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God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

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Breakfast of Champions was the first Vonnegut book I ever read, and I have to say it really messed me up for quite some time when I was 13 years old. For some reason I really identified with the character of Dwayne Hoover, who winds up going mad and beating the shit out of a load of people in a bar. (Trust me: it’s funnier than it sounds, even though in Palm Sunday he only gave the book a grade of “C.”)

In 1971, Kurt Vonnegut wrote a brief essay for the New York Times that I’ve thought about quite a bit over the past five years but haven’t read again until tonight. Titled “Torture and Blubber,” Vonnegut’s essay wondered

where our leaders got the idea that mass torture would work to our advantage in Indochina. It never worked anywhere else. They got the idea from childish fiction, I think, and from a childish awe of torture.

Children talk about tortures a lot. They often make up what they hope are new ones. I can remember a friend’s saying to me when I was a child: “You want to hear a really neat torture?” The other day I heard a child say to another: “You want to hear a really cool torture?” And then an impossibly complicated engine of pain was described. A cross would be cheaper, and work better, too . . .

I am sorry we tried torture. I am sorry we tried anything. I hope we never try torture again . . . .

. . . And this, from The Rotarian magazine (1972):

When I think about my own death, I don’t console myself with the idea that my descendants and my books and all that will live on. Anybody with any sense knows that the whole solar system will go up like a celluloid collar by-and-by. I honestly believe, though, that we are wrong to think that moments go away, never to be seen again. This moment and every moment lasts forever.

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