The Horror of War Exposed in Slaughterhouse Five

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The Horror of War Exposed in Slaughterhouse Five

When one begins to analyze a military novel it is important to

first look at the historical context in which the book was written. On the

nights of February 13-14 in 1944 the city of Dresden, Germany was subjected

to one of the worst air attacks in the history of man. By the end of the

bombing 135,000 to 250,000 people had been killed by the combined forces of

the United States and the United Kingdom. Dresden was different then Berlin

or many of the other military targets which were attacked during World War

II because it was never fortified or used for strategic purposes and,

therefore, was not considered a military target. Because of it's apparent

safety, thousands of refugees from all over Europe converged on Dresden

for protection (Klinkowitz 2-3). Dresden's neutrality was broken and the

resulting attacks laid waste, what Vonnegut called, "the Florence of the

Elbe." Kurt Vonnegut was a witness to this event and because of fate, had

been spared. He wrote Slaughterhouse Five to answer the questi on that

resounded through his head long after the bombs could no longer be heard.

"Why me?"- a frequent question asked by survivors of war.

Vonnegut was tormented by this question and through Billy Pilgrim,

the protagonist in Slaughterhouse Five, he attempts to reconcile the guilt

which one feels when one is randomly saved from death, while one's friends

and loved ones perish. Billy Pilgrim's own life was spared, but was never

able to live with himself knowing that so many others had died. The

feelings of guilt which emerged from his having survived the bombing of

Dresden and from Billy's fortunate escape from death under the shelter of

the fifth Slaughterhouse haunted Billy through much of his life. Billy

Pilgrim did not consider his survival a blessing, but a curse. A curse to

be forced to live on with the guilt of survival. Billy Pilgrim faced such

tremendous guilt, that he spent his entire life after Dresden trying to

alleviate himself of it. His guilt is in many ways comparable to the guilt

felt by the survivors of the Holocaust. Many Holocaust survivors had to

face their own "Why me?" question. However, many Holocaust survivors w ere

able to reconcile their feelings of guilt or put it out of their minds.

This solution was never viable for Billy Pilgrim. Billy's guilt made life

so unbearable that he could no longer live with himself and he rejected the

life that had been granted to him. There was no answer to Billy's question

because war is not logical, nor is it just. Never could one give a

justification for the fortuitous slaughtering of the innocent, which

claimed the lives of Dresden's inhabitants. This idea is exemplified in

the secondary title Slaughterhouse Five is known by, The Children's Crusade.

The Children's Crusade was one of the many Christian "Holy" Wars which

aimed on destroying the Muslim people. The Children's Crusade was really a

ploy by entrepreneurs to sell Christian children into slavery. Thousands of

children were killed on ships en-route to the slave market and many others

were sold, never to be seen again. Vonnegut gives the Children's "Crusade"

as an example of the atrocities and in-humane acts which tran

spire under the auspices of War. That is why Billy Pilgrim invents a world

where a justification can be given, where life and death are meaningless

and feelings of guilt disappear. The only way Billy Pilgrim can confront

this guilt is to excuse his survival and trivialize the gift of life and

the cruelty of death. He creates a new world where he can be free from his

guilt. That world is called Tralfamador.

The Traflamadorian world provided Billy Pilgrim with the escape

that he needed from his guilt. The Traflamadorian people are not locked in

a three...
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