Rivers of Babylon
By Kurt Vonnegut
Remarks delivered by Kurt Vonnegut at St. Marks on the Bowery on the
night of September Eleventh, 2002
My text for tonight is from the Gospel of Matthew:
"Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children
There has so far been only one nation crazy enough to detonate atomic
weapons in the midst of civilian populations, turning unarmed men, women
and children into radioactive soot and bonemeal.
Let us pray in this holy space: "Dear God, please don't ever let
there be another nation like that." Amen.
The world will little note nor long remember what we say here. This is
because we are powerless. Peace has no representatives in Washington DC.
Why not? Peace is not entertaining. Restraint is not entertaining.
What is entertaining? Take it from this old hack writer. Revenge, like
sex, is terrifically entertaining. "Closure. Gimme Closure."
George W. Bush, with his no-frills education, may believe that God or
Moses, or some other sacred advisor, gave us this as a commandment: "An
eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
It was in fact the Babylonian king Hammurabi who said it first. And he
wasn't urging his own people to be more ferocious, more bloodthirsty.
He was trying to make them less so. He was saying, in effect, that if
you must seek revenge, you are entitled to this much of it, and not one
bit more. Otherwise, you will create more people entitled to closure,
until everybody in Babylonia is going to be seeking closure, and our once
great country will go down the toilet of history.
Which it did.
And I thank you for your attention.