Vonnegut talks about Terrorists - Updated
Kurt Vonnegut, prominent author and anti-war commentator, has some rather inflammatory comments about terrorists...Or does he?
Upon reading this post at Espella Humanzee, I got to thinking about some of the knee jerk opposition to statements like Vonnegut's: Here's an example from E.H.
"He praised terrorists as "very brave people". I suppose he supports the murder of innocent men, women, and children, too?
I cannot wait for the morally bankrupt sixties generation and their "anti-heros" to pass away into the nothingness that spawned them.
While Vonnegut does add some anti-American, anti-Capitalist statements, I'm more interested in only his statements about the terrorists themselves, and not about the terrorists' reaction to the US, or their supposed purpose. For instance,
"I regard them as very brave people, yes."
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."
"They are dying for their own self-respect,"
I don't think those comments all by themselves signify support of terrorists...Think of it this way: Adolf Hitler, for as terrible as he was...He really was a great leader. He had a natural talent for stirring up excitement and passion in large crowds. That doesn't mean I support, admire, or condone anything about him, it's a statement of facts.
Any open, intellectually honest discussion must necessarily include a discussion of objective traits, and an honest evaluation. That said, however, I don't think Vonnegut is completely neutral, given his record of strong anti-bush, anti-war. Even still though, even in condemning terrorism, it's okay to recognize and understand some of the things Vonnegut talks about, maybe the anticipation of death, the "high"...Stuff like that...With the caveat that it cannot be allowed to alter the important conclusions of, "these people must not be allowed to do these things". It's all about recognizing what's important and what isn't, and separating what is significant from what is not.
The other parallel I can think of is using Nazi medical knowledge captured after liberating the death camps where these horrible experiments were performed. A good civilization would never perform those experiments, and, having knowledge of them, would move heaven, earth and hell to stop them...But after all efforts have been made, upon discovery of the completed work...There should be no reason not to integrate the knowledge into modern science. The simple mind believes that the method of collection dictates the use, but in reality, the method of collection and the data itself are unrelated.
Back to Vonnegut and objective characteristics of terrorists, there are three questions, "what motivates them?", "what do they do?", and "what should we do about them?". The first question is irrelevant to the other two, which are actionable.
Additionally, Vonnegut's statement, "They are dying for their own self-respect," I believe is true, but not for the reasons he cites. Ultimately all people are driven by a need to feel important, or respected. This is always variable depending on that person's hierarchy of values. For the suicide bomber, they're out to define themselves as dying for a cause they believe in. It doesn't matter if the cause is good, bad, or indifferent... The important thing to them is they believe it is, and derive their worth, self-respect and mission from it. Where I disagree with Vonnegut is in his assertion that it has been the USA corporations that have deprived these people of their self-respect. Nobody can take away another person's self respect without the consent of that person.
Update 11/21 10:46: I want to add comments and discussion directly to the original to get more exposure, because there is more to understand.
Comment from Espella Humanzee
I don't understand how blowing up an innocent Iraqi child into dozens of bloody pieces can be termed a brave act.
I can't comprehend how any human being can derive their self respect by exploding a bomb in the midst of joyous wedding party.
I won't explain away the act of beheading a young man as he is bound and screaming for his life.
Vonnegut uses methods and madness of the left to excuse barbaric inhuman behavior. These monsters don't need to be explained or understood. They need to be stopped.
Bravery and honor should not be used interchangeably. Usually they are used together, but when you stop and think about it, they are fundamentally different concepts. Blowing up a busload of children is evil, barbaric, and sadistic. I think "brave" would need more examination. The use of language is a delicate art, really. I think when we throw around words too much, they lose their real meaning. Such as the left calling everything they disagree with "hate speech". It has become so that the word "hate" has lost all real meaning. Similarly, bravery and honor are used together so often and so completely that when one is used, the other is assumed to be implied. Such is not always the case.
Keep in mind, I'm not "explaining away" or supporting Vonnegut or any of the left's defenses of terrorism, merely using them as a springboard for discussion on the use of language and precise definitions. Even when those definitions have connotations usually reserved for contradictory ideas.
One definition of bravery is, "a quality of spirit that enables you to face danger of pain without showing fear."
By a strict definition, could the bombers be exhibiting bravery by facing death without fear? On a personal level (personal to the individual bomber), I think that could be an accurate descriptor. Does this imply honor or any form of goodness? Most certainly not. Perhaps as a general strategy (as applied to a group, the terrorists), bravery would have no application at all. As we know, the majority of the actual suicide bombers are young, naive recruits who are invigorated by rhetoric and indoctrination, who then show up at a camp and say, "I want to die for the glory of Allah." The USE of these young men has no shred of bravery, but does that necessarily mean bravery cannot be exhibited on an individual level?
On self respect, are not these same young men taught that it is respectful to die killing infidels? Few humans will act voluntarily in a manner inconsistent with their value systems, from which they decide what they feel is good and respectful and what is not. The fact that these people have horribly wrong, twisted, purely evil views, does not negate the fact that they feel what they are doing is good.
The important difference in analysis is in the belief that not all value systems are of equal value. Those who use this same language to excuse immoral behavior (or more accurately to demonize those who they mutually disagree with) believe that there is no such thing as good and evil, or that the feelings they are explaining are justified because of actions taken against the group in question. Whereas a different world view states that it even with an understanding of evil behavior, this behavior is still evil, and to come to the conclusion, "we are right and they are wrong", or more generally, "This behavior is evil and other behavior is good in and of itself, independent of the motivations behind it".
Update 2 11/21 11:13:
I also don't believe the goals of understanding and eradication are mutually exclusive. They may not be co-dependant, but that doesn't mean some of the characteristics can't be spoken of accurately. No praise is necessary, but I believe accuracy and clarity in describing both actions, and right/wrong is absolutely essential. Any time fact/truth has to be ignored to avoid weaking a popular position, the validity of the position needs to be evaluated, and/or the conclusions drawn from the facts need to be re-examined. Is that not the very concept we try to argue to liberals when they ignore things like the WMDs that have been found in Iraq, or that the senate voted to authorize war?
I'm not saying the conclusions need to change, I'm just saying that accurate description of motivations of terrorists does not affect the validity of the need to eliminate and/or restrain their ability to make the rest of our lives' miserable.
Update 3 11/21 11:44:
An exactly accurate description of something must necessarily agree with a perfect moral judgement. It does everyone a disservice to dismiss all discussion based on a pre-existing moral conclusion or vice versa. This is not to say the pre-existing conclusion is wrong, or that discussion can or should alter the conclusion, but what's wrong with understanding the world? My whole point is that it is possible to simultaneously make a moral judgement and an intellectual evaluation, and have both be 100% valid independent of one another.
The reason this doesn't happen much is because nobody on earth has a perfect knowledge of how to accurately evaluate all things, therefore percieved descrepencies in an objective evaluation vs a moral judgement must necessarily come from an incomplete understanding of one or the other. Or both.