It’s fairly rare that the written word moves us to actual tears, but we’ve shed a few reading the very moving letter that Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaugherhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle, wrote to the Vietnam Draft Board about his son’s registration as a conscientious objector in 1967. Demonstrating the meaning of fatherly love, it details the reasons Vonnegut is proud of his son for making the choice to refuse to fight.

November 28, 1967

TO DRAFT BOARD #1, SELECTIVE SERVICE,

HYANNIS, MASS.

Gentlemen:

My son Mark Vonnegut is registered with you. He is now in the process of requesting classification as a conscientious objector. I thoroughly approve of what he is doing. It is in keeping with the way I have raised him. All his life he has learned hatred for killing from me.

I was a volunteer in the Second World War. I was an infantry scout, saw plenty of action, was finally captured and served about six months as a prisoner of war in Germany. I have a Purple Heart. I was honorably discharged. I am entitled, it seems to me, to pass on to my son my opinion of killing. I don’t even hunt or fish any more. I have some guns which I inherited, but they are covered with rust.

This attitude toward killing is a matter between my God and me. I do not participate much in organized religion. I have read the Bible a lot. I preach, after a fashion. I write books which express my disgust for people who find it easy and reasonable to kill.

We say grace at meals, taking turns. Every member of my large family has been called upon often to thank God for blessings which have been ours. What Mark is doing now is in the service of God, Whose Son was exceedingly un- warlike. There isn’t a grain of cowardice in this. Mark is a strong, courageous young man. What he is doing requires more guts than I ever had— and more decency.

My family has been in this country for five generations now. My ancestors came here to escape the militaristic madness and tyranny of Europe, and to gain the freedom to answer the dictates of their own consciences. They and their descendants have been good citizens and proud to be Americans. Mark is proud to be an American, and, in his father’s opinion, he is being an absolutely first- rate citizen now.

He will not hate.

He will not kill.

There’s hope in that. There’s no hope in war.

Yours truly,

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

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9780099582946This letter was taken from Kurt Vonnegut: Letters (Vintage).

 

 

Join the conversation! 17 Comments

  1. I started reading vonnegut some months ago, and am impressed both by his writing and what he writes about. The first thing I read was a description about a tennis match, and its amazing how good that piece was. I haven`t seen this letter before, so that was another wonderful piece from him. Thank you!

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  2. The letter to the school board that burned his books is funnier, but I think the humanity of Vonnegut comes out clearest when his family is involved.

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  3. How much I wish I could have met this man, but I feel blessed even just to have read his books. He truly did make the world a better place.

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  4. Mr. Vonnegut has always beeen a hero of mine. Peace belongs to everyone and is sane. War is the insane spill-over of malcontent in blackened hearts that damages everyone. Who needs it?

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  5. Simple yet beautifully written piece 👍

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  6. My absolute favorite author! Have you ever read Wampeters Foma and Granfalloons? This letter reminds me of some of the speeches he has in that collection of opinions. A great book if you ‘ve missed it.

    I often quote Vonnegut when I’m feeling “pooped and demoralized”. It seems to take the edge off. “So it goes” is another one I use often.

    Rest in peace Mr. Kilgore Trout.

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  7. He spoke at my college graduation in 1976, which is the reason I attended an otherwise deadly dull and empty ceremony. I appreciated his writing and thoughts immensely from reading his books before and after that speech and reading Mark’s autobiographical story of dealing with mental illness in alternative ways, which was published in the 1980s. Thanks for posting this.

    Sally

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  8. Reblogged this on readers+writers journal and commented:
    An amazing letter and a fascinating glimpse into the mind and writing of Kurt Vonnegut.

    Reply
  9. What a moving letter, full of compassion and emotion. The beautiful simplicity of Kurt Vonnegut’s message truly delivers the full impact of his intent: “He will not hate. He will not kill. There’s hope in that. There’s no hope in war.”

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  10. There is a Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis doing some great things: http://www.vonnegutlibrary.org

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  11. I think its time for me to pick up a Vonnegut book again.

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  12. Vonnegut can put into words what I can barely fathom. He is such and amazing writer and to this day gives so much perspective.

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  13. Awesome writer

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  14. Very nice! Kurt Vonnegut was a genius and could say more with a few well chosen words than some people could in an entire book.

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  15. I’ve heard so much about Vonnegut from Maria Popova, Tim Ferriss and others that I’m often amazed that I hadn’t heard of him sooner. I’m so glad to know of him now and to be in the process of enjoying his writings. Thank you for sharing this powerful letter.

    Reply

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