Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Billy Pilgrim is drafted for WWII, like many other young men, very young men. Billy is a chaplain’s assistant and does not carry a gun, but this does not serve him well later when he is captured by the Germans. At this point, Billy becomes unhinged from the current time. The story moves from one time period to another, even one where Billy has been captured by aliens and put in a zoo.
Billy does get out of the war. He goes to school to be an optometrist and he marries the daughter of the man who runs the school. He starts a normal life, but his life is not normal, or so it seems.
Billy is hospitalized for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Later on, Billy is in an airplane accident, where he is one of two survivors. This is when Billy’s wife dies, but not in the accident, from something else.
Flashing back to the war, Billy is imprisoned by the Germans. First they go to a place where prisoners are gathered up. Then they are put on train cars to be shipped to another place. Nobody likes Billy, in fact, death is blamed on Billy and nobody wants to sleep around him. During this whole time Billy jumps from one time period to another.
Ultimately, Billy and the other American Prisoners of War are taken to Dresden where utter destruction awaits them. Billy does make it out alive, as we see, but he’s never quite the same again.
What I liked
This story is somewhat autobiographical for Kurt, and we all know how much I like memoirs and biographies. It’s not all autobiographical of course. Kurt was in WWII and he was imprisoned at Dresden, where he survived the fire-bombing by hiding in a meat locker at the slaughterhouse is was imprisoned at. I like that this book echoes real life in that manner.
I also like this whole statement about babies fighting a war, children fighting a war. Eighteen-year old boys are exactly that, eighteen-year old boys. They’re babies. They’re so young. My two youngest brothers are around that age. Could they go off and fight in a war? Certainly not. They can’t even live on their own or make their own money, let alone go fight in a war. I don’t think war is ever good and I don’t think it’s right to send our young people as sacrifices into the battlefield.
Kurt probably looked back at himself and the boys he served with and realized how young they all were and, as a result, this book happened. I think we can certainly use our talents to try to get an idea across. Words and art can certainly change the world. Kurt’s book was about Dresden and the waste of war, other artists have done similar works, including Picasso and his painting about Guernica.
What I didn’t like
This book is respected world-wide, people love it for the message it has and they love it because it’s a Vonnegut. While I think Kurt is great, sometimes I have problems with his work. His timelines always hop around like crazy. The story always hops around like crazy. He’s always inserting a narrator with random thoughts in his stories and maybe the narrator is telling the truth, or maybe he’s a liar, maybe he’s exaggerating, who knows. Kurt’s books aren’t necessarily difficult to read, but they can be a bit spastic and sometimes it’s just hard for me to keep up with what’s what because the books jump around so much.
Part of the foundation of this book is that Kurt states, in the book, that Dresden was more deadly that Hiroshima. It wasn’t. Dresden only had about 25,000 deaths total, which is nothing to scoff at, because it’s still awful, but it’s less than half of the number that died in Hiroshima. Kurt’s point still stands though. The bombing of Dresden was questionable. Did it really need to happen? Did that many people really need to lose their lives for something that may or may not have been a strategic move?
PTSD– that’s a thing in this book. Billy goes to war and Billy gets screwed up because of the war. I doubt Billy actually got abducted by aliens and put in a zoo. I’m not self-centered enough to think that humans are the only intelligent life in the universe, but I seriously doubt that Billy Pilgrim was abducted by aliens and put in a zoo. Of course Billy had trouble the rest of his life with PTSD. I cannot imagine going to war and seeing all of those atrocious things and being able to function normally, and this is from a person who has seen death and experienced abuse and I have problems functioning from that sometimes. I cannot imagine adding war onto that. War ruins lives.
I’m glad I’ve read it to say I’ve read it, but because of the content and what it’s about, I doubt I will read it again.
Is war ever a good thing?
Do you think Kurt’s book has had any impact on our affinity for war?