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Paperback Writer

Fifteen years ago tonight, I sat in the number two gun mount of the USS John W. Thomason off the coast of Vietnam with a half dozen other guys, waiting for a fire support mission and reading Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. I hoped that in the next liberty port I could find someone with a small red and gray thermos containing Ice-Nine…not to help the Marines ashore get out of the mud but to freeze the Pacific so we could walk back to California where we belonged.


Louis L’Amour and Kurt Vonnegut were the two most popular authors on my ship. Ten thousand miles from home, it was a tremendous source of inspiration to feel that people like Kurt Vonnegut and Muhammad Ali were in our corner. The questions many of us had begun to ask about our role in the war were due in part to our guest of honor this evening.


Kurt Vonnegut was one of a handful of writers who helped to inspire an entire generation of youth to break out of the intellectual confines of the Cold War era. Today we are bombarded with propaganda to the effect that the Sixties never happened, that there is no lasting legacy of the anti-war movement and the civil rights movement, most certainly that there is no lasting legacy of the literature of that time. My experience traveling around the country proves to me that this is utter nonsense. I submit to you that before the 1980s are over it will be clear that the 1960s aren’t over either.



From my introduction of Kurt Vonnegut at the  “Writers and the Labor Movement” banquet, Chicago / 1981 

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