Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist.

– Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

Well, it’s been a minute since I’ve read a book. But life has been pretty crazy. I finally managed to get one done though.

This is a book that was recommended to me by a friend. I’m not one to read science fiction normally but the World War II setting was intriguing. The book is set during the late stages of the second world war and mainly takes place in Dresden during the allied fire bombing of the city. It follows Billy Pilgrim through his time as an American prisoner of war, caught on the front lines, to his transport to a concentration camp, through to his final destination in Dresden. Billy also has an ability to time travel and will often jump from time period to time period in his life. He is also taken by aliens known as Tralfamadorians. They take him to their home planet and place him in a zoo. Billy will spend most of his later life trying to convince people that these aliens exist.

This book is considered to be one of the top 100 books of all time by Modern Library and is generally considered one of the great anti-war classics. Admittedly, As I read through the book I was having a hard time understanding why this would be so highly regarded as an anti-war piece of literature. However, reading one paragraph today changed my mind on this and I think I might see some of it now.

“It had to be done,” Rumfoord told Billy, speaking of the destruction of Dresden.
“I know,” said Billy.
“That’s War.”
“I know. I’m not complaining”
“It must have been hell on the ground.”
“It was,” Said Billy Pilgrim.
“Pity the men who had to do it.”
“I do.”
“You must have had mixed feelings, there on the ground.”
“It was alright,” said Billy. “Everything is all right, and everybody has to do exactly what he does. I learned that on Tralfamadore”

This exchange between Billy and Rumfoord really kind of made the rest of the book make sense. The bombing of Dresden was a major traumatic moment for Billy and it is a moment that he keeps coming back to. The time travelling may also be in his head and may be a bit of a scar from the war.

At this point in Billy’s life as well, he’s gone through just about as much as he can deal with. He is in a state to agree with just about anything. Including that Dresden needed to be bombed, as Mr. Rumfoord was stating. You realize after a while that you are powerless if you are caught in the middle of a war. What power does a simple soldier have to influence such global events? Especially if you find yourself in the middle for the bombing of Dresden. Seeing people everywhere that, according to Billy have been turned into blackened logs in the streets or seeing whole piles of families that have been killed together in their homes.

I can see how this can be regarded as an anti-war novel and it does illustrate fairly well, the horrors of that particular event in history. I don’t really feel that it is as anti-war as some people have said but it is worth a read regardless. I don’t think I will be picking it up again though.

So it goes….

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