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Expressions of grief
on 29 December 2005
If exile from one's homeland is grievous, then having your country pulled out from under you must be infinitely worse. Kurt Vonnegut expresses his strong feelings of betrayal at what the USA has become in his lifetime. He's angry and resentful, and every page in this little book seethes with his wrath. He has spent many years describing the warts his society exhibited, hoping his country would take heed of his words and excise the faults. It's almost as if nobody read his books, or at least take his criticisms seriously. Now, in advanced years, he is at his most direct in fulminating at the foibles of his countrymen. He hopes it isn't too late for the USA to return to the values it, and he, once cherished.
Vonnegut's mentor, Mark Twain, expressed the same sadness and remorse over the same people. That might suggest things haven't really gotten worse. Vonnegut, however, recognises that his country today exercises vastly more influence in the world, both physically and morally than that of Twain's day. "In case you haven't noticed" he cries, elections are stolen in the USA, its unelected leaders have dehumanized millions, "so I'm a man without a country". He fears things will go beyond this condition to apply the same standards to the entire planet. He foresees an epitaph for "the good Earth - we could have saved it, but we were to damn cheap and lazy."
The phrase "bitter old man" is certain to occur to readers of this collection. That judgement, of course, flies in the face of the voice of a man who's watched the course of the USA in a long lifetime. His most famous work, "Slaughterhouse Five", subtitled "The Children's Crusade" was a humanist's cry for increased awareness among his readers. That awareness, if it ever truly existed widely, has been snuffed out among Vonnegut's countrymen of today. This book recognises that new condition with a strident cry of protest. Why has this happened?, he demands. That he's published this collection is an acknowledgement that all may not be lost. Without boasting, instead he reminds of us his teachings with pickings from his earlier writings. If there is to be hope for Vonnegut's society and even the entire world, it would be wise to read and heed what he has to say. And to understand why he says it. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]