from writings by
Kurt Vonnegut
collected in
Armageddon in Retrospect
And Other New and Unpublished Writings on War and Peace

Kurt Vonnegut

This page:

Introduction by Mark Vonnegut
at Clowes Hall, Indianapolis, April 27, 2007
Wailing Shall Be in All Streets
Great Day
The Unicorn Trap
Unknown Soldier
The Commandant’s Desk
Armageddon in Retrospect

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some of these stories qualify as
 science fiction

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Introduction by
Mark Vonnegut

Copyright © 2008 by Mark Vonnegut

Writing was a spiritual exercise for my father, the only thing he really believed in. He wanted to get things right but never thought that his writing was going to have much effect on the course of things. His models were Jonah, Lincoln, Melville, and Twain.

He rewrote and rewrote and rewrote, muttering whatever he had just written over and over, tilting his head back and forth, gesturing with his hands, changing the pitch and rhythm of the words. Then he would pause, thoughtfully rip the barely written-on sheet of typing paper from the typewriter, crumple it up, throw it away, and start over again. It seemed like an odd way for a grown-up to spend his time, but I was just a child who didn’t know much.

When I complained about being paid fifty dollars for an article that had taken me a week to write, he said I should take into account what it would have cost me to take out a two-page ad announcing that I could write.

Topic:

Writing

The unhappiest times in his life were those months and sometimes a whole year when he couldn’t write, when he was “blocked.” He’d try just about anything to get unblocked, but he was very nervous and suspicious about psychiatry. In my early-to-mid-twenties he let it slip that he was afraid that therapy might make him normal and well adjusted, and that would be the end of his writing. I tried to reassure him that psychiatrists weren’t nearly that good.

Topic:

Psychiatry

The most radical, audacious thing to think is that there might be some point to working hard and thinking hard and reading hard and writing hard and trying to be of service.

Reading and writing are in themselves subversive acts. What they subvert is the notion that things have to be the way they are, that you are alone, that no one has ever felt the way you have. What occurs to people when they read Kurt is that things are much more up for grabs than they thought they were. The world is a slightly different place just because they read a damn book. Imagine that.

Topic:

Books (general)

His last words in the last speech he wrote are as good a way as any for him to say good-bye.

And I thank you for your attention, and I’m out of here.

text checked (see note) Oct 2010

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Kurt Vonnegut
at Clowes Hall, Indianapolis, April 27, 2007

Speech written by Kurt Vonnegut, and delivered after his death by Mark Vonnegut

Copyright © 2008 by The Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Trust

Well, I’m sure you know that our country is the only so-called advanced nation that still has a death penalty. And torture chambers. I mean, why screw around?

But listen: If anyone here should wind up on a gurney in a lethal-injection facility, maybe the one at Terre Haute, here is what your last words should be: “This will certainly teach me a lesson.”

Topic:

Capital punishment

But there are still plenty of people who will tell you that the most evil thing about Karl Marx was what he said about religion. He said it was the opium of the lower classes, as though he thought religion was bad for people, and he wanted to get rid of it.

But when Marx said that, back in the 1840s, his use of the word “opium” wasn’t simply metaphorical. Back then real opium was the only painkiller available, for toothaches or cancer of the throat, or whatever. He himself had used it.

As a sincere friend of the downtrodden, he was saying he was glad they had something which could ease their pain at least a little bit, which was religion. He liked religion for doing that, and certainly didn’t want to abolish it. OK?

Topic:

Religion

text checked (see note) Oct 2010

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Wailing Shall Be in All Streets

Copyright © 2008 by The Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Trust

There can be no doubt that the Allies fought on the side of right and the Germans and Japanese on the side of wrong. World War II was fought for near-Holy motives. But I stand convinced that the brand of justice in which we dealt, wholesale bombings of civilian populations, was blasphemous. That the enemy did it first has nothing to do with the moral problem. What I saw of our air war, as the European conflict neared an end, had the earmarks of being an irrational war for war’s sake.

Topic:

War

text checked (see note) Oct 2010

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Great Day

Copyright © 2008 by The Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Trust

“Any questions?”

We’d all done had the Articles of War read to us. We all knowed asking sensible questions was worse’n killing your own mother with a axe. So there wasn’t no questions. Don’t expect there ever has been.

Topic:

Soldiering

text checked (see note) Oct 2010

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The Unicorn Trap

Copyright © 2008 by The Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Trust

“Ain’t Robert the Horrible just gave us the opportunity to improve ourselves?” she said.

“To be as bad as he is?” said Elmer. “That’s an improvement?”

Ivy sat down at the table, and put her feet up on it. “If a body gets stuck in the ruling classes through no fault of their own,” she said, “they got to rule or have folks just lose all respect for government.” She scratched herself daintily. “Folks got to be governed.”

“To their sorrow,” said Elmer.

“Folks got to be protected,” said Ivy, “and armor and castles don’t come cheap.”

Elmer rubbed his eyes. “Ivy, would you tell me what it is we’re being protected from that’s so much worse than what we’ve got?” he said. “I’d like to have a look at it, and then make up my own mind about what scares me most.”

Topic:

Government

“The wreckers against the builders!” said Elmer. “There’s the whole story of life!”

Fear hadn’t come to him yet. Pain hadn’t come where pain would come. There was only the feeling of having done something perfect at last—the taste of a drink from a cold, pure spring.

Topic:

Defiance

text checked (see note) Oct 2010

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Unknown Soldier

Copyright © 2008 by The Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Trust

If television refuses to look at something, it is as though it never happened.

Topic:

Television

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The Commandant’s Desk

Copyright © 2008 by The Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Trust

“It’s over, the killing is all over,” I said, “and we’re alive. Did you think that was possible? Did anyone in his right mind expect to be alive when it was over?”

“I feel almost as though being alive were something to be ashamed of,” she said.

“The world will probably feel that way for a long, long time. You can at least thank God you’ve come through it all with very little guilt in all the killing. Having been helpless in the middle has that advantage.”

He was telling me that I was one of the enemy. He meant that I should cooperate because I was afraid; he wanted me to be afraid.

For an instant, I was physically sick. Once, as a much younger and more Christian man, I liked to say that men who depended on fear to get things done were sick and pathetic and pitifully alone. Later, after having seen whole armies of such men in action, I saw that I was the kind that was alone—and maybe sick and pathetic, too, but I would have killed myself rather than admit that.

He said that the major and most of the enlisted men in Beda had come from an apparently famous armored division, which, the captain implied, never knew fear or fatigue, and loved nothing better than a good fight.

I clucked my tongue in wonderment, as I always do when hearing of such a division. I have heard of them from American officers, German officers, Russian officers; and my officers in World War I solemnly declared that I belonged to such a division. When I hear of a division of war-lovers from an enlisted man, maybe I will believe it, provided the man is sober and has been shot at. If there are such divisions, perhaps they should be preserved between wars in dry ice.

Topic:

Propaganda

“Did you think you could help, Captain?” said Marta.

“Before I came over here—yes, I did. Now I know I’m not what’s needed, and I don’t know what is. I sympathize with everybody, damn it, and see why they are the way they are—you two, all the people in town, the major, the enlisted men. Maybe, if I’d got a bullet through me or had somebody come after me with a flame-thrower, maybe I’d be more of a man.”

“And hate like everyone else,” said Marta.

“Yes—and be as sure of myself as everybody else seems to be on account of it.”

“Not sure—numb,” I said.

text checked (see note) Oct 2010

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Armageddon in Retrospect

Copyright © 2008 by The Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Trust

“Are you kidding?” said the reporter.

“If you mean that I offer these ideas in a playful spirit, yes.”

“Then you think they’re hokum?”

“Stick to the word ‘playful,’ ” said Dr. Tarbell. “And, if you’ll investigate the history of science, my dear boy, I think you’ll find that most of the really big ideas have come from intelligent playfulness. All the sober, thin-lipped concentration is really just a matter of tidying up around the fringes of the big ideas.”

Topic:

Science

text checked (see note) Oct 2010

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