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Vonnegut- The old Lie: It is "sweet and honourable" to die for your Country
November 21, 2005 8:28 PM   Subscribe

Dulce et Decorum Est Kurt Vonnegut was interviewed by an Australian newspaper, which took the quote out of context and completely missed the poetic reference Vonnegut was making with the comment , thereby generating what will likely be a firestorm of negative publicity for Vonnegut. (A blogger's negative reaction was Farked.) I am sure that Metafilter readers would spot the reference, but having been Farked and misquoted on ABC (Australian TV), Vonnegut is probably in as much trouble as Terrell Owens.
posted by notmtwain (80 comments total)

 
Well, fuck.

Like anyone could really believe Vonnegut is remotely nationalistic.
posted by sourwookie at 8:38 PM on November 21, 2005


The Australian is a terrible rag, totally subservient to the wishes of its owner (Rupert Murdoch), and I expect nothing better. Surprised about an ABC misuse however (got a link or reference BTW?). And who is Terrell Owens?
posted by wilful at 8:40 PM on November 21, 2005


Vonnegut isn't in trouble. He's too old and smart to worry about what stupid people say about him.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:41 PM on November 21, 2005


Oh, after a bit of wiki: a reference to Terrell Owens is very parochial - you couldn't expect most people to know who the hell you're talking about.
posted by wilful at 8:42 PM on November 21, 2005


Unfortunately, Vonnegut probably won't get nearly as much press as Owens. However, assuming that he was quoting the poem, he's got a pretty straightforward response lined up. I think most people (especially those who have any idea who Vonnegut is) understand that the media loves to misquote people.
posted by MrZero at 8:43 PM on November 21, 2005


Light lunch proves heavy going is the ABC reference.
posted by notmtwain at 8:49 PM on November 21, 2005


This paper...it Murdochs?
posted by uosuaq at 8:50 PM on November 21, 2005


I've always heard "dulce et decorum" translated as "sweet and becoming..."

Not that it matters. Ice-nine all around!
posted by bugmuncher at 8:53 PM on November 21, 2005


Vonnegut is way cooler than T.O. but not quite as fun to watch getting bashed.
posted by Sellersburg/Speed at 8:57 PM on November 21, 2005


Oh, after a bit of wiki: a reference to Terrell Owens is very parochial - you couldn't expect most people to know who the hell you're talking about.

I guess only on MetaFilter is this even remotely close to true.
posted by xmutex at 8:59 PM on November 21, 2005


Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling...

So it's some kind of drug poem?
posted by eatitlive at 9:00 PM on November 21, 2005


Uh. No, poison gas. World War I.
posted by Firas at 9:02 PM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]


I dunno:
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime

That sounds kinda like burning man to me
posted by eatitlive at 9:03 PM on November 21, 2005


I guess only on MetaFilter is this even remotely close to true.

And Slashdot?
posted by agropyron at 9:04 PM on November 21, 2005


What with this and the Guardian monstering Chomsky the other day, I think we have to conclude that it's open season on intellectuals.
posted by Hogshead at 9:08 PM on November 21, 2005


Oddly enough, I just learned who T.O. was from Colbert. Man, what providence!
posted by hototogisu at 9:09 PM on November 21, 2005


9600 views on Fark and 426 comments so far...
posted by notmtwain at 9:24 PM on November 21, 2005


You know, my children were assigned to read this "Slaughterhose High-5" for their high school english class, but I'll be gosh-darned if I'm going to buy the books of someone who promotes drug lingo!!

/way over the top sarcasm.
posted by papakwanz at 9:25 PM on November 21, 2005


Actually, the "blogger's negative reaction" isn't Farked. The URL is just screwed up.
posted by sbutler at 9:28 PM on November 21, 2005


How do we know it was definitely a reference to Wilfred Owen's poem, whose title is itself a (satirical) reference to a Latin saying? And what were his actual comments, if they were taken out of context so badly? I don't see how the rest of his comments quoted in this piece, unless the reporter is flat-out lying, can be taken as anything other than praise for terrorists.
posted by transona5 at 9:30 PM on November 21, 2005


Some of those Fark comments are...
well, they're fark comments.
I wonder if the nutjobs at lgf have gotten a hold of this yet?

"Who is this Vonnegut-less? hehe... We don't need his type to defend 'Merica!"

"Um, actually, he is a decorated veteran of WW2."

"... ... Probably shot himself just so he could sell more books!"
posted by papakwanz at 9:30 PM on November 21, 2005


What with this and the Guardian monstering Chomsky the other day, I think we have to conclude that it's open season on intellectuals.

With The Australian it's ALWAYS open season in intellectuals.
posted by pompomtom at 9:35 PM on November 21, 2005


As a Real American™, I call for a fatwa on Kurt Vonnegut. It is the duty of all true followers of Allah the Lord to strike down this infidel terrorist sympathizer and bring his tongue to the doorstep of the White House.
posted by RylandDotNet at 9:36 PM on November 21, 2005


transona5-
I think, as one person on Fark points out, that saying someone is "brave" is not the same as praising them.
That's what's always bothered me about the war on terruh rhetoric. Suicide bombers are not "cowards." They are very messed up people, and they are performing a horrible act, but they aren't cowards. The people who sit safely and send them in, they are cowards.
From reading the larger article it seems clear that KV is not praising, but merely trying to offer up some semi-objective perspective on the issue, so that one can see from the "insurgent" side just what their perspective on events is. You know, what Karl Rove calls "giving the terrorists therapy."

As to whether he's quoting the poem or not... maybe not, but he probably is. Vonnegut surely knows his war literature, and his quote is very similar to the [translation of the] line in the poem. He even tries to correct himself, but at 83 you can't have a perfect memory.
posted by papakwanz at 9:40 PM on November 21, 2005


I don't see how the rest of his comments quoted in this piece, unless the reporter is flat-out lying, can be taken as anything other than praise for terrorists.

I agree with him, that suicide bombers are brave, and that blowing oneself up may well give you a rush. Neither of those things is equivalent to endorsing what they're doing. He may also endorse what they're doing, but I don't see that here.
posted by me & my monkey at 9:45 PM on November 21, 2005


Well, you're right, the poem may be more famous than the original phrase at this point. But the rest of what he said — they're brave, they're fighting for their self-respect — praise or not, he does sound like he's trying to justify their actions to some extent. He's not just talking about the individual mindset of someone who's willing to die for a cause, but also the cause itself, what he considers an attack on the suicide bombers' culture. Some people are going to take exception to that, and it doesn't necessarily make them anti-intellectual.
posted by transona5 at 9:49 PM on November 21, 2005


As to whether he's quoting the poem or not... maybe not, but he probably is. Vonnegut surely knows his war literature, and his quote is very similar to the [translation of the] line in the poem. He even tries to correct himself, but at 83 you can't have a perfect memory.

Either noble or honorable is an acceptable translation of decorum. For what it's worth, I think Vonnegut was quoting the poem, the author of the article just missed it (as I did... I'm only used to seeing the Latin version).
posted by sbutler at 9:55 PM on November 21, 2005


Here is the original article about the interview.

Transona5, you're right. I can't be sure if Vonnegut was referring to the original Horace quote or the Owen poem. However, since Vonnegut was born on Armistice Day (11/11), only 4 years after the end of the First World War, and since the Owen poem was one of the most popular poems about the war, I feel entirely comfortable asserting that he was referring to Owen's poem. (If I could, I would ask him, but then again, we have to look at "Back to School" to realize that Kurt may not be the best judge of his own work.)

I think that the rest of his comments sound completely logical when reported in context, such as his judgement that the suicide bombers are brave. He doesn't say that they are honorable, or that he admires them. He just believes that he can imagine their emotional state and that he finds it "brave".
posted by notmtwain at 10:05 PM on November 21, 2005


I just read the longer version.

David Nason is clearly just another Murdoch hack. Nothing for KV to worry about, anyway.
posted by flabdablet at 10:13 PM on November 21, 2005


Does anyone think Vonnegut gives a fuck?

By the way, did anyone read Vonnegut's description of being a Saab dealer in the 70's? It was on the internet, he said it was like a car designed by aircraft engineers who had never driven a car, or something like that.

Anyway, GM is now marketing Saabs as being "born from jets" (nice grammar there).
posted by Paris Hilton at 10:38 PM on November 21, 2005


I like how they say he's 'using the language of drug culture' by talking about people being 'high'...
posted by Paris Hilton at 10:41 PM on November 21, 2005


"born from jets"... even though the saab aircract company never actually made jets, as far as I can tell. /derail
posted by cell divide at 10:44 PM on November 21, 2005


I believe "born from jets" is also a reference to Horace.
posted by eatitlive at 10:50 PM on November 21, 2005



"born from jets"... even though the saab aircract company never actually made jets, as far as I can tell. /derail

huh?
/derail derail
posted by wilful at 10:51 PM on November 21, 2005


My mistake -- it's actually Eno.
posted by eatitlive at 10:52 PM on November 21, 2005


Just to put this all in the context of the rest of last weekends' "Australian" :

Front page stories - Terror story about our nuclear reactor being wide-open for terrorists; sub-story about Abu Masab al-Zarqawi, Al-Quaeda's #1 man in Iraq. Oh and another story sinking the boot into the other newspaper publisher in Australia, Fairfax, for having corrupt management.

9 pages sinking the boot into the Opposition party, aboriginals, people the Government screwed but who managed to beat them in court, and a feel-good story about a local "hero" who ran over his daughter by mistake.

Page 11, in the "Terror Hits Home" section - an article from a "New York correspondent", that leads in with Vonnegut's "provocative remarks".

2 or 3 sections full of terror, praise for the government, fluff pieces, business, and sport.

Front page of the "Review" supplement - picture of Kurt, with the caption "Why I detest George Bush and admire suicide bombers".

Page 4 of the Review - 2+ pages of interview, where the offending remark is left to the last column, surrounded by the loaded pontifications of the author.

In other words, I don't even have to look at the masthead to know it's a Murdoch paper. Of course, I do live in a city where the choice of papers is pretty much limited to (a) the Murdoch local, full of parochial chest-beating and precious little news, or (b) the Murdoch national, full of right-wing chest-beating and precious little news. I swear, I only buy "The Australian" because it has only has 3 pages of horse racing and 3 of football...

FWIW, I can see where Vonnegut is coming from - he's not praising their actions, he's saying he admires people who have such a strong courage of their convictions, regardless of whether you believe they're right or wrong.
posted by Pinback at 11:00 PM on November 21, 2005


*sigh* Whether Vonnegut's quoting Horace or Owen, or both, any writer of his calibre would I'm sure know that both poets use the phrase "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" in a bitingly sarcastic and critical way. I am pretty sure he is quoting it - the phraseology he uses is a common translation. It's impossible to tell from the interview transcript, but my money is on Vonnegut quoting this in a very knowing way, and the subtlety simply going over the journalist's head.

Of course it's far easier to believe he's a mad old man who's forgotten everything he ever believed in, as the article rather nastily implies at several points - "the ageing author", etc.
posted by greycap at 11:25 PM on November 21, 2005


Brave and stupid are far from orthogonal.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:29 AM on November 22, 2005


The longer piece linked to by flabdablet makes it pretty clear that even the author recognizes Vonnegut isn't being serious:

Vonnegut has been many things: a grandmaster of American literature; a man who worked hard to support his family; a soldier who fought for his country.

But now he's old and he doesn't want to live any more. You only have to read his book to understand that. And because he can't find anything worthwhile to keep him alive, he finds defending terrorists somehow amusing.


Why he'd leave that recognition out of the shorter newswire piece, I can't possibly imagine.
posted by BackwardsCity at 12:44 AM on November 22, 2005


The common man doesn't want to respect his enemy. He wants him to be a debased caricature, devoid totally of any qualities that one would consider good or redeeming or even human. Anyone who questions this desired viewpoint is considered a traitor to The Cause.

"What, you say the Enemy are not weak-willed, foolish, baby-killing cowards afraid to face our superior force man-to-man in open combat? How dare you Sir!"
posted by moonbiter at 12:52 AM on November 22, 2005


I suspect that it would be easy to say, "Don't get me wrong. I'm not endorsing terrorism. But if you look at the lives of a people whose society has been ruined by a supposedly benevolent foreign superpower, you could see how they'd perceive things as..." and any other beat-around-the-bush tap dancing around your point as you'd want to make. I find it hard to believe that those things wouldn't have occurred to Vonnegut to say. What I suspect is that, having that occur to him, he specifically rejected it. I think he's tired of trying to frame the debate on the terms of this administration. He, no doubt, would welcome the opportunity to defend his statements and to point out precisely what he thinks of Rupert Murdoch's organizations. I would be very surprised to find out that he didn't know exactly what kind of a paper The Australian was in the first place.
posted by shmegegge at 1:56 AM on November 22, 2005


I'm a tad confused, why did wilful ask about Terrell Owens in the first place, he doesn't appear to be mentioned till wilful mentions him. (NB: he appears to be some sort of American football player)
posted by biffa at 2:22 AM on November 22, 2005


Doesn't seem to me that he was referring to Owen's always-apropos poem but rather to the original saying from Horace, which at the time of the first world war was popular, well-known - and taken at face value. I think that's how Vonnegut is also using it.

So sorry, I don't think anyone missed the point except notmtwain.
posted by thparkth at 2:42 AM on November 22, 2005


Spot on, greycap.

Anyone that has read Vonnegut and followed him at all knows that he's surely not one to actually endorse the "sweet and proper"-ness of a war.

This phrase "dulce et decorum..." is one that carries with it the mingled agony and ecstasy of war. It had gained, in its usage, the gravity of having served not only the avid hawk but the avid dove. You can be sure that Vonnegut is sensitive to this depth and texture.

Recognizing that beautiful young men and women and children are ripped apart in conflagrations promulgated on the nationalistic use of the phrase, Vonnegut can use it as a sarcastic jibe at nationalism.

Recognizing, too, that those same men and women and children are often motivated to be somehow archetypally larger than themselves, and selfless, in the service of a perceived greater good, Vonnegut can use the phrase simultaneously as a sad, bittersweet homage to the sentiment that carries to make that ultimate sacrifice.

There is also a sense of sad resignation to the phrase, knowing that wars will go on and on, there will always be some nationalistic fervor, some perceived affront to national pride or whatever, that will drive people to go slaughter each other. The classic dictum thus reflects the disappointing and inescapable reality of human nature, that we would ever and always be tempted to view as sweet and proper what is committed in great violence.

Or, maybe Kurt's just getting senile.
posted by darkstar at 3:16 AM on November 22, 2005


*"carries ONE to make that ultimate sacrifice."
posted by darkstar at 3:17 AM on November 22, 2005


For too long, people have decided that anything against their society's rules is wrong. WRONG, I tell you! Anyway, the point is: Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and the suicide bombers who perform the act in the name of Allah are merely asserting their beliefs in a more aggressive way, perhaps tired of being ignored.

But ask yourself- if it was for the right cause, something you truly believed in, would you be a terrorist? I know I would. But perhaps that's just me....
posted by malusmoriendumest at 4:20 AM on November 22, 2005


Damn, now Bill Maher's show is going to get canceled.
posted by any major dude at 4:53 AM on November 22, 2005


Having read many of Vonnegut's books (which everyone really should, starting, say with Cat's Cradle or Mother Night) I have to think that he knew exactly what he was saying and what kind of reaction he would get.

This isn't exactly the kind of guy who backs down from anything, in particular the war-loving hard right.

And any guy who fought both in the Battle of the Bulge as well as watching Dresden burn gets plenty of leeway to say whatever he wants on war and humanity in my book.

BTW... His daughter Edith Vonnegut, an artist, has also had her work published in a book entitled Domestic Goddesses. Edith was once married to Geraldo Rivera. Whaaaa?
posted by AspectRatio at 5:46 AM on November 22, 2005


But ask yourself- if it was for the right cause, something you truly believed in, would you be a terrorist? I know I would.

No thanks, there's no "right cause" because there is absolutely nothing I would ever be able to believe in so fanatically as to go and kill people for it and less kill myself in the process too. And no, I wouldn't sign up to go fight in a war either. Guess I'm not brave enough! Oh my gosh, I must have no self respect!
posted by funambulist at 5:51 AM on November 22, 2005


This is what happens when you interview a writer. The really good ones try to look at the world through the eyes of others, in order to gain a better understanding, and then pass that understanding on to everyone else. The really, really good ones don't give a fuck about everyone; they can't be bothered couching their words for the masses.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 6:05 AM on November 22, 2005


“I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month. “It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one and another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind. “Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ day is not. “So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things. “What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance. “And all music is.”

—Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, 1973

Thparkth, I'm sure you're right-- that millions of people ook that phrase at face value during the war. On the other hand, to believe that Vonnegut was uttering that phrase at face value requires true ignorance of all his work. Bravo!
posted by notmtwain at 6:45 AM on November 22, 2005


This is slightly off topic, but where did the "Suicide Bombers Are Brave" thing come from? Suicide doesn't make you brave. When a teen slashes his wrists while listening to depressing music, is he a hero? When someone jumps off of the Golden Gate bridge, is he to be admired for his courage? Killing yourself can be brave, but it isn't always. Sometimes it's merely a sign that you don't value life enough to hold on to it.
posted by unreason at 6:51 AM on November 22, 2005


Well, if you really don't want to be committing suicide, but do it for something you believe, then that's a little different. But Vonnegut pretty much implies that the cause is somewhat noble.
posted by transona5 at 7:18 AM on November 22, 2005


Well, if you really don't want to be committing suicide, but do it for something you believe, then that's a little different.

True. But it is diffcult to determine how much the suicide bombers valued their lives. If you look, for example, at many of the Palestinian suicide bombers, they often had little to live for.
posted by unreason at 7:30 AM on November 22, 2005


But Vonnegut pretty much implies that the cause is somewhat noble.

That's the slant of the article transona, not what he said... Vonnegut said it was "sweet and honourable" to die for what you believe in. is the quote from the article. He didn't say that suicide bombing is noble, but that dying for something you believe in is a good way to go.

That, as opposed to dying in a war you don't want to fight, placed there by leaders who don't know or care what suffering it brings to you or others. Say, for example, watching the firebombing of a city such as Dresden, making it a death inferno for thousands and thousands of civilians who had no escape. Or napalming villages in Vietnam, or nuking Japan...

This guy, and thousands like him, lived throughout the war not wanting to die because they didn't believe in what was being done. To have that fear and doubt lifted, and to die for something you think is right, that pretty much takes the fear out of the picture.

Plus, how different on an attrocity scale is a suicide bomber versus a nuclear bomb, firebombing, or torture until death. Same game, different players.
posted by AspectRatio at 7:33 AM on November 22, 2005


greycap,

I haven't read the Horace poem in question, but I took a course on Horace and Catullus last year, and I'm pretty confident that Horace meant it. He's pretty nationalistic, especially the fourth book of the Odes.
posted by dd42 at 7:34 AM on November 22, 2005


"Sweet and honorable." I can hear the caustic venom through the Internet. A fatalistic writer, who has wanted to die for decades, utters words dripping with bitter irony. Clownish hack butchers them. Film at 11.
posted by solistrato at 7:44 AM on November 22, 2005


I'm a tad confused, why did wilful ask about Terrell Owens in the first place, he doesn't appear to be mentioned till wilful mentions him.

Um, it's in the last sentence of the post. Apparently it's not a parochial reference because we're all a) American and b) American Football fans here. (Or are xmutex and agropyron making a joke I don't get?)

Anyway, this must be a pathetic, deliberate smearing of Vonnegut for his anti-war views, mustn't it? I refuse to believe that the hack wouldn't get the reference to what must be one of the most famous poems in the English language (er, Latin and English languages), and if he somehow did, that his editor wouldn't haul him up for failing to spot it. A quick skim of the Australian's site suggests they have an editorial policy of right-wing screeching, at least.

But, yeah, Vonnegut will surely be chuckling about this, if he cares at all.
posted by jack_mo at 8:04 AM on November 22, 2005


it is diffcult to determine how much the suicide bombers valued their lives.

I think, unreason, that the argument goes that it requires some bravery not just to kill oneself, but to do so in tense circumstances-- commandeering a plane and deliberately crashing it into a building, going into a crowded area and waiting for the right moment to blow oneself up.

Personally, I think that the act is so amoral and repellent that a precise determination of whether or not it requires bravery is not really necessary.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:08 AM on November 22, 2005


Surprise surprise: the absolute evil of terrorists is a sacred cow for our dumbass little culture, same as the intrinisically noble and honorable soldier (well, your country's soldiers, anyway). Although the misrepresentation in the newspaper's presentation is blatant and quite obviously driven by an agenda, I doubt much that the kind of person who will get really incensed by this would find his actual statements any less outrageous. That's the nature of sacred cows.

I agree with those who say Vonnegut is hopefully past worrying too much about whatever tawdry little controversy this non-event might spawn.
posted by nanojath at 8:15 AM on November 22, 2005


The last bit of the FPP looks munged to me -- maybe some of you are seeing the T.O. reference, but I can't see it. I think this was meant to be a reference to the British poet Wilfred Owen.
posted by maudlin at 8:54 AM on November 22, 2005


IIRC "Pro Patria" was the inscription on the ribbon attached to the memorial wreath tossed into the sea to honor the 100 Martyrs to Democracy in Cat's Cradle. The ambassador uses the phrase in an incredibly touching speech which futher contexualized Vonnegut's use of the phrase in this interview.

Vonnegut has a history of using the phrase and is quite aware of its connotation. That his comments can be taken out of context by so many speaks volumes. Of course, I cannot discount the idea he used it purposely here to bait the Murdoch empire and its legion of followers.
posted by Fezboy! at 9:28 AM on November 22, 2005


Don't think the post was "munged" but I don't know why you can't see the bit about Owens. I use Firefox.

At any rate, I was speculating that newspapers and blogs would pick up on the Australian story that was Farked and launch on the "sweet and honorable" quote. At this point, Google News has only picked up 5 stories and blogs about the interview, but it could take a few days to percolate through the system. There were more than 15,000 views of the story on Fark and 541 posts, which is far above average, so there is obviously a lot of potential interest in the story.

Sorry the reference about Terrell Owens wasn't clearer. He is a star American football player, who has been fired for supposedly making remarks critical of others on his team and becoming involved in a fight with a former teammate. The are considered unforgiveably unsportsmanlike here in America and grounds for dismissal, while drug arrests and other actual crimes (like the physical assault on fans last year by basketball players) are forgiveable. News about Owens were picked up by thousands of news sources outside the city where he plays and most comments seem to be supportive of his banishment from the league.

The mishandling of Vonnegut's interview and the comments I saw on Fark reminded me of the comments I read about Owens. When I finally found Owen's real interview, it seemed obvious he was baited and his comments were blown out of proportion (but that's an argument for a different blog.) Also, the former teammate he reportedly fought said the fight was no big deal. Owens has appealed his suspension and a decision is expected tomorrow.

While Vonnegut can't be fired, the posts on Fark and in the blogs make it clear that many people are willing to change their opinions of Vonnegut based on this one interview. I would not be surprised if there were a renewed call to ban his books.

I was trying to head the bad guys off at the pass. It's probably a futile attempt, but so it goes.
posted by notmtwain at 10:23 AM on November 22, 2005


Well, I'm starting to see Vonnegut's "Why the fuck bother with you people?" attitude a bit more clearly.
dulce et decorum? What does that mean? You must be stupid because I don't understand you.
Typical.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:16 PM on November 22, 2005


Metafilter - Don't get me wrong, I don't mind how people look and I often give money to beggars on the subway.
posted by lowest.common.denominator at 12:16 PM on November 22, 2005


Ok then, Vonnegut is a misunderstood genius, but when George Galloway says the same thing he's just a wanker.

Not fair...
posted by funambulist at 1:11 PM on November 22, 2005


George Galloway's a politician....I mean really.

Columnist Mike Royko used to criticise City Alderman out here in Chicago all the time. One of them, Dave Orr, was rumored to be a pretty square shooter. Orr's mom called Royko about it. She said: "Not all the Chicago Aldermen are corrupt. My son is an alderman and he's not corrupt."
Royko said: "I've heard that. Ok. Even if that's true, what kind of mother raises her child to be an Alderman?"

Writers get cut more slack.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:36 PM on November 22, 2005


/slight derail

dd42 - you are quite right to pick me up on my assertion about Horace's intention, which is just that and no more. My own view is that Horace is at least being double-edged, if not cynical, in the poem from which "dulce et decorum est" comes. It's in Odes III and the full verse reads:

It is sweet and proper to die for one's country
and death pursues even the man who flees
nor spares the hamstrings or cowardly
backs of battle-shy youths.

This is partly a dig at himself - he dropped his shield and ran away from the Battle of Philippi during the civil wars (which he references in another of the Odes), so hardly lived up to the first line of the verse - but can also be read as a sarcastic criticism of this attitude more generally. To my eye the poem is excessively hyperbolic, and it's function as a "how to" guide for Augustan youth is far removed from a lot of Horace's other work. You're right that some of Horace's work is patriotic and heavily linked to the Augustan regime - but then his patron Maecenas was linked to Augustus, he'd fought on the other side (for Brutus) at Philippi and relied on producing at least some favourable, pro-Augustan works for his living. The attitudes in this and others of the Odes are certainly at odds with his focus in other works on wine, women and song. However, I think there are many who would argue with this interpretation... (maybe I should think of a separate FPP at some point!)

/pushes post back onto rails

thanks notmtwain for the original post
posted by greycap at 1:40 PM on November 22, 2005


Lileks misses the reference

Then again, I wasn't expecting him to do otherwise. He drank the LGF koolaid a long time ago.
posted by cosmicbandito at 1:56 PM on November 22, 2005


"With The Australian it's ALWAYS open season in intellectuals."

Wanna tike et outsoyd, Brewce?
posted by muppetboy at 2:44 PM on November 22, 2005


Just to offset the idea that the entire Australian media apparatus is an irredeemable Murdoch swill, here is an mp3 featuring Vonnegut talking to a real interviewer.
posted by flabdablet at 8:05 PM on November 22, 2005


Lileks misses the reference

I am not surprised.
posted by homunculus at 10:46 PM on November 22, 2005


Lileks not only misses the reference, he blows the Princess Bride quote at the end. "Wise giant"? What movie was he smoking?
posted by GhostintheMachine at 4:43 AM on November 23, 2005


Backtracking to my comment yesterday- it was intended as an insight into the ideas behind the actions, and not as some kind of macho-poke at anyone who has the courage to be a pacifist. However, I wouldn't mind being answered. Does anyone else out there think that if they had an ideal, that they truly believed in, they'd do anything for? It can't be that we're all too wrapped up in our own taboos to say that we'd "never, never, never!" do such an awful nasty thing.

*raises flaming shield to full power*
posted by malusmoriendumest at 7:22 AM on November 23, 2005


malusmoriendumest, out of curiosity, can you maybe conceive that not wanting to kill oneself and others for whatever ideal may have less to do with taboos and more with your basic self-preservation instinct and revulsion for violence? no? does that really sound so strange to you?
posted by funambulist at 7:33 AM on November 23, 2005


It isn't about suicide bombing- it's about terrorism in general. Blah.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 9:08 AM on November 23, 2005


Incidentally, revulsion for violence = society-created taboo.

So there. :D
posted by malusmoriendumest at 9:09 AM on November 23, 2005


I don't know, I think of taboos like things you'd like to do and would get a thrill out of doing if they weren't looked down on, like, um, going around naked or sleeping with your sister (nah only kidding about that one... but at least if two siblings had that inclination it'd be something they'd enjoy. Regardless what you or I may think about it).

Of course, there's people for whom violence is a thrill and something to enjoy. I'm not that kind of person, is all. So I don't see the taboo. In fact I kind of see the opposite, since there are several forms of violence that are celebrated and considered heroic. Like, war. Terrorism is on an even further level of pathetic waste of human energy. It's not just awful and immoral and anything you'd like to call it, it's also worthless, dumb, ineffective, counterproductive, there's nothing revolutionary in it. Every terrorist organisation has always ended up hurting 'their' so-called cause, even when they actually had one rather than using it as excuse.

So it's a case of both an aversion to violence, and aversion to any sort of mighty heroic causes or ideals that would push people to that level. It could be saving starving African children, and I'd still find it not worth using that kind of method.

I don't believe I'm saying anything earth shattering original, really...
posted by funambulist at 10:02 AM on November 23, 2005


"Does anyone else out there think that if they had an ideal, that they truly believed in, they'd do anything for?"
- posted by malusmoriendumest


I’m directly opposite funambulist, violence is thrilling to me and I do enjoy it. I pursue it in fact (contact sports, martial arts, etc). I’ve been in many fights (as an adult as well). That part has stopped as I’ve gained wisdom and discipline.
I think it is for that reason that I’m so guarded about doing violence. I will take insults, humiliation, even some hits to avoid fighting if I must.
So funambuilst and I ultimately agree. Violence is generally counterproductive and usually unnecessary.
As it is, because I resist it on principle, I also am prone to do it on principle. If I saw someone raping a woman, I would stop him by whatever means necessary. That doesn’t dictate or condone overkill, or vigilante justice. I’d hold him for the cops.
In the same vein, there are things I would do to achieve objectives I see as supporting a principle. Guerilla warfare is just one of many means. If blowing myself up meant I took out a group of high ranking officials and furthered the goal of lifting the yoke of oppression, so be it.
I can see no circumstances however under which I would purposefully, intentionally harm an innocent or non-combatant. Or torture, even an enemy. None.

Principles must be more than something espoused. Great scene in Orwell’s 1984 - when I knew all was lost - Winston says he would do anything to destroy Big Brother including throwing acid in a child’s face.
I never would. The means do not justify the ends. Especially when it comes to people, who are ends in themselves.
It’s a shame it took me so long to figure that out. But the hardest lessons are the most ingrained.
For the most part, resorting to violence from a state of calm signifies either desperation or a lack of imagination. Rage is rage. Entice your enemy to attack where or how you want and he’s lost half the battle. I’ve been on the shit end of that stick. No fun.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:36 PM on November 23, 2005


I’m directly opposite funambulist, violence is thrilling to me and I do enjoy it. I pursue it in fact (contact sports, martial arts, etc).

Well I didn't mean that with "aversion to violence", contact sports and martial arts are nowhere in the same category with war or terrorism, or even violence itself really...
posted by funambulist at 5:10 AM on November 24, 2005


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