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I've been reading a bit more lately and have recently finished two of Kurt Vonnegut's books:  Slaughterhouse Five and Mother Night.

Before proceeding, I'd like to make one thing perfectly clear:  I, in no way, am comparing anyone in a US political party to being a Nazi.  The real Nazis murdered millions of people and the current wannabes go way beyond anything that one usually hears in the media (Michael Savage might come close).  But people do have a responsibility for the words that they use and for the hate that they incite, even if they are merely "entertainers" making money.  More below the fold.  Cross posted at my personal blog.

I've just finished my 5'th Vonnegut book; the ones I have read previously are Man Without a Country, Breakfast of Champions, Monkey House and Slaughterhouse Five.  I just finished Mother Night.

This was an early book of his and not the most famous.  But I enjoyed it the most.  

The protagonist is Howard Campbell Jr. who was an American who did propaganda for the Nazis in Germany during World War II but, on the sly, broadcast instructions to ally spies.  He did this by giving exactly timed coughs, throat clears and the like.

Basically, Campbell didn't truly believe the propaganda that he was spreading (e. g. absurd anti-Semitic claims) but he did it because he was good at it and it pleased the people he was with at the time.  Yes, he did stick with it for the double agent reasons, but he made an effort to be good at his "work" and the effort went well beyond just keeping a good cover.

In the story, you find him sympathizing with those who hate him for his propaganda and find him being aided by, that's right, American fascists!

I won't tell the rest of the story; it is a quick read.

I can say that this is the second book of his that has been shaped by Vonnegut's real life experience of being a Prisoner of War in Germany and surviving the allied firebombing of Dresden (contemporary historians estimate between 25,000 and 50,000 were killed; the estimate was much higher when Vonnegut's books were written).

I will share one very interesting quote.  Campbell says this when he observes one of the highly educated American fascists acting in an irrational manner:

I have never seen a more sublime demonstration of the totalitarian mind, a mind which might be likened unto a system of gears whose teeth have been filed off at random.  Such a snaggle-toothed thought machine, driven by standard or even a substandard libido, whirls with the jerky, noisy, guady pointlessness of a cuckoo clock in Hell.

The boos G-man concluded wrongly that there were no teeth on the gears in the mind of Jones (the fascist).  "You're completely crazy", he said.

Jones wasn't completely crazy.  The dismaying thing about the classic totalitarian mind is that any given gear, though mutilated, will have at its circumference unbroken sequences of teeth that are immaculately maintained, that are exquisitely machined.

Hence the cuckoo clock in Hell-keeping perfect time for eight minute and thirty three seconds, jumping ahead fourteen minutes, keeping perfect time for two hours and one second, then jumping ahead a year.

The missing teeth, of course, are simple, obvious truths, truths available and comprehensible even to ten year olds, in most cases.  

The willful filing off of gear teeth, the willful doing without certain obvious pieces of information [...]

That is how the fascists are.  The Campbell character goes on to say that everyone is missing some gear teeth and most people get a tooth or two ground off by life but never deliberately grind them off themselves.

The other thing that Campbell says is that he views the true believers as people who maybe belong in an insane asylum but that people like him (those who went along, knowing that they were saying false and hateful stuff) were those who really deserved punishment.

I wonder if those who spread hateful, inflammatory rhetoric today will heed this moral?

Update: theran posted a clip from the film Mother Night:

Originally posted to onanyes on Sun Jul 05, 2009 at 05:14 PM PDT.

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