Dear Abbie: A Celebration of the Words of Abbie Hoffman

Well, it turns out that Abbie Hoffman was a very good writer.

This is Kurt Vonnegut.

If he had been a crude writer, it would not have mattered much. Because he was saying things that had not been heard for a long time and people were dying for somebody to say. I mean they were on the memorable order of “I regret that I have only one life to give to my country” or like Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The Gettysburg Address was eloquent, gorgeously written, but if it had been crudely written it still would have been terribly exciting for the attitudes expressed, the decency, the honor of the thing. And I myself have found that speaking to University audiences, is they go almost crazy with gratitude when you are candid with them and tell them something they already know that is supposed to go unspoken and of course Abbie did that and told the truth: that our government was behaving in a criminal way. He was a whistle blower.

Young people may think now of Abbie Hoffman and myself belonging to the same generation. I was in fact, and am, a member of his father’s generation, and he was the age of my children. I did not know that he knew me until we met on the street one day and he greeted me by name and stopped me and wanted to talk. During the Vietnam War as a personality I was not very much in evidence, it was all simply my books that circulated. And I went to some really huge rallies, in Washington mainly, but was just part of the crowd, and was not a speaker. But Abbie recognized me as a kindred spirit and I was certainly much honored, and terribly pleased, as he was a celebrity and I was not. I was utterly in sympathy with his clowning, it seemed to me that it was the only way to respond to brutality with any effectiveness. I know during the Second World War it was said, which was not true, that the one thing a dictator, a tyrant, cannot stand is humor, and that dictators could be defeated by humor. It is simply is not true, as dictators usually squash humorists.

And Abbie, in fact, was defeated. He was not a success in even slowing down the Vietnam War. After that I said that every artist of any importance in this country was finally opposed to the war as movie stars, painters, singers, everybody. And it was sort of a laser beam. We all faced in the same direction, the way that light is rationalized in a laser beam is everything headed in one direction and of course a laser beam can make holes in steel sometimes. And the effect of all artists facing in one direction opposing the Vietnam War, the power of that beam turned out to be that of a lemon meringue pie three feet in diameter dropped from a step ladder four foot high, because we had no effect. And I think that humor is powerless except to make us proud of human beings even in times of great shame.