I Love You, Madame Librarian

Kurt Vonnegut August 6, 2004

I, like prob­a­bly most of you, have seen Michael Moore’s Fahren­heit 911. Its title is a par­o­dy of the title of Ray Bradbury’s great sci­ence fic­tion nov­el, Fahren­heit 451. This tem­per­a­ture 451° Fahren­heit, is the com­bus­tion point, inci­den­tal­ly, of paper, of which books are com­posed. The hero of Bradbury’s nov­el is a munic­i­pal work­er whose job is burn­ing books. 

And on the sub­ject of burn­ing books: I want to con­grat­u­late librar­i­ans, not famous for their phys­i­cal strength or their pow­er­ful polit­i­cal con­nec­tions or their great wealth, who, all over this coun­try, have staunch­ly resist­ed anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic bul­lies who have tried to remove cer­tain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of per­sons who have checked out those titles. 

So the Amer­i­ca I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Sen­ate or the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives or the media. The Amer­i­ca I love still exists at the front desks of our pub­lic libraries. 

And still on the sub­ject of books: Our dai­ly sources of news, papers and TV, are now so craven, so unvig­i­lant on behalf of the Amer­i­can peo­ple, so unin­for­ma­tive, that only in books can we find out what is real­ly going on. I will cite an exam­ple: House of Bush, House of Saud by Craig Unger, pub­lished near the start of this humil­i­at­ing, shame­ful blood-soaked year. 

In case you haven’t noticed, and as a result of a shame­less­ly rigged elec­tion in Flori­da, in which thou­sands of African Amer­i­cans were arbi­trar­i­ly dis­en­fran­chised, we now present our­selves to the rest of the world as proud, grin­ning, jut-jawed, piti­less war lovers, with appalling­ly pow­er­ful weapon­ry and unopposed. 

In case you haven’t noticed, we are now almost as feared and hat­ed all over the world as the Nazis were. 

With good reason. 

In case you haven’t noticed, our unelect­ed lead­ers have dehu­man­ized mil­lions and mil­lions of human beings sim­ply because of their reli­gion and race. We wound and kill em and tor­ture em and imprison em all we want. 

Piece of cake. 

In case you haven’t noticed, we also dehu­man­ize our own sol­diers, not because of their reli­gion or race, but because of their low social class. 

Send em any­where. Make em do anything. 

Piece of cake. 

The O’Reilly Factor. 

So I am a man with­out a coun­try, except for the librar­i­ans and the Chica­go-based mag­a­zine you are read­ing, In These Times.

Before we attacked Iraq, the majes­tic New York Times guar­an­teed that there were weapons of mass destruc­tion there. 

Albert Ein­stein and Mark Twain gave up on the human race at the end of their lives, even though Twain hadn’t even seen World War I. War is now a form of TV enter­tain­ment. And what made WWI so par­tic­u­lar­ly enter­tain­ing were two Amer­i­can inven­tions, barbed wire and the machine gun. Shrap­nel was invent­ed by an Eng­lish­man of the same name. Don’t you wish you could have some­thing named after you? 

Like my dis­tinct bet­ters Ein­stein and Twain, I now am tempt­ed to give up on peo­ple too. And, as some of you may know, this is not the first time I have sur­ren­dered to a piti­less war machine. 

My last words? Life is no way to treat an ani­mal, not even a mouse.” 

Napalm came from Har­vard. Ver­i­tas!

Our pres­i­dent is a Chris­t­ian? So was Adolf Hitler. 

What can be said to our young peo­ple, now that psy­cho­path­ic per­son­al­i­ties, which is to say per­sons with­out con­sciences, with­out a sense of pity or shame, have tak­en all the mon­ey in the trea­suries of our gov­ern­ment and cor­po­ra­tions and made it all their own?

Kurt Von­negut, the leg­endary author, WWII vet­er­an, human­ist, artist and smok­er, was an In These Times senior edi­tor until his death in April 2007. His clas­sic works include Slaugh­ter­house-Five, Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons and Cat’s Cra­dle, among many oth­ers. The last book by him pub­lished before his death, A Man With­out a Coun­try (2005), col­lects many of the arti­cles he wrote for this magazine.
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