“Prisoners of war from many lands came together that morning at such and such a place in Dresden. It had been decreed that here was where the digging for bodies was to begin. So the digging began.
The superior said that the opening in the membrane should be enlarged, and that a ladder should be put in the hole, so that the bodies could be carried out. Thus began the first corpse mine in Dresden.
There were hundreds of corpse mines operating by and by. They didn’t smell bad at first, were wax museums. But then the bodies rotted and liquefied and the stink was like roses and mustard gas.”Pg. 213-214
A shot to the heart, and Vonnegut is to blame. He puts painnn in my brainnn.
Ahem. Sorry. Back to the novel.
If you somehow haven’t already seen how Billy’s PTSD impacts his life, allow me to explain further. Back in chapter four, on page 73, Vonnegut writes, “She had a Princess telephone extension all her own–on her windowsill. Its tiny night light stared at Billy. Then it rang. Billy answered. There was a drunk on the other end. Billy could almost smell his breath–mustard gas and roses.”
Um, mind blow, anyone?
Interesting enough, in the first chapter where Vonnegut speaks in the first person, he writes, “I have this disease late at night sometimes, involving alcohol. I get drunk, and I drive my wife away with a breath like mustard gas and roses. And then, speaking gravely and elegantly into the telephone, I ask the telephone operators to connect me with this friend or that one, from whom I have not heard in years”(4).
That can’t be a coincidence, as most parts of great literature never are.
Chapter ten, like chapter one, is written in first person point-of-view from none other than our very own Kurt Vonnegut, but he also continues to tell stories of Billy Pilgrim. Mainly, Vonnegut focuses on Billy and the rest of the POW’s working in the corpse mines, which is disgustingly graphic, by the way.
Vonnegut, like Billy Pilgrim, seems to still suffer from PTSD. On page 211, Vonnegut, while speaking of his own experiences, writes, “We took a Hungarian Airlines plane from East Berlin… There were only six other passengers. They spoke many languages. They were having nice times, too. East Germany was down below, and the lights were on. I imagined dropping bombs on those lights, those villages and cities and towns.”
Like Pilgrim, Vonnegut cannot escape his tragic past. It lives with him. It is stuck in his shadow, in his memories that he must try to bury deep in the crevices of his mind. It is imprinted in his very existence. It is something that breaks my heart just as badly.
I want to say a few things to Vonnegut. Though he is dead, I hope he hears my words. I mean, according to the Tralfamadorians, Vonnegut is still alive and always will be.
First and foremost, thank you. Thank you for serving our country. Thank you for writing such an inspirational novel such as Slaughterhouse-Five. Thank you for showing the world something that needed to be seen. Thank you for exposing war for what it really is. It is not a heroic deed that must be done. It is not a fantasy. It is not fun. It is terrifying. It is fatal. It is traumatic. It is unnecessary. It is a killer, a murderer. Had war been a person, they would’ve been put on death row for killing more men than anyone else could possibly imagine. How ironic.
Secondly, I am so sorry. I said this to Billy Pilgrim, and I will say it to you, Vonnegut. You faced something no man should ever have to. You witnessed such monstrosities that would put a man in a mental institution. You survived one of the world’s worst bombings. You lost your life there, though not physically. I know there was a piece of you that never made it out of that war, that never made it out of that slaughterhouse. For that, I am so deeply sorry. Humanity ripped something so valuable away from you. Realizing this has made me realize that you are not the only one. There are many broken veterans out there, all shattered to pieces because of the horrors they had to endure. That saddens me.
This novel broke me. It tore everything apart– my beliefs, my mindset, my way of thinking. It was like a seismic earthquake that I fell victim to. This novel has changed me in ways I’ll never be able to fully comprehend, I think.
I’m lucky. I’m so beyond lucky to be safe-guarded from the nightmares of war. I will never have to fight a war against my will. Chances are, and cross my fingers, I will never live through world war. For that, I am grateful. Through this novel, I have seen what war can do. I have seen the vile creatures of men, their barbaric nature. It is something that I could never wish on my worst enemy. I pray that lawmakers gain some sense– enough sense to never plunge our countries into another abominable war. No one deserves it. No one should have to pay the price of their life.
This book has influenced me so much that I have started the journey of volunteering at the Northeast Louisiana Veteran’s Home. It was also here that my grandfather spent his last days. He, like Vonnegut and Pilgrim, served in WWII. He provided medical assistance to those in need. Rest easy.
A big thank you to my wonderful teacher, Dr. Ferguson. You have great taste in books, and you could not have picked a better one for me. This novel was just what I needed. I never doubted your decision for a minute.
Last but not least, thank you to all those who have read my blog(A.k.a. Dr. Ferguson). This has been a great experience. Though I was doubtful about this blog, I ended up falling in love with it. This has been the best unit I’ve done in English, and I’m eternally grateful to have been apart of such a life-changing journey.