God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut

Author Kurt Vonnegut passed away at age 84. Either you are already familiar with such works as Slaughterhouse Five, the Sirens of Titan and God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater, and Vonnegut’s 14 novels, and his alternative universe style of humoristic, science-fictionistic… reality, asking the great questions in the tradition of the all time greats like Chekhov and Shakespeare and Voltaire, et al., i.e. “what does it mean to be human in a mostly inhuman world?”… or you’re not.
I met Vonnegut [yes, it’s always about me on this blog] in 1983, around the hey-day of anti-nuclear activity, at an anti-nuclear event at Dartmouth College; he was one of the two featured speakers … the other being Al Haig, who withdrew at the last minute and was replaced by Vermont Senator Pat Leahy… what’s old is new again, I suppose…
Mr. Vonnegut’s talk riffed on “Rule, Brittania…” and its line “rule Brittania, Brittania rules the wave, never, never, never Britons will be slave…” He pointed out the fundamental amorality…no. immorality… of such a sentiment. Yes… this sentiment tied directly to the sentiment of a nation that insisted that its ability to vaporize the rest of the world and/or to kill a lot of peple by other means gave it some kind of moral authority… (and, what’s old is new again.) But the sentiment that the ability to project force, and to aggressively go out and kill other people, in the interest of some purported “freedom”, or “lifestyle”… really was, and is, outrageous, if you stop and think about it.
Things we don’t normally think about– patriotism… jingoism, really… lead human beings to do outrageous things… such as, oh, the firebombing of Dresden, a historically significant and militarily insignificant target, selected as part of a “shock and awe” campaign near the end of WWII… proving that even “the good guys” can sometimes commit atrocities against “the bad guys”. Then POW-of-the-Germans Vonnegut was kept prisoner at Dresden; he survived the firebombing only by having been assigned to serve as a slave laborer underground… that event became an inspiration for Slaughterhouse Five.
His point was, and will always be, well-taken. It’s a simple one, really. ARE WE THINKING ABOUT WTF WE ARE DOING? ARE WE? Or are we just acting because, well… that’s just what we do. Does being human mean being conscious of our actions and their consequences? Because when you do stop and think about the big picture… things look different… and all too often, not so handsome as all that.
It often takes incredible visionaries to make us look at very simple propositions (especially when those are propositions we would rather avoid looking at.)
R.I.P., Mr. Vonnegut.