Re-read Kurt Vonnegut to remind us what war is

As we know, war is what the powerful declare, so the rich get richer, in which the poor end up getting killed. American author Kurt Vonnegut, who coincidentally would have turned one hundred and one this month, knew this well. Best wishes, Mr. Vonnegut!
Now, this Mr. Vonnegut liked to write science fiction and humorous novels, full of time travel, spaceships, aliens and other similar comforts. He entertained the readers, entertained them with plots woven with very vivid imagination. And that’s what his stories are (it’s always useful to remember): outbursts, jokes and jokes of exuberant imagination.
We remember, for example, the short novel Slaughterhouse no. 5, from 1969. At the center of the story is this hypothetical city (Dresden, Germany) which is, within hours, completely leveled, destroyed by an apocalyptic bombing. Something like over four thousand tons of bombs. The culprits would be the Americans and the British, whose avowed target was the monstrous Nazis, already guilty of every perversion and surely worthy of being wiped off the face of the earth and never to return soon or ever. Here, however, Mr. Vonnegut imagines that the bombing, instead of hitting the Nazis, actually more than anything attacks the entire city, already tested by hunger and prolonged war: demolishing every street, every school, every hospital, every cafe, every church, every park, every museum, every swimming pool, every stationery store, every tram stop, every daily fixed-price restaurant, every library. As if that wasn’t enough, then, “American fighters dived under the smoke to see if anything was moving. They saw Billy and the others, sprayed them with machine gun bullets, but missed. They then saw other people moving along the river bank and shot them too. They hit some of them.” But weren’t the Nazis the target? One expands on the “Nazi infrastructure.” OK then. But for the author, almost all random, ordinary people die: those who could not escape or defend themselves, especially children, women, old and sick, and with them a bunch of gentlemen – not ordinary people found among the Nazis and democratic bombings from the sky, which at any cost tried to help them, to free them, to save them. How many had died this way? It is not known, but the number was finally estimated at between twenty-five and forty thousand. OK, but how many Nazis among them? Unfortunately it wasn’t very clear, but it seemed that they were all together a minority, or rather a small minority. Maybe the aim wasn’t very good, or some predictive analytics didn’t turn out so right. But what do you want to do? That’s how life goes.
As the gentle reader will have gathered, we are dealing with a truly insane novel. Only for one thing, the author himself, Mr. Vonnegut, appears at the beginning, just thinking about writing the book we’re reading. It is not easy for him, however, because in the United States, where he was born, the story is practically unknown, and those who tell it are not at all happy to hear it. And yet he knows it it was worse than hiroshima. So why doesn’t anyone want to know anything about it? In the end he imagines that he can ask for it, through one of his characters. They answer, “Because many soft-hearted people might think it was not something he ought to do.” In another scene, Mr. Vonnegut is at dinner with friends. He mentions the book he is designing. However, there is one woman who seems very disturbed. After putting his children to bed, at the end Papale Papale tells him that it’s the children who make wars, that even the ones who shoot are children, but he certainly wouldn’t write that in the novel, “And then you’ll make a movie with starring Frank Sinatra or John Wayne or some of those charming dirty old men who are crazy about war. And war will seem like a wonderful thing, and so we will have many more. And those who will fight them will be children like the ones I sent upstairs.” He, Mr. Vonnegut, is really upset about it, so much so that he makes two promises right then and there: 1) there will be no place in his novel for either Frank Sinatra or John Wayne, and 2) the subtitle will be The Children’s Crusade. And that is precisely the subtitle of the book.
With this weather Slaughterhouse no. 5 or The Children’s Crusade liked and disliked. For example, a school principal in Drake, North Dakota once banned it from his students and even burned a few copies in the school oven for good measure. Then Mr. Vonnegut sent him a letter, he said:
“If you bothered to read my books, behave like an educated person, you would find that they are not erotic and do not suggest unruly behavior of any kind. They implore readers to be kinder and more responsible than they often are. It is true that some characters use foul language. But that’s because people use dirty words in real life. Soldiers and men who do hard work use especially vulgar words, and even the children who are kept most sheltered from the world know this. And we all also know that some words actually don’t do much harm to children. They didn’t hurt us when we were little. It was bad deeds and lies that hurt us.”
For the humorist and science fiction writer Mr. Vonnegut, in fact, war is the most saturated, most lie-ridden phase (when it is known that in a case of extreme gravity like war, everyone, despite the differences that separate others, tries as long as he can get away with lying, lying, because it is clear that we are no longer discussing a hand touch outside or inside the area, not even an actress we like, we are talking about war and that it is about deaths, and every human culture has always associated God himself with the dead, so that lying about the dead is like lying about divinity: it is sacrilege). For Mr. Vonnegut, the lies about war are almost as terrible as the war itself. For example, calling the victim a “hangman” is just as terrible as shooting him. Spreading the rumor that you will destroy your own homes or hospitals is as terrible as actually destroying them. Stating that his ambulances harbor Nazis is as terrible as targeting them with artillery. But let’s close this parenthesis for once and return to history.
We still haven’t talked about the quirky protagonist, Billy, who is spastic over time, does not control movements (in scientific terminology this is called “post-traumatic stress disorder”)»,he doesn’t know where he’s going next, and his travels aren’t necessarily fun. He is constantly in a state of stage fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he will have to play next.” So our Billy is able to travel through time, he’s in this ghost bombed Dresden (where he was a prisoner of the Nazis, inside an old slaughterhouse) and he’s also much further, then he even reaches the planet of Tralfamandore. and Earth was 713,700,000,000,000,000 kilometers away.
With Billy’s imagination and his own, old Mr. Vonnegut is quite capable of a thousand stunts. At one point he remembers the moments of the bombing in detail, but as if it were a film edited backwards. Then we watch the planes suck up the bullets and bombs and fly back onto the runways, we see the pilots get off and then the planes go back to the workshop and are disassembled piece by piece and the pieces are shipped in cubic wooden crates . The dead rise again, the wounds heal, they actually go back to walking like before, back and forth until they reach a time when the war hasn’t even started, even further back, no one even talks about it, no one thinks for this, no one imagines. Children (who are still children) return to play and eventually nurse at the breasts of their happy mothers (ah, even calling a massacre “war” is a truly unforgivable lie).
Who said “slaughter”? Well, Mr. Vonnegut talks about that, at one point. He refers again to the book in hand and he is not satisfied. He’s there with his editor, telling him, “It’s so short and confused and tone-deaf, dear Sam, because there’s nothing clever to say about a massacre. They are all supposed to be dead and have nothing to say or claim. After a massacre everything should be silent, and in fact everything is silent, always, except the birds. And what do the birds say? All we have to say about a massacre, things like ‘Puu-tii-uiit?”’
Already towards the end of the novel, Mr. Vonnegut introduces some very interesting lines. It is the narrator who speaks again:
“Two nights ago Robert Kennedy, whose country house is twelve kilometers from my year-round house, was shot. He died last night. That’s how life goes. Martin Luther King was shot a month ago. He died too. That’s how life goes. And every day the government of my country tells me the number of corpses that military science is producing in Vietnam. That’s how life goes. My father died many years ago, of natural causes. That’s how life goes. He was a sweet man. He was also a gun fanatic. He left me his weapons. They rust.”
It sometimes happens that two men have the same thought in different parts of the world, perhaps in very distant times. So these lines are reminiscent of the verses of a Greek poet called Theocritus. Contrary to popular belief, ancient Greece was not all wine, flutes and shepherds: instead it was a quarrelsome world, in which each city spent much of its time thinking of how to attack its neighbor. Theocritus knew this well, he had lived through the stormy period after Alexander the Great, when every leader or general planned to grab a piece of his vast empire and everyone was fighting everyone else. Then Theocritus, as soon as he remembered the sufferings of war, ships”.to announce the death of relatives / to their children and wives, and cities / were destroyed by the hands of enemies”here we imagine the newly populated centers from the old citizensand here is a real hope, he writes:
“Let the blooming fields work / and thousands of herds without number, / fat with grass, gaze on the plain / and the cows, returning to the stalls / in great masses, make the late traveler hurry / and the fields fallow / is ready for the sowing / when the cicada screams from above / among the branches of the plants, at noon, / guards the shepherds and spreads / the light cobwebs on their weapons / and even the name of the war cry is lost!”.
The rusted weapons of Mr. Vonnegut, the cobwebbed ones of the age-old fool Theocritus.
So this Slaughterhouse no. 5 or The Children’s Crusade, with all the sci-fi gags and stories, entertains and amuses us, as we said before. And we were also right to leave all the weapons in an old trunk in the attic, since no one knows where the key is anymore and we don’t even want to look for it. Yes, because old Mr. Vonnegut was right to teach us that war is what the powerful declare, through which the rich get richer, where the poor end up getting killed. Well, God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut!

PHOTOS: Bernard Gotfrid

Did you like this article?

To continue bringing you quality content, MicroMega needs your support: DONATE NOW.

Leave a Comment