimistic way. I had two great overseas adventures. The first one was WW II. The second one was teaching in Beirut, Lebanon. The impact of teaching overseas caused me to see the United States in an entirely different way. I came home in 1955 skeptical, recognizing that the American people were fed a certain interpretation of world affairs, which put U.S. interests first, without necessarily making this obvious. The rest of the world was sort of trimmed off. We would go to great lengths to save one American life abroad, but if we killed thousands of others, it didn't matter because they were not Americans. Ever since the 1950s, I have had a certain amount of skepticism about anything our political leaders tell us. Not that they necessarily lie. But they only tell us one part of the story.

STURM: Do you think there might be another World War brewing?

DOXSEE: The lesson I think I've learned from the study of history is that there can be very unexpected developments. There's a saying that the darkest hour comes just before the dawn. The timing of the coming of Moses, Jesus or Muhammad could be interpreted as the Lord sending a prophet at a time of darkness. It's just possible that somebody completely unexpected could emerge as a spiritual or philosophical leader, who would be successful in bringing about a transformation of attitudes. I don't know. I recognize all the reasons why Vonnegut felt less optimistic. They are all valid reasons. But there have been unexpected blessings in the past, and maybe there will be unexpected blessings in our time.

STURM: In March of 2006, Vonnegut gave his last public speech at Ohio State University. Two thousand students attended his lecture, and about as many were turned away. Vonnegut had this to say: "The only difference between Bush and Hitler is that Hitler was elected." What's your analysis?

DOXSEE: I've learned that it's very important to be discreet. One can say only what one thinks in a private conversation. One has to be very careful when speaking in public, because there are certain no-nos, in terms of our values. This country has demonized Hitler. It was justifiable during the war. After the war, the demonization has continued. There are very valid reasons for this. But one of the interesting aspects for me is the question, what role did the United States play in bringing Hitler to power? If Hitler would not have come to power, we would probably never have had WW II. Nobody asks. It is just an assumption that the United States was totally blameless. But I think we had a high level of responsibility.

During the 1920s, when we experienced prosperity in this country, it was our bankers who were lending huge amounts of money to the German bankers -- short-term loans, which meant high interest rates. And the Germans were now repaying this, and every three months they were borrowing more, to keep up with the interest. If our leaders in Washington had understood the reality of the economics more thoroughly, we could have modified our policies, and either eliminated the Depression or at least diminished its impact. Forty percent of the Germans were unemployed. Hitler came along and said, "I will give you jobs."

STURM: You have seen war and its effects. Do you see a solution to the current spiral of violence in Iraq?

DOXSEE: I have been very critical of the Bush administration from day one. The administration has given a whole series of explanations as to why we needed to invade Iraq. To me, it seems that they are not telling the whole story. I think that there are several powerful reasons that have not been shared with the American public, for political reasons: The Saudis wanted an American army when Saddam Hussein was threatening them. But when he was driven out of Kuwait, the danger was passed, and from then on the Saudis wanted our army out. But our government did not want to remove its troops from the Middle East. So the question became, if U.S. troops left Saudi Arabia, where should they go? Iraq became a viable substitute.

STURM: In his last book, "A Man Without a Country," Vonnegut wrote that "George W. Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography." What's your take?

DOXSEE: He may have exaggerated a bit. My view is if you start with Abraham Lincoln's phrase at the end of the Gettysburg Address, that we have a government of the people, by the people and for the people, what I see today is we have a government of the Halliburtons, by the Halliburtons and for the Halliburtons. I'm using the word "Halliburton" as a generic term to talk about all the huge corporations who have profited so much from the war in Iraq. We haven't helped the Iraqis at all. They are far worse off than they were under Saddam Hussein, except that they have more freedom to say things. But they also have a civil war going on.

Editor's note: Daniel Sturm is a German journalist who covers underreported social and political topics in the United States and Europe. For four years, Sturm lived in Leipzig near Dresden, before relocating to the U.S. in 2002. Some of his work can be read at www.sturmstories.com.