Essay: Post Modern Interpretation of Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

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Kurt Vonnegut, Billy Pilgrim and David Irving: Tralfamadorians in Training

Where Billy Pilgrim begins, Kurt Vonnegut ends and this is where David Irving intrudes for good measure. However this is what makes the post-modern interpretation of this book so interesting (at least to this author). Certainly, an all pervading odor of fatalism and cynicism colors the work and one can certainly not blame Vonnegut for this. A veteran of any war goes off to the conflict a boy and comes back an old man. All of the moments that they were in combat, captivity or any other aspect of their military service colors their perception of the world. In this postmodern classic, the difference between real and the non-real is not clear cut. Vonnegut keeps us guessing as to what is real in all dimensions, including time and space.

After all, how many of us would view the world differently from the subterranean vault of a meat locker like Slaughterhouse Five? In the very real world, human flesh is burning and the holocaust offered to the god of war eats at the conscience of the young soldier. After all, he asks himself a basic question of war, "why did I survive?" Many of his buddies died in the Battle of the Bulge. Many more of his fellow human beings were incinerated in the hellish kiln of Dresden. Even allowing for the nauseating nature of David Irving's revisionist views on the slaughter of six million Jews during World War 2, a very point is raised, that is what happened to the good Germans? Unfortunately, a lot of them were being slaughtered in fire bombings like Dresden and Hamburg. After all, if you slaughter the antichrist's enemies, what else can you say against the Whore of Babylon? Perhaps God is only one who can sort it out. After all, Vonnegut did not ask to go to Dresden to support Irving's work. The nexus is purely accidental.

While it is beyond the purview of this limited essay to analyze Allied bombing theory during World War 2 or afterward, it did have a huge impact upon Vonnegut. In a comment by Vonnegut himself from the 1976 edition of his book, states succinctly in a short space that what happened in his view was that "The Dresden atrocity, tremendously expensive and meticulously planned, was so meaningless, finally, that only one person on the entire planet got any benefit from it. I am that person. I wrote this book, which earned a lot of money for me and made my reputation, such as it is. One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I'm in (Bonin). "

or, as is a fitting epitaph for Vonnegut throughout Slaughterhouse Five is "so it goes." This phrase is spoken every time in the novel when there is a death fitting focus for the terminal irony of Dresden and Vonnegut's journey into postmodernism. His numbers are based upon David Irving's flawed work of holocaust denial hedge:

However, Oliver Kamm in the Times Online takes a more precise view:

But ultimately the simplicity is not deceptive. Vonnegut's philosophy and history are simplistic. Dresden was hellish -- but there were not 135,000 deaths. The true figure was probably no more than a fifth of that. Vonnegut's number came directly from the now discredited work of the Holocaust denier David Irving. (in Slaughterhouse-Five, Irving is cited by name, and a long passage, by a retired air marshal, from the foreword to Irving's book the Destruction of Dresden is reproduced.) to a POW digging up cadavers, accurate numbers will ever after seem pedantic. But the issue is important to historical truth and also to the ideas that Vonnegut dramatized (Kamm).

While the focus on Dresden is understandable due to Vonnegut's experiences there, cities like Hamburg (socialist leaning and anti-Nazi) where more were killed (some 50,000) were full of good Germans as well. Unfortunately, for the inhabitants, the bombing tactics of the Allies was due to the primitive of nature of bombing in World War 2. In addition, it was also due to the fact that the war was being waged against the German people who supported Hitler in his war. In addition, where is all of the browbeating due to the terror bombing the Nazis did during World War 2?

In the text by Peter Barry… [END OF PREVIEW]

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