Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Good old Kurt! Wonderful messages and perspectives presented with decent writing and some humour along the way.

Two excerpts that were highlights for me:
[Set-up: Claire Minton is the wife of American Ambassador Minton, which was relocated due to a letter she wrote.]

Claire Minton’s letter to the Times was published during the worst of the era of Senator McCarthy, and her husband was fired twelve hours after the letter was printed.

“What was so awful about the letter?” I asked.

“The highest possible form of treason,” said Minton, “is to say that Americans aren’t loved wherever they go, whatever they do. Claire tried to make the point that American foreign policy should recognize hate rather than imagine love.”

“I guess Americans are hated a lot of places.”

People are hated a lot of places. Claire pointed out in her letter that Americans, in being hated, were simply paying the normal penalty for being people, and that they were foolish to think they should somehow be exempted from that penalty. But the loyalty board didn’t pay any attention to that. All they knew was that Claire and I both felt Americans were unloved.”
(pg. 98)

[Set-up: American Ambassador Minton is reassigned to a small island nation and is soon making a speech in honour of Hundred Martyrs to Democracy that occurred in the WWII. The hundred ‘soldiers’ of this nation died when their ship sunk soon off the coast and therefore did not even see combat.]

“A light sea wind ruffled his thinning hair. “I am about to do a very un-ambassadorial thing.” He declared. “I am about to tell you what I really feel.”

“We are gathered here, friends,” he said, “to honor the [Hundreds Martyrs to Democracy], children dead, all dead, all murdered in war. It is customary on days like this to call such lost children men. I am unable to call them men for this simple reason: that in the same war in which the [Hundreds Martyrs to Democracy] died, my own son died.

“My soul insists that I mourn not a man but a child.

“I do not say that children at war do not die like men, if they have to die. To their everlasting honor and our everlasting shame, they do die like men, thus making possible the manly jubilation of patriotic holidays.

“But they are murdered children all the same.

“And I propose to you that if we are to pay our sincere respects to the hundred lost children of San Lorenzo, that we might best spend the day despising what killed them; which is to say, the stupidity and viciousness of all mankind.

“Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns.

“I do not mean to be ungrateful for the fine, martial show we are about to see – and a thrilling show it really will be…”

He looked each of us in the eye, and then he commented very softly, throwing it away, “and hooray say I for thrilling shows.”

We had to strain our ears to hear what Minton said next.

“But if today is really in honor of a hundred children murdered in war,” he said, “is today a day for a thrilling show?

“The answer is yes, on one condition: that we, the celebrants, are working consciously and tirelessly to reduce the stupidity and viciousness of ourselves and of all mankind.”
pg. 253-255


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