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Thursday, April 12, 2007

I come to bury Vonnegut, not to praise him

Kurt Vonnegut is dead and I cannot muster the requisite respect due the recently departed. So, fuck that. I intend to bury him, in the classic Khrushchev sense.

It's not that I'm glad he's dead, per se; it's more of a relieved "Well, thank God that's over with." Because, while I liked many of his books and short stories (a notable favorite being Harrison Bergeron), his politics were becoming intolerable.

Of course he had a right to his opinion. I will even grant that, as an anthropologist, he had more justification to speak his mind regarding culture and politics than, say, Bono or Tom Cruise. I don't even dislike him for his open contempt of Bush.

But when he said he admired terrorists and suicide bombers, that crossed the line.

In 2005, he was interviewed by David Nelson for The Australian, a national newspaper that carries similar weight to the Wall Street Journal here in America. The actual article is damn hard to find these days, most likely because of its controversial nature. I have been able to corroborate the most salient points, which are these:
  1. He regards terrorists as "very brave people";
  2. Terrorists die for their self-respect and/or their culture;
  3. Terrorism is comparable to the bombing of Hiroshima.
Go here and here for more. I'd dearly love to link to the main article, but I cannot find it. (Edit: Transcript of article found here.) His son replies to the outcry against his father here, but I don't consider that a defense. Why? Because surely a man as outspoken as Vonnegut was would be capable of defending himself if he desired, so either he didn't care what people thought of him, did not disagree with the assessment, or both.

I'm not going to address the second and third points. I'm simply going to demolish the first one and let the others crumble under the weight of their own idiocy after that.

Some of you may be laboring under the misapprehension that terrorism and guerrilla warfare are the same. Though they share some characteristics, let me assure you that they are not, for one simple reason:

Guerrilla warfare targets legitimate military assets. Terrorism targets civilians.

Yes, it really is that simple. It's also very easy for guerrilla warfare to become terrorism, such as when a suicide bomber decides to blow up a bus instead of a military checkpoint: a checkpoint is a legitimate target because it is being staffed by soldiers, and by killing or wounding soldiers you are hurting your enemy's ability to effectively wage war. Civilians may be injured in this, but that is not the purpose of the attack.

Deliberately attacking civilians, however, serves one purpose: killing innocent people in the hopes that you will demoralize your enemy. And as we all know, the deliberate slaughter of civilians, especially those unable to defend themselves, is a war crime.

I repeat for effect: Vonnegut admires war criminals.

William Gibson has the best statement about terrorism I have ever seen. In Neuromancer, he explains:
There is always a point at which the terrorist ceases to manipulate the media gestalt. A point at which the violence may well escalate, but beyond which the terrorist has become symptomatic of the media gestalt itself. Terrorism as we ordinarily understand it is innately media-related.
In other words: terrorism works best when it is talked about, and the terror spreads. But there comes a point when the terrorists become so absorbed in their "message" that they forget their original purpose and commit acts of terror for the sheer sake of terror -- just for the pleasure of it.

Apt readers may notice how this is very similar to the motivations of serial killers, specifically the John Allen Muhammed and Lee Boyd Malvo. Better known as the Beltway Snipers, they seemed to enjoy the fear and media attention as much as they did the killing, if not more. Were they terrorists? You bet:
In May 2006... at Muhammad's Maryland trial, Malvo revealed many details of their three-phased plan... If carried out, the pair would have recruited a small army of alienated youths, used Muhammad's U.S. military training to instruct and indoctrinate them in Canada, and then mount coordinated terrorist attacks on the entire United States.
And there should be no doubt they are serial killers: both Malvo and Muhmanned were convicted for committing no less than six murders. The proper definition of a serial killer, by the by, is someone who kills several people in three or more separate events with an "emotional cooling-off" period in between the homicides.

Once again, for effect: Vonnegut admires this kind of person for his bravery.

In conclusion:
  • Terrorists kill innocent people.
  • Terrorists are frequently serial killers.
  • Terrorists manipulate the media to achieve their ends.
  • Vonnegut, by virtue of being an award-winning author, is part of "the media."
  • Vonnegut admires terrorists, IE serial killers, for their bravery.
  • Vonnegut has been successfully manipulated.
  • Everything else he says on the issue is now suspect.

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