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Veteran's Day and Vonnegut

Posted Nov 12 2012 3:09pm

I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.
That's one of my favorite quotes of Kurt Vonnegut, whose birthday was yesterday, November 11th. He died in 2007 and thus never saw the inauguration of Obama, never mind the second, but he was notorious for his vocal hatred of all things related to war and particularly despised Bush for invading Iraq. I've read nearly everything Vonnegut wrote and like Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse 5 the best of all his books, but I love reading about him, too. A friend once told me that she passed him on the street in New York City when he was quite old, and she was struck by his big white-haired head and by the way he nodded it in greeting. This morning, I read a terrific interview with his daughter Nanette who has written the introduction to the newly released We Are What We Pretend to Be: The First and Last Works, which spans the beginning and end of Vonnegut's fifty-year career. Here's an excerpt, but you might want to read the whole thing on The Rumpus:

Rumpus: He never talked about his experiences in World War II with your mom?


Vonnegut: No. And he was a textbook PTSD sufferer. It’s only recently that veterans are encouraged to talk, let alone cry. My dad could be triggered by something like watching the news coverage of the Vietnam War. Both he and my mother were tuned in to what a load of crap it was. I remember him ripshit yelling at the TV saying, “Fucking lies!” I’ll never forget that. My mother was red-faced, saying, “They’re not going to take my boys. They’re not.”
My father was remembering what it was like and he knew: these are a batch of babies going off to war for nothing. There was a reviewer, William Deresiewicz, who writes for The Nation. He said Slaughterhouse-Five is not a book about flying saucers; it’s a book about post-traumatic stress disorder.
It's the day after Veteran's Day, and my kids are off from school. I'm going to do some laundry and other housekeeping things, perhaps knit a bit more of my sweater, take Sophie out and about in the sunshine and maybe delve, again, into Slaughterhouse 5. I'm going to feel grateful that I can do all of these things, freely, because of people like Vonnegut whose literal fighting as a soldier is only a small part of what he contributed to humanity.
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