As the media fills with whimsical good-byes to one of America’s greatest writers, lets not forget one of the great engines driving this wonderful man—he HATED war. Including this one in Iraq. And he had utter contempt for the men who brought it about. Kurt Vonnegut was a divine spark of liberating genius for an entire generation. His brilliant, beautiful, loving and utterly unfettered novels helped us redefine ourselves in leaving the corporate America in the 1950s and the Vietnam war that followed.
Having seen the worst of World War II from a meatlocker in fire-bombed Dresden, Kurt’s Sirens of Titan, Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, cut us the intellectual and spiritual slack to seek out a new reality. It took a breathtaking psychic freedom to merge the interstellar worlds he created from whole cloth with the social imperatives of a changing age. It was that combination of talent, heart and liberation that gave Vonnegut a cutting edge he never lost.
Leaving us in his eighties, Kurt also leaves us decades of anecdotes and volumes of writings—and doodlings—about which to write. But lost in the mainstream obituaries—including the one in the New York Times—is the ferocity with which he opposed this latest claque of vicious war-mongers.
Vonnegut gave his last campus speech in Columbus. He and I met here many years ago, after another speech. Not knowing me from Adam, he was gracious enough to give me his home address.
Out of the blue, I sent him a book-length poem about the passing of my parents. I was shocked when he called me on the phone about it. I asked for his help in finding a publisher. He said to publish it on my own, and gave me advice on how to do it, along with a blurb for the cover.
From then on we talked by phone. His conversation was always friendly, funny, insightful. When last I asked him how he was, he replied: “Too f*cking old!”
Last year, apparently on the spur of the moment, he agreed to speak again at Ohio State. It would be his last campus lecture.
When word spread, a line four thousand students long instantly formed at a university otherwise known only for its addiction to football.
Anyone expecting a safe, whimsical opener from this grand old man of sixties rebellion was in for a shock. “Can I speak frankly?” he asked Professor Manuel Luis Martinez, the poet and writing teacher who would “interview” him. “The only difference between George W. Bush and Adolph Hitler is that Hitler was actually elected.”
Holding up a book about Ohio 2004, he said: “You all know, of course, that the election was stolen. Right here.”
Explaining that this would he his “last speech for money,” Vonnegut said he couldn’t remember his first one. But it was “long long ago.
“I’m lucky enough to have known a great president, one who really cared about ALL the people, rich and poor. That was Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was rich himself, and his class considered him a traitor.
“We have people in this country who are richer than whole countries,” he said. “They run everything.
“We have no Democratic Party. It’s financed by the same millionaires and billionaires as the Republicans.
“So we have no representatives in Washington. Working people have no leverage whatsoever.
“I’m trying to write a novel about the end of the world. But the world is really ending! It’s becoming more and more uninhabitable because of our addiction to oil.