To Oil And Violence
By Kurt Vonnegut
13 May , 2004 by
In These Times
Many years ago, I was so innocent I still
considered it possible that we could become the humane and reasonable
America so many members of my generation used to dream of. We dreamed
of such an America during the Great Depression, when there were no jobs.
And then we fought and often died for that dream during the Second World
War, when there was no peace.
But I know now that
there is not a chance in hell of Americas becoming humane and
reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. 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? 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.
When you get to
my age, if you get to my age, which is 81, and if you have reproduced,
you will find yourself asking your own children, who are themselves
middle-aged, what life is all about. I have seven kids, four of them
Many of you reading
this are probably the same age as my grandchildren. They, like you,
are being royally shafted and lied to by our Baby Boomer corporations
I put my big question
about life to my biological son Mark. Mark is a pediatrician, and author
of a memoir, The Eden Express. It is about his crackup, straightjacket
and padded cell stuff, from which he recovered sufficiently to graduate
from Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Vonnegut said
this to his doddering old dad: Father, we are here to help each
other get through this thing, whatever it is. So I pass that on
to you. Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you can forget
I have to say thats
a pretty good sound bite, almost as good as, Do unto others as
you would have them do unto you. A lot of people think Jesus said
that, because it is so much the sort of thing Jesus liked to say. But
it was actually said by Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, 500 years
before there was that greatest and most humane of human beings, named
The Chinese also
gave us, via Marco Polo, pasta and the formula for gunpowder. The Chinese
were so dumb they only used gunpowder for fireworks. And everybody was
so dumb back then that nobody in either hemisphere even knew that there
was another one.
But back to people,
like Confucius and Jesus and my son the doctor, Mark, whove said
how we could behave more humanely, and maybe make the world a less painful
place. One of my favorites is Eugene Debs, from Terre Haute in my native
state of Indiana. Get a load of this:
Eugene Debs, who
died back in 1926, when I was only 4, ran 5 times as the Socialist Party
candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, 6 percent of the popular
vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot. He had this to say
As long as there
is a lower class, I am in it.
As long as there is a criminal element, Im of it.
As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
Doesnt anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great
public schools or health insurance for all?
How about Jesus
Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?
Blessed are the
meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.
Blessed are the
merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the
peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
And so on.
Not exactly planks
in a Republican platform. Not exactly Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney
For some reason,
the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But,
often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments
be posted in public buildings. And of course thats Moses, not
Jesus. I havent heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the
Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
the merciful in a courtroom? Blessed are the peacemakers
in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
There is a tragic
flaw in our precious Constitution, and I dont know what can be
done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.
But, when you stop
to think about it, only a nut case would want to be a human being, if
he or she had a choice. Such treacherous, untrustworthy, lying and greedy
animals we are!
I was born a human
being in 1922 A.D. What does A.D. signify? That commemorates
an inmate of this lunatic asylum we call Earth who was nailed to a wooden
cross by a bunch of other inmates. With him still conscious, they hammered
spikes through his wrists and insteps, and into the wood. Then they
set the cross upright, so he dangled up there where even the shortest
person in the crowd could see him writhing this way and that.
Can you imagine
people doing such a thing to a person?
No problem. Thats
entertainment. Ask the devout Roman Catholic Mel Gibson, who, as an
act of piety, has just made a fortune with a movie about how Jesus was
tortured. Never mind what Jesus said.
During the reign
of King Henry the Eighth, founder of the Church of England, he had a
counterfeiter boiled alive in public. Show biz again.
next movie should be The Counterfeiter. Box office records will again
One of the few good
things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will
not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.
And what did the
great British historian Edward Gibbon, 1737-1794 A.D., have to say about
the human record so far? He said, History is indeed little more
than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.
The same can be
said about this mornings edition of the New York Times.
writer Albert Camus, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, wrote,
There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that
another barrel of laughs from literature. Camus died in an automobile
accident. His dates? 1913-1960 A.D.
Listen. All great
literature is about what a bummer it is to be a human being: Moby Dick,
Huckleberry Finn, The Red Badge of Courage, the Iliad and the Odyssey,
Crime and Punishment, the Bible and The Charge of the Light Brigade.
But I have to say
this in defense of humankind: No matter in what era in history, including
the Garden of Eden, everybody just got there. And, except for the Garden
of Eden, there were already all these crazy games going on, which could
make you act crazy, even if you werent crazy to begin with. Some
of the games that were already going on when you got here were love
and hate, liberalism and conservatism, automobiles and credit cards,
golf and girls basketball.
Even crazier than
golf, though, is modern American politics, where, thanks to TV and for
the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings,
either a liberal or a conservative.
Actually, this same
sort of thing happened to the people of England generations ago, and
Sir William Gilbert, of the radical team of Gilbert and Sullivan, wrote
these words for a song about it back then:
I often think its
How nature always does contrive
That every boy and every gal
Thats born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative.
Which one are you in this country? Its practically a law of life
that you have to be one or the other? If you arent one or the
other, you might as well be a doughnut.
If some of you still
havent decided, Ill make it easy for you.
If you want to take
my guns away from me, and youre all for murdering fetuses, and
love it when homosexuals marry each other, and want to give them kitchen
appliances at their showers, and youre for the poor, youre
If you are against
those perversions and for the rich, youre a conservative.
What could be simpler?
got a war on drugs. But get this: The two most widely abused and addictive
and destructive of all substances are both perfectly legal.
One, of course,
is ethyl alcohol. And President George W. Bush, no less, and by his
own admission, was smashed or tiddley-poo or four sheets to the wind
a good deal of the time from when he was 16 until he was 41. When he
was 41, he says, Jesus appeared to him and made him knock off the sauce,
stop gargling nose paint.
Other drunks have
seen pink elephants.
And do you know
why I think he is so pissed off at Arabs? They invented algebra. Arabs
also invented the numbers we use, including a symbol for nothing, which
nobody else had ever had before. You think Arabs are dumb? Try doing
long division with Roman numerals.
democracy, are we? Same way European explorers brought Christianity
to the Indians, what we now call Native Americans.
How ungrateful they
were! How ungrateful are the people of Baghdad today.
So lets give
another big tax cut to the super-rich. Thatll teach bin Laden
a lesson he wont soon forget. Hail to the Chief.
That chief and his
cohorts have as little to do with Democracy as the Europeans had to
do with Christianity. We the people have absolutely no say in whatever
they choose to do next. In case you havent noticed, theyve
already cleaned out the treasury, passing it out to pals in the war
and national security rackets, leaving your generation and the next
one with a perfectly enormous debt that youll be asked to repay.
Nobody let out a
peep when they did that to you, because they have disconnected every
burglar alarm in the Constitution: The House, the Senate, the Supreme
Court, the FBI, the free press (which, having been embedded, has forsaken
the First Amendment) and We the People.
About my own history
of foreign substance abuse. Ive been a coward about heroin and
cocaine and LSD and so on, afraid they might put me over the edge. I
did smoke a joint of marijuana one time with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful
Dead, just to be sociable. It didnt seem to do anything to me,
one way or the other, so I never did it again. And by the grace of God,
or whatever, I am not an alcoholic, largely a matter of genes. I take
a couple of drinks now and then, and will do it again tonight. But two
is my limit. No problem.
I am of course notoriously
hooked on cigarettes. I keep hoping the things will kill me. A fire
at one end and a fool at the other.
But Ill tell
you one thing: I once had a high that not even crack cocaine could match.
That was when I got my first drivers license! Look out, world,
here comes Kurt Vonnegut.
And my car back
then, a Studebaker, as I recall, was powered, as are almost all means
of transportation and other machinery today, and electric power plants
and furnaces, by the most abused and addictive and destructive drugs
of all: fossil fuels.
When you got here,
even when I got here, the industrialized world was already hopelessly
hooked on fossil fuels, and very soon now there wont be any more
of those. Cold turkey.
Can I tell you the
truth? I mean this isnt like TV news, is it?
I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state
of denial, about to face cold turkey.
And like so many
addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent
crimes to get what little is left of what were hooked on.
is a leading American novelist
© 2004 In These