Transcript of Hugh Vandivier’s Grand Opening Speech

As most of you probably already know, Saturday, January 29, 2011 marked the official opening of the KVML. We had a number of great speakers at that event, including Hugh Vandivier of the Arts Council of Indianapolis. Hugh has graciously provided us with a transcript of his speech, and we thought we’d post it to the blog so those of you who were unable to attend the opening could enjoy his comments as well. Thanks, Hugh!

Thank you, Julia Whitehead, for asking me to speak to you today. I’m deeply honored.

Greetings to the assembled congregation of the First United Bokonon Church of Indianapolis.

This Grand Opening establishes the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in his hometown of Indianapolis. And I think we all need to get over any sheepish defensiveness concerning its right to be established here. In November, The New York Times noted — in what I considered a jab at our fair city — ”some readers may be surprised that his memorial library is opening in his hometown, Indianapolis, and not on the East Coast, where he lived for most of his life.”

Julia, I think our retort to the Gray Lady and to Cape Cod and Ithaca and Schenectady and Manhattan should be just one word. Ironically, it’s the same one word commander Anthony McAuliffe said to the Nazis asking him to surrender during the Battle of the Bulge:

I, like many of you here, share a deep, abiding love and appreciation for Kurt Vonngut, Jr. I think novelist Jay McInerney’s says it best: Kurt Vonnegut “is a satirist with a heart, a moralist with a whoopee cushion, a cynic who wants to believe.”

We Hoosiers don’t merely love Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. because he’s from here. I suspect that we really love him because he has deviated from that usual Midwestern politeness and reserve that most of us exhibit. While we graciously avoid confrontation, often at the expense of our dignity or deep-held beliefs, our native son did not.
I’m sure he started out like us: Midwestern and modest and hard working. But I can’t escape an armchair psychiatrist’s explanation of those fateful few days of February 1945, because…

If you were an American and descendent of German immigrants fighting a war against Germany and taken prisoner by Germans and you happened to survive a devastating firebombing by Americans and Brits engaged in a fight against evil that nevertheless so callously and brutally destroyed the buildings and residents of Dresden, a leading European center of disciplines you held dear: art, classical music, culture, and science. And further, you survived by taking shelter in a slaughterhouse where they butcher animals. And though you had not shot and killed one German — who if you did shoot one may even have been your long-lost relation — you were forced by Germans to help bury dead German soldiers, citizens, and bystanders in the aftermath. Well, I think in this case, you, too, might tend to find the human condition in the 20th Century darkly ironic.

When I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Vonnegut, it was the day before the first anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. And as I was writing up the interview, I wasn’t so nervous that Indianapolis Monthly was about to publish his utterance of the most notorious of expletives for probably the first and only time in the publication’s history. No, at the time I was more apprehensive about his comment that “what the crooks on Wall Street have done to us has been far more destructive” than 9/11.

Deep down Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. loved humanity, and he was profoundly disappointed in our failures and shortsightedness. He wanted the human race to aspire and achieve better goals.

So, the lasting legacy that we celebrate by proudly and audaciously opening this Library in our nice, polite little city that he loved so much is a reminder to us all to hold the human species to a higher standard, confront hypocrisy in an age often devoid of irony, live decently, and laugh, for God’s sake laugh!

Thank you.

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