“I find it difficult to understand Englishmen or Americans who weep about enemy civilians who were killed but who have not shed a tear for our gallant crews lost in combat with a cruel enemy, wrote his friend General Eaker in part. I think it would have been well for Mr. Irving to have remembered, when he was drawing the frightful civilians killed at Dresden, that V-1’s and V-2’s were at the very time falling on England, killing civilian men, women, and children indiscriminately, as they were designed and launched to do.
I deeply regret that British and U.S. bombers killed 135,000 people in the attack on Dresden, but I remember who started the last war and I regret even more the loss of more than 5,000,000 Allied lives in the necessary effort to completely defeat and utterly destroy nazism.
That the bombing of Dresden was a great tragedy none can deny. That it was really a military necessity few, after reading this book, will believe. It was one of those terrible things that sometimes happen in war time, brought about by an unfortunate combination of circumstances. Those who approved it were neither wicked nor cruel, though it may well be that they were too remote from the harsh realities of war to understand fully the appalling destructive power of air bombardment in the spring of 1945.”Pg.187-188
Almost everything about these quotes infuriates me beyond belief.
While in the hospital after his horrendous plane crash, Billy shares a room with a Harvard professor by the name of Bertram Rumfoord. Rumfoord, in the hospital for a broken leg that he acquired while skiing, asks his girlfriend to read him excerpts from a book by the title of The Destruction of Dresden. The quotes above are from this novel.
I could hardly stomach these excerpts. Everything about them repulsed me, and I had to stop reading at some point. There was such a tug on my heart that I was hurting physically. I could feel the ache in my chest. I know there are power-hungry men out there who believe war is the answer to all their problems, who believe ending lives will end their troubles. These men will murder others without another thought. They will destroy everything in their wake in order to achieve their goals, and they claim it is for the “good” of nations, but I cannot understand how ending millions of innocent lives is for the “good.” The very last line of the quotes, beginning with, ” Those who approved it were neither wicked nor cruel…” showcases the murderous ignorance of men with power. Make no mistake. These men did not understand because they did not want to understand. These men who approved the bombing of Dresden, the genocide of millions of innocents, did not take the time out of their day to even think about the mass destruction it would bring. These men hold little regard to any life that is not their own, and that is beyond sick.
Though the entirety of the excerpts are disgusting, there is another small portion that was gut-wrenching, to say the least, for me. The whole second paragraph of the excerpts is what got me the most, it seems. It almost felt like it was describing the loss of millions of lives as, and forgive my language, a pissing contest.
“Well, yeah, Germany lost 135,000 lives, but they started it!!! I’d say that it was more of a loss that 5,000,000 Allied people died. But, like I said, this wouldn’t have happened had Germany not started it! This was all their fault. Right? Right? MOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!!!”
Give me a break. This isn’t a contest of who won more toys at the state fair. These are human beings, their lives, their memories, the impact they had on others. These are living, breathing humans who did not deserve to be caught in the cross fire of a power-struggle between selfish nations. Rather, they were living, breathing humans who did not deserve to be caught in the cross fire of a power-struggle between selfish nations.
This whole chapter, it seems, has a theme of how little life means to people in the novel. Though Billy is still very much alive in the hospital following the plane crash, he remains quiet for the better half of his visit. This leads Pilgrim’s roommate Rumfoord to make vile comments about Billy’s sentience.
“Professor Rumfoord said frightful things about Billy within Billy’s hearing, confident that Billy no longer had any brain at all. ‘Why don’t they just let him die?’ he asked Lily.
‘I don’t know,’ she said.
‘That’s not a human being anymore. Doctors are for human beings. They should turn him over to a veterinarian or a tree surgeon. They’d know what to do. Look at him! That’s life, according to the medical profession. Isn’t life wonderful?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Lily.”Pg. 190
This grotesque quote reminds me of another part of the novel that is eerily similar. Back on page 97, while Billy is a prisoner a war, an Englishman studies Billy before exclaiming, “My God– what have they done to you, lad? That isn’t a man. It’s a broken kite.”
If I’m not mistaken, I mentioned this quote in my earlier posts, but here it is again. I make no apologies.
What kind of human are you if you have no regard for other lives?
On page 193, Vonnegut writes, “The staff thought Rumfoord for a hateful old man, conceited and cruel. He often said to them, in one way or another, that people who were weak deserved to die.”
It makes my stomach rot to think some people truly believe such an abominable thought.
Additionally, even after the war is over, after millions of lives were wrongfully ripped away from the world, society still seems to glorify war and death, painting it as anything other than atrocious.
Seen on page 200, Vonnegut writes, “But it was too early in the evening for programs that allowed people with peculiar opinions to speak out. It was only a little after eight o’clock, so all the shows were about silliness or murder. So it goes.”
Another sickening example of this glorification is when Billy visits a bookstore. There, he sees hundreds of book pertaining to “fucking and buggery and murder.”
“The news of the day, meanwhile, was being written in a ribbon of lights on a building to Billy’s back. The window reflected the news. It was about power and sports and anger and death. So it goes”(200).
The worst part of this all is that the tradition is continuing. We are a society numb to the horrors of war, of the death, destruction, and trauma it leaves on the world and the men forced to live through and witness it.
When does it end? When will the media stop glorifying death? When will society sit down and realize how awful war is? When will lawmakers stop pushing the agenda that war and violence is the only answer? When will men stop believing It’s a noble cause to kill undeserving men, women, and children?
When will we do better?