Kurt Vonnegut would have turned 100 today — his novels are relevant as ever The author — who died in 2007 at the age of 84 — wrote satirical novels that won him a cult-like following among young people in the 1960s. Vonnegut's novels communicated: "Hey, you're not alone."

Kurt Vonnegut would have turned 100 today — his war novels are relevant as ever

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Kurt Vonnegut was born a hundred years ago today. The late author wrote satirical and darkly humorous novels that appealed to the youth culture of the 1960s, and those books won him a cultlike following. But his work is still relevant today. Tom Vitale has the story.

TOM VITALE, BYLINE: In 1991, Kurt Vonnegut told me he was disappointed in America.

KURT VONNEGUT: I'm sorry that America isn't a greater success than it is because we're so wealthy and we've done so very little in comparison to what we might have done in creating an ideal society.

VITALE: Vonnegut wrote novels about the irrationality of governments and the senseless destruction of war. In 1987, he said he was determined to write about war without romanticizing it.

VONNEGUT: My own feeling is that civilization ended in World War I, and we're still trying to recover from that. Much of the blame is the malarkey that artists have created to glorify war - romantic pictures of battle and of the dead and men in uniform and all that. And I did not want to have that story told again.

CHARLES J SHIELDS: When I look at the faces of young people who are holding up signs protesting a Supreme Court decision or calling for reform or espousing a cause, I see Vonnegutians (ph).

VITALE: Charles J. Shields is author of the 2011 biography "And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life."

SHIELDS: What Vonnegut has to say to a young person now has the same effect as it did on young people who were facing the war in Vietnam, a government at the time that seemed indifferent to what the populace wanted. So as long as there are young people who care, Vonnegut will matter.

VITALE: Vonnegut's novels were informed by his experience in World War II, when he was a 22-year-old soldier captured by the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. That writing resonates today, says biographer Charles Shields.

SHIELDS: What's happening in Ukraine is very much like World War II. It's the same abject desire for conquest. It involves the same demeaning effect on humanity.

VITALE: Vonnegut's breakthrough to millions of readers came in 1963 with his fourth novel "Cat's Cradle," about a secret military experiment called Ice-nine that leads to the destruction of civilization. But his most striking anti-war sentiment came six years later and was quickly adapted by Hollywood.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE")

FRIEDRICH LEDEBUR: (As German Leader) This is Schlachthof Funf. Funf is English five. Schlacht is slaughter. Hof is house. Schlagthof Finf - Slaughterhouse Five - your house.

VITALE: "Slaughterhouse-Five" depicts the firebombing of Dresden by Allied warplanes in 1945. The city was reduced to rubble. More than 20,000 civilians were killed.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, speaking German).

VITALE: Like the novel's hero, Kurt Vonnegut was an American POW imprisoned in a Dresden slaughterhouse during the air raid. Afterwards, he was forced to remove decaying bodies from flooded basements around the city.

VONNEGUT: The destruction of Dresden was my first experience with really fantastic waste - you know, to burn down a habitable city and a beautiful one at that. So I was simply impressed by the wastefulness, terrible wastefulness and meaninglessness of war.

VITALE: Kurt Vonnegut died after a fall at the age of 84. In 1991, he told me he'd always have an audience because his books say, hey; you're not alone. For NPR News, I'm Tom Vitale in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MINUTEMEN SONG, "COHESION")

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