In an interview with The Weekend Australian, the 83-year-old novelist, out promoting his anti-Bush book of essays, Man Without a Country, says this:
Vonnegut said it was "sweet and honourable" to die for what you believe in, and rejected the idea that terrorists were motivated by twisted religious beliefs.
"They are dying for their own self-respect," he said. "It's a terrible thing to deprive someone of their self-respect. It's like your culture is
nothing, your race is nothing, you're nothing."
Asked if he thought of terrorists as soldiers, Vonnegut, a decorated World War II veteran, said: "I regard them as very brave people, yes."
He equated the actions of suicide bombers with US president Harry Truman's 1945 decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
On the Iraq war, he said: "What George Bush and his gang did not realise was that people fight back."
Vonnegut suggested suicide bombers must feel an "amazing high". He said: "You would know death is going to be painless, so the anticipation - it must be an amazing high."
Author David Nason adds with some deadpan irony, "Vonnegut's comments are sharply at odds with his reputation as a peace activist and his distinguished war service."
I don't think Vonnegut's rantings really require commentary, though James Lileks provides some. (For one, Vonnegut seems not to notice that his "brave people" are mainly murdering their own fellow Iraqis, including children. Or that their idea of their "culture," in many cases, includes the brutal killing of women and gays for sexual transgressions.) The only real question is whether the left will distance himself from this lunacy. Last year, Vonnegut's "Bush = Hitler" rant, "I Love You, Madam Librarian", appeared in the respected left-of-center magazine In These Times -- a publication that supports mainstream Democratic candidates, and whose masthead features such prominent, non-lunatic-fringe leftists as Barbara Ehrenreich -- and was reprinted on Michael Moore's site. Has he finally gone too far this time? So far, a Google search turns up no condemnation of Vonnegut's statements on any left-wing blogs.
I am truly to see Vonnegut descend to this; I've long been a fan of his novels -- Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five, Mother Night, God Bless you Mr. Rosewater -- and his short stories. I think writers who find modern Western civilization soulless and stultifying -- as Vonnegut clearly does -- can offer useful insights into what's lacking in our society and our lives, and create niches of alternative values that complement those of the dominant culture; but they ought to stick to literature. When they channel their distaste for modern civilization into politics, the results are usually not a pretty sight.