Novelists Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller and William Styron at a three-day colloquium at FSU
"World War II was no romantic adventure, with estimates of 35-40 million people killed... I was young and naive... Before then (college) I had a naive faith that my superiors were superior. I went to college and began reading newspapers and thinking critically about politics...
"...But despite my cynical, skeptical, pessimistic outlook about so many things, I remain an optimist in some of the things that give me hope ... one, this discussion, and the second thing is we do get books like Sophie's Choice (by Styron) and Catch 22 (Heller's own classic) and Cat's Cradle (by Vonnegut)...
"... There is a general movement towards commercialism and a deterioration of ethics. On the other hand, there are people like the three of us, and I think almost everybody in the audience, who would like to make things better and to a certain extent - perhaps we can."
"Sixty years ago there was a civil war in Spain, and the Germans took sides. The Germans bombed Guernica. It was an intentional attack on civilians... This was the first step of a pattern of using civilians as targets.
"...The Second World War was winding down. Germany had surrendered unconditionally Feb 13, 1945. That night, the Royal Air Force burned Dresden to the ground. It was the greatest man-made firestorm in history, killing 135,000 men, women and children. That is more people than were killed in Hiroshima.
"...Here is a lie we were told: our enemies bombed civilian populations, where our side did not... By the end of the war... Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, obliterated by the good guys.
"The reasons for dropping the bomb on Hiroshima have been heard, but what about Nagasaki? The war was clearly over by then, but we had a second bomb; it cost a lot of money to build, so why wait?
"I have many grand-children...and I'm very sorry to have them born into such a country, where nothing seems to matter but money. The feeling I have is that Jefferson and Madison and our founders depended on our being good citizens (and with) a benign fair-minded constitution, we would behave decently...I see people like Larry Flynt, and I'm a first-amendment absolutist, but I would have paid to have him shot because he put the first amendment in such terrible danger. .... Jefferson was foolish to expect us to behave decently, but nor did he, being a slave owner."
"I'm here at a time when the written word is under siege. I'm so glad to see such a happy morning group, with what I presume to be word lovers and not lovers of the image." (Styron told about a thesis a student sent him about the movie Sophie's Choice. A footnote said that where the movie was ambiguous or unclear, the book would be referred to.)
"...The war left us, if nothing else, two prodigious and enduring metaphors for human suffering - Auschwitz and Hiroshima. History has carved no sterner monuments to its own propensity for unfathomable evil.
"...No nation is without shame ... We Americans have pored over the disgraceful episodes of our past with nearly morbid zeal: slavery, the dissemination of our native Americans, our unconscionable racism and the nightmare of Vietnam. All of these have received our compassion, sometimes even masochistic scrutiny, but the Japanese have averted their eyes from history, and in doing so, have jeopardized their future and perhaps our future too, because people who have no lessons to learn from their past are bound to be extremely dangerous.
"...Up until World War II civilians were off limits. ...The critical moment was when Kurt mentioned Guernica... the first recorded moment, in strictly modern history, of civilians getting bombed After that comes an extraordinary acceleration of the slaughter of civilians. ...It's an extraordinary moral judgment against the human race.
"...What he (Heller) did in Catch 22 was to fulfill the edict of that intuitive genius Herman Melville who said simply, and I'm quoting, 'To write a mighty book you must have a mighty theme.' ... Joe Heller, whether he knew it or not, when he wrote Catch 22, was writing a mighty book because he had a mighty theme. And the mighty theme was the absolute lunacy and absurdity of warfare, which had never been dealt with in this country or any other country with such deftness and with such wild humor."
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