Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

114. When I Felt the Bullet Enter My Heart

So I once again mounted the spiral staircase in my tower; once again arrived at the uppermost battlement of my castle; and once more looked out at my guests, my servants, my cliff, and my lukewarm sea.

The Hoenikkers were with me. We had locked “Papa’s” door, and had spread the word among the household staff that “Papa” was feeling much better.

Soldiers were now building a funeral pyre out by the hook. They did not know what the pyre was for.

There were many, many secrets that day.

Busy, busy, busy.

I supposed that the ceremonies might as well begin, and I told Frank to suggest to Ambassador Horlick Minton that he deliver his speech.

Ambassador Minton went to the seaward parapet with his memorial wreath still in its case. And he delivered an amazing speech in honor of the Hundred Martyrs to Democracy. He dignified the dead, their country, and the life that was over for them by saying the “Hundred Martyrs to Democracy” in island dialect. That fragment of dialect was graceful and easy on his lips.

The rest of his speech was in American English. He had a written speech with him—fustian and bombast, I imagine. But, when he found he was going to speak to so few, and to fellow Americans for the most part, he put the formal speech away.

A light sea wind ruffled his thinning hair. “I am about to do a very un-ambassadorial thing,” he declared. “I am about to tell you what I really feel.”

Perhaps Minton had inhaled too much acetone, or perhaps he had an inkling of what was about to happen to everybody but me. At any rate, it was a strikingly Bokononist speech he gave.

“We are gathered here, friends,” he said, “to honor lo Hoon-yera Mora-toorz tut Zamoo-cratz-ya, children dead, all dead, all murdered in war. It is customary on days like this to call such lost children men. I am unable to call them men for this simple reason: that in the same war in which lo Hoon-yera Mora-toorz tut Zamoo-cratz-ya died, my own son died.

“My soul insists that I mourn not a man but a child.

“I do not say that children at war do not die like men, if they have to die. To their everlasting honor and our everlasting shame they do die like men, thus making possible the manly jubilation of patriotic holidays.

“But they are murdered children all the same.

“And I propose to you that if we are to pay our sincere respects to the hundred lost children of San Lorenzo, that we might best spend the day despising what killed them; which is to say, the stupidity and viciousness of all mankind.

“Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns.

“I do not mean to be ungrateful for the fine, martial show we are about to see—and a thrilling show it really will be . . .”

He looked each of us in the eye, and then he commented very softly, throwing it away, “And hooray say I for thrilling shows.”

We had to strain our ears to hear what Minton said next.

“But if today is really in honor of a hundred children murdered in war,” he said, “is today a day for a thrilling show?

“The answer is yes, on one condition: that we, the celebrants, are working consciously and tirelessly to reduce the stupidity and viciousness of ourselves and of all mankind.”

He unsnapped the catches on his wreath case.

“See what I have brought?” he asked us.

He opened the case and showed us the scarlet lining and the golden wreath. The wreath was made of wire and artificial laurel leaves, and the whole was sprayed with radiator paint.

The wreath was spanned by a cream-colored silk ribbon on which was printed, “PRO PATRIA.”

Minton now recited a poem from Edgar Lee Masters’ the Spoon River Anthology, a poem that must have been incomprehensible to the San Lorenzans in the audience—and to H. Lowe Crosby and his Hazel, too, for that matter, and to Angela and Frank.

I was the first fruits of the battle of Missionary Ridge.
When I felt the bullet enter my heart
I wished I had staid at home and gone to jail
For stealing the hogs of Curl Trenary,
Instead of running away and joining the army.
Rather a thousand times the county jail
Than to lie under this marble figure with wings,
And this granite pedestal
Bearing the words, “Pro Patria.”
What do they mean, anyway?

“What do they mean, anyway?” echoed Ambassador Horlick Minton. “They mean, ‘For one’s country.’” And he threw away another line. “Any country at all,” he murmured.

“This wreath I bring is a gift from the people of one country to the people of another. Never mind which countries. Think of people . . .

“And children murdered in war.

“And any country at all.

“Think of peace.

“Think of brotherly love.

“Think of plenty.

“Think of what paradise, this world would be if men were kind and wise.

“As stupid and vicious as men are, this is a lovely day,” said Ambassador Horlick Minton. “I, in my own heart and as a representative of the peace-loving people of the United States of America, pity lo Hoon-yera Mora-toorz tut Za-moo-cratz-ya for being dead on this fine day.”

And he sailed the wreath off the parapet.

There was a hum in the air. The six planes of the San Lorenzan Air Force were coming, skimming my lukewarm sea. They were going to shoot the effigies of what H. Lowe Crosby had called “practically every enemy that freedom ever had.”

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