Thursday, April 26, 2012

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) was an American writer and left-leaning intellectual.  He was known for being an outspoken supporter of human rights and vehemently opponent of war - especially the recent war in Iraq.  Part of this may be because Vonnegut served in the American army during WW2 and was captured during the Battle of the Bulge.  He was transfered to a prisoner of war camp in eastern Germany, near Dresden.  Here he witnessed one the of the most destructive events of WW2 - the Bombing of Dresden.

It is estimated that up to 135,000 people died in the fire bombing of Dresden and it is regarded by many as a war crime committed by the Americans and British.  Dresden was declared an Open City, it had no significant military value and the bombing was done just months before the end of the WW2.   Kurt Vonnegut survived the bombing because the prisoners he was with were in the basement of a slaughterhouse (Schlachthof) outside the city.  Ironically those in the slaughterhouse were safe, while those outside were slaughtered. 
Dresden destroyed
Vonnegut and his fellow prisoners were ordered by the Germans to collect the dead and decaying bodies from the rubble of the city, clawing their way through bomb shelters and cellars to collect rotting and incinerated corpses.  Eventually there proved to be just too many bodies, so the Germans began cremating corpses on the spot.  A few months later Soviet troops entered the city and the war was over. Vonnegut's experience in WW2, and witnessing the Bombing of Dresden, became the inspiration for his book Slaughterhouse-five, Vonnegut's most well-known novel.

Dresden was called the "Florence on the Elbe", the most beautiful city in Germany.  Seeing such pointless destruction and massive loss of life at the very end of the war left a profound mark on Vonnegut.  Slaughterhouse-five directly tackles the meaninglessness of life when we are confronted by situations beyond our control.  In affect, everything is beyond our control, but we must find a way to accept that live a meaningful existence.

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