There is no hope in war
Kurt Vonnegut defends his son's refusal to fight in Vietnam
For as long as there have been wars, there have been conscientious objectors—people who refuse to fight in the military on principle—and the earliest on record dates back to the year 295, when Maximilian of Tebessa declined to enlist in the Roman Army. He was swiftly beheaded. Between the years 1965 and 1970, approximately 160,000 people attempted to abstain from military service in relation to the Vietnam War, including, in 1967, Mark Vonnegut, son of celebrated novelist Kurt Vonnegut. As Mark attempted to remove himself from proceedings through the standard channels, his father decided to strengthen Mark’s chances by writing to the Draft Board.
November 28, 1967
To Draft Board #1,
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 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 descendents 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 no hope in that.
There’s no hope in war.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Letter originally from Kurt Vonnegut: Letters by Kurt Vonnegut, edited by Dan Wakefield, copyright © 2012 by The Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Trust. Used by permission of Wylie Agency and Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.