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7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut


I’m thinking about this one, a reread, in juxtaposition to the last one I read—an account of a battle in Sadr City. There too the soldiers were children and the war essentially a Children’s Crusade (as Vonnegut points out the original Children’s Crusade ended badly with most of the children sold into slavery). It (Martha Raddatz’s book The Long Road Home) should have been an anti-war book but wasn’t. I think people often make the mistake of assuming that you can’t both support the soldiers and rail against the waste and destruction of war. Not so. What was wrong with Raddatz’s book was that she supported “the mission” a little too much.

But back to Vonnegut. Billy Pilgrim is an innocent sent to war without a gun—as a chaplain’s assistant. He’s captured in The Battle of the Bulge near the end of the war and sent behind German lines as a laborer in Dresden where he happens to survive the firebombing of the city in February of 1945 in an underground vault of a slaughterhouse with some other American soldiers, their guards and a few carcasses on meat hooks. Above them the firestorm virtually destroys the city and tens of thousands of people in it. This book always reminds me of Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking. Not that they have much in common, the latter being nonfiction, but each packs an emotional wallop and each has preserved the memory of a horrendous evil perpetrated by humans against their own kind in war—and become an anti-war classic.

Billy has become “unstuck in time”. He’s abducted by aliens and held prisoner on the planet Tralframadore where he’s put, naked, in a zoo under a dome (because he can’t breathe the cyanide atmosphere) on display, eventually with a female and child. He never knows exactly where or when he’ll be at any one time—freezing in the snow in the battle he doesn’t understand, on a train moving east with other prisoners, in the slaughterhouse or wandering the city afterwards, or some time in his subsequent life where he becomes an wealthy optometrist, marries Valencia and has a son who becomes a Green Beret in Vietnam, or on Tralframadore. He does know when he’ll die though, an irate American soldier (Lazzaro) promises a dying soldier (something of a crazy actually) to take revenge on the man responsible for his death—Billy Pilgrim, and in 1976 he does.

Nothing about the war, the battles—where both sides are scraping the bottom of the barrel for soldiers (old men and children) and equipment—even clothing—or the firestorm, is heroic. The end is in sight, the big decisions made, and it’s all over but the last of the dying. “So it goes” as Vonnegut says with every mention of death in this novel.

1 Comments:

Blogger The People History said...

my daughter made me read this after she had read it for school ,
I did not know what to expect but found it slightly unerving but still a book I am glad I read
( she is now at college and still brings home books she has to read at college for me to read and give my opinion on)

PS Couple of the other books you have blogged about I will now read

thanks
steve

1/20/2008 08:11:00 PM  

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