For some absurd reason I seem to be interested in books about war. Being hugely anti-war myself I guess I’m looking for more stories true or not to reinforce my opinion that war doesn’t solve anything, deaths are numerous but pointless, a wasted life each one. Neither side really ‘wins’ – and that horrid term ‘collateral damage’ somehow gets in the way of what might make a war a ‘success’. I’ve always struggled against the concept of warfare – causes, civilians, weapons, religion within war – I just don’t understand it.
I’ve read a few anti-war novels, ‘All quiet on the western front’, most of ‘Catch-22’, ‘On the beach’ – they are individual, and deal with the concept of warfaresharing the inevitable horror and sad results each in their own way. I decided to pick up ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ through a random wander through Amazon, and as I hadn’t read many American authors I thought I may as well give it a go.
The author was in Dresden as a prisoner of war during the firebombing – which is the central theme to the novel. The protagonist moves backward and forward through time, from childhood, to war, to marriage – not with any linear format. His slow descent into mental illness/Post traumatic stress disorder is what struck me the most, from his periods of crying silently, to the entrance of the Tralfamadorians (aliens, who abducted the protagonist part way through) to the bombing which inserts itself in various places within it.
It’s hard to explain much about this novel without getting lost in the eccentricities of the plot, however the overall absurdity of war comes through sometimes like a violent punch to the face. ‘So it goes’ appears to every instance of death and mortality – and appears over 106 times. It gives it a sense of how death is just passed over, especially in times of war.
The name of the novel comes from where the protagonist (Billy Pilgrim) is kept in Dresden as a prisoner of war, and after the firebombings is drawn in to clean up afterwards which is some of the grimmest and darkest parts of a novel I have read. The pictures my head conjured up of the ‘moonscape’ and the short description of girls boiled alive will stay with me for a long time.
After reading a bit more about the novel and it’s central themes a lot of the context is now starkly obvious. I was quite confused as I read it, trying to work out the point of the aliens and time travel interspersed with elements of absolute horror then attempting to return to some sense what could be viewed as a normal life. I can imagine the content will strike me again in the coming weeks, popping into conversations, sending me to read more about the bombing of Dresden, how the decision to destroy such a beautiful city was made, and at such a huge cost of life.
One of the most interesting parts was the authors own view of his novel “there’s nothing intelligent to say about a massacre.” He then adds, “I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.” My children, and my children’s children will hear the same from me.