In June 1996 Kurt Vonnegut, the author of Slaughterhouse Five and other novels, wrote the following to a friend:
Politics? I will vote Democratic because that is the most humane of the two parties, but not by much. The Clintons are shallow, opportunistic, Yuppies but they are the only game in town. Doesn’t Dole (Bob Dole, the Republican presidential candidate of the era) make you ashamed to be a WW II vet? What a crabby old poop.
Vonnegut was a very popular writer in the late 50’s, and into the 60’s and 70’s. I had tried reading his works when I was younger then, particularly, since as a veteran, I knew that as a POW he had lived through the horrific firebombing of Dresden by American and British air forces. I found his writing very direct but difficult to follow for my simple mind. It was like a bad Hollywood movie cutting back between fantasy and reality so that the characters never became real.
In old age, being a child of the Great Depression and a veteran of that war I couldn’t pass up a book of Vonnegut’s letters offered in a sidewalk sale for pennies. I knew he was opposed to all of our wars and hoped I would find more about him that might change my mind about this written works. Well, that insightful comment above, about BOTH Clintons, softened my heart and about his writing and I tackled Slaughterhouse again.
I learned from this book of letters more about Vonnegut, including things that established a bond between us. Vonnegut was a fellow Indianan, though from Central Indiana, Indianapolis, instead of Gary. After the war both of us went into the Social Science graduate program at the University of Chicago. We were there at the same time, 1946-47, under the GI bill. Vonnegut was about two years older than me, but we both went straight from the army into the graduate program without an undergraduate degrees.
At that time, the University of Chicago offered veterans credit for army special education. Before being shipped as a replacement infantryman to Europe, Vonnegut had been in the ASTP (Army Special Training Program) at Carnegie Tech, while I had been in the Air Corps cadet program at Clemson College. Those programs, on top of a couple prewar semesters in college, opened the doors to University of Chicago graduate programs.
Vonnegut was sent from the classroom into the 106th frontline Division in the Battle of the Bulge. He claims they were set up as sitting ducks for the main German offensive. Coincidence again. One of my best friends who was just 18 at the time, younger than Vonnegut and I, was sent as a raw recruit with the 106th and was also captured at Malmedy in that Battle. While Vonnegut was sent to Dresden to work in what was designated an “open city” (no bombing allowed) Mike, my friend, who was Jewish, was sent to a concentration camp. Both lived through horrible experiences.
So Vonnegut’s insightful comment about the Clinton’s got me to learn more about him and our common paths through those times, but after forcing myself to reread Slaughterhouse Five, I still find it a difficult read.