Kurt Vonnegut, one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century, has passed away. So it goes. Vonnegut wrote 14 novels.
My first Vonnegut book was Mother Night which I received from a teacher in high school. The predicament of the main character hit close to home, being required to act as a patriot for two countries while not really caring for either.
In 1944 he was shipped to Europe with the 106th Infantry Division and shortly saw combat in the Battle of the Bulge. With his unit nearly destroyed, he wandered behind enemy lines for several days until he was captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp near Dresden, the architectural jewel of Germany.
Assigned by his captors to make vitamin supplements, he was working with other prisoners in an underground meat locker when British and American war planes started carpet bombing the city, creating a firestorm above him. The work detail saved his life.
Afterward, he and his fellow prisoners were assigned to remove the dead.
Vonnegut was a humanist; he served as Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, having replaced Isaac Asimov in what Vonnegut called “that totally functionless capacity”.
With his columns for In These Times, he began a blistering attack on the administration of President George W. Bush and the Iraq war. “By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East?” he wrote. “Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas in December.”