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War at its Worst: Slaughterhouse-Five and Dresden

(To read the entire "War at its Worst” series, please click here.

To read all our posts on A Week of Human Tragedy: The Firebombing of Dresden, please click here.)

Today, as part of our week on civilian bombings and Dresden, we have “War at its Worst” with selections from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and its depiction of the fire bombing of Dresden:

       “It wasn’t safe to come out of the shelter until noon the next day. When the Americans and their guards did come out, the sky was black with smoke, The sun was an angry little pinhead. Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but minerals. The stones were hot. Everybody else in the neighborhood was dead.
      “So it goes...”

      “The curves were smooth only when seen from a distance. The people climbing them learned that they were treacherous, jagged things--hot to the touch, often unstable--eager, should certain important rocks be disturbed, to tumble some more, to form lower, more solid curves.
      “Nobody talked much as the expedition crossed the moon. There was nothing appropriate to say. One thing was clear: Absolutely everybody in the city was supposed to be dead, regardless of what they were, and that anybody that moved in it represented a flaw in the design. There were to be no moon men at all.
      “American fighter planes came in under the smoke to see if anything was moving. They saw Billy and the rest moving down there. The planes sprayed them with machine-gun bullets, but the bullets missed. Then they saw some other people moving down by the riverside and they shot at them. The hit some of them. So it goes.
      “The idea was to hasten the end of the war.”

And later...

       “There were hundred of corpse mines operating by and by. They didn’t smell bad at first, were wax museums. But then the bodies rotted and liquefied, and the stink was like roses and mustard gas.
       “So it goes.
       “The Maori Billy had worked with died of the dry heaves, after having been ordered to go down in that stink and work. He tore himself to pieces throwing up and throwing up.
       “So it goes.”
       “...Somewhere in there the poor old high school teacher, Edgar Derby, was caught with a teapot he had taken from the catacombs. He was arrested for plundering. He was tried and shot.
       “So it goes.”

two comments

We may not be so enamored of strategic bombing these days (which continued through Vietnam despite overwhelming evidence of failure in the “good war”) but some things never change.

Vonnegut again:
“….A few days after the raid, the sirens screamed again. The listless and heartsick survivors were showered this time with leaflets. I lost my copy of the epic, but remember that it ran something like this: “To the people of Dresden: we were forced to bomb your city because of the heavy military traffic your railroad facilities have been carrying. We realise that we haven’t always hit our objectives. Destruction of anything other than military objectives was unintentional, unavoidable fortunes of war.”….”

As I mentioned last week, much of the research shows that wasn’t true. The idea of de-housing the population was discussed, with the people in their houses.

Good quote though.