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Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut, author of the breathtaking Slaughterhouse-Five has passed away.

My first encounter with Vonnegut was via a Satire class, for which I had to read Mother Night. Needless to say, ever since, I have been under the spell of Vonnegutism.

I wanted to quote from Slaughterhouse-Five, and was looking for an interesting passage that would not require that I put it into the context of the story. I came up with the following:
While the British colonel set Lazzaro's broken arm and mixed plaster for the cast, the German major translated out loud passages from Howard W. Campbell, Jr.'s monograph. Campbell had been a fairly well-known playwright at one time. His opening line was this one:

America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves To quote the American humorist
Kin Hubbard, 'It ain't no disgrace to be poor, but might as well be.' It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: 'If you're so smart, why ain't You rich?
' There will also be an American flag no larger than a child's hand-glued to a lollipop stick and, flying from the cash register.

The author of the monograph, a native of Schenectady, New York, was said by some to have had the highest I.Q. of all the war criminals who were made to face a death by hanging. So it goes.

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue
, the monograph went on. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.

Many novelties have come from
America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves. Once this is understood the disagreeable behavior of American enlisted men in German prisons ceases to be a mystery.

Howard W. Cambell, Jr., now discussed the uniform of the American enlisted in the Second World War: Every other army in history, prosperous or not, has attempted to clothe even its lowliest soldiers so as to make them impressive to themselves and others as stylish experts in drinking and copulation and looting and sudden death. The American Army, however, sends its enlisted men out to fight and die in a modified business suit quite evidently made for another man, a sterilized but unpressed gift from a nose-holding charity which passes out clothing to drunks in the slums.
When a dashingly-clad officer addresses such a frumpishly dressed bum, he scolds him, as an officer in an army must. But the officer's contempt is not, as in other armies, avuncular theatricality. It is a genuine expression of hatred for the poor, who have no one to blame for their misery but themselves.
A prison administrator dealing with captured American enlisted men for the first time should be warned: Expect no brotherly love, even between brothers. There will be no cohesion between the individuals. Each will be a sulky child who often wishes he were dead.

or the children's crusade
His works are often imbued with a dose of silliness, mixed with dark humor and satirical hyperbole. He is one of the few authors of fiction whose works I have devoured, read and re-read, for the political messages they convey, often in a shocking, offensive manner. It is no wonder that Slaughterhouse-Five was in fact banned for "obscenity". He has successfully raised the ire of the British (and Americans), but particularly the British, for his emphasis on the fire-bombing of Dresden in the final months of WWII, in which hundreds of thousands of German civilians were killed. The British, when faced with the argument that the fire-bombing of Dresden was a war crime no less horrible than the war crimes perpetrated by the Nazis, fidget in their seats and point out that the focus must instead be on the V2 attacks on London and other British population centers. This is a classical technique which has been put to use by many to justify the unjustifiable... Keep in mind that to this day, discussing Dresden is taboo, although much less so than it used to be (thanks in no small part to Vonnegut's work). The victors of WWII continue to write history and worse, define morality. This model has also been applied to the Middle East -- the experiences of the indigenous, colonized populations viewed solely from a colonialist perspective; their demands viewed as an aberration; their attempts to assert their rights considered terrorism; their historical claims ignored and denied (either on colonial, imperial, or Messianic grounds); their desire to correct the falsified historical record trampled on. Today, the Middle East (and the much wider Muslim world) is experiencing multiple "Dresdenizations" led by the single most powerful imperialist force that reared its head after WWII. But it is not only the U.S that has emulated this model, nor has it been the first to introduce it. When they first set foot in the region, the French and British formulated the framework that to this day justifies colonial and imperial projects in the region, at the forefront of which is the Zionist project.

Despite the similarities -- the victor writing history and defining morality -- it would be wrong to compare the finished story of Dresden to the never-ending saga of the Middle East. In fact, the colonial discourse, while still rampant and dominant, has experienced its first major challenge in the Middle East (although many would disagree and point to communism and the USSR, which I will bluntly say, was swiftly transformed into Russian colonialism), and is in the process of, if not collapse, then definitely retreat. Nowhere has such a massive challenge been leveled (not even by the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, or the anti-slavery and anti-racism movements of the U.S). The native populations and tribes of America (North and South), Australia, New Zealand (etc.), have been trampled on, and virtually forgotten, their stories undermined, their voices very frail, their existence almost completely confined to "reservations". This is not to say the Middle East is "unique". It is not, in any way whatsoever (I am sure the "Lebanon is unique" readers will fidget uncomfortably in their seats). I do not seek to espouse reverse BernardLewisism to counter BernardLewisism (I am not a big fan of "affirmative action"). I do believe, however, that the Middle East has posed the greatest challenge to the colonial and imperial project. In many respects, the region is also incorporated into the system, i.e. immersed in the global capitalist economy. Nevertheless, it would be unrealistic to say that this immersion and incorporation spells the end of the resistance. It is only one of the beginning stages of resistance. And that is not to say that resistance will be based on class consciousness. Class consciousness (if it exists at all) continues to be dominated by the more pressing loyalties: sectarianism, tribalism, nationalism, among other "isms". These in turn are used by the hegemons, or aspiring hegemons, to spread their influence and bring these units or groups into their fold. This is not rocket science. It is a very simple analysis. Perhaps too simple an analysis, so I am guilty of simplification.

I have to stop here, because I could go on forever, and I wouldn't want that to happen. I wanted to dedicate a post to Vonnegut, and recommend his works, especially Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle, and Mother Night.


posted by Angry Anarchist @ 4/12/2007 08:48:00 AM,


At April 12, 2007 at 10:43 PM, Blogger Renegade Eye said...

He was the greatest of all the sci-fi writers period.

At April 13, 2007 at 12:52 AM, Blogger Angry Anarchist said...

Certainly a great writer. I am not sure about the "greatest" :P I personally would go for Philip K. Dick. :D And I wouldn't say he's a sci-fi writer, he personally objected being labeled a sci-fi writer.

I think it's difficult to compare him to the rest of the authors, so in a way he is in a league of his own. He just mixes too many genres and themes it's hard to label him with one label.

At April 13, 2007 at 6:45 AM, Blogger Golaniya said...


At April 13, 2007 at 12:34 PM, Blogger Puppeteer said...

You converted me. I'm going to buy his books the moment I find them.
As for the Middle East, I think it showed being so hard a chalenge or problem because the bushist (and I mean all this crap that calls itself the "civilised world") is trying here all the enslavement methods they tried in all the colonies throughout history. Of course, with Lewisean enhancements. And yes, Lebanon is far from unique. In fact it's so deja-vu that it's cliche.


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