‘So It Goes’ for Kurt Vonnegut Jr, anti-war veteran author, and former POW

One of my all-time favorite authors – a veteran who was a POW and a staunch anti-war advocate – would have celebrated his 100th birthday this month.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who turned me on to science fiction mixed with auto-biographical recalls, was born on Veterans Day in 1921, just three years after Armistice Day, which was the original veterans’ day. It commemorated the end of the European war “Over There” and was called “the war to end all wars.”

Yeah, right. And then came World War II, the Korean War, and the war that yours truly participated in after being drafted by Uncle Sam. The United States through its wisdom and bravado took part in at least three more wars some of which were justified but others just an attempt to secure oil or some other form of treasure.

Vonnegut was critical of what he and many others believed was one of the worst atrocities that the US and its allies took part in to end the war against the Nazis. He served first as a chaplain’s assistant and then as a combat infantryman in the Battle of the Bulge where he was taken prisoner and forced into a concentration camp in Dresden, Germany.

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Some of the facility was built beneath the ground and the POWs were housed in a former slaughterhouse called “Schlachthof-funf,” which translated into Slaughterhouse-Five. They were fortunate to have survived – not just the German army, but the allies that fire-bombed Dresden in an effort to end Hitler’s atrocious war.

(Some 500 Jewish prisoners were in the camp. At least 16 people died of malnourishment or illness while the air raid of February 13, 1945, claimed further victims. Some prisoners were shot dead by the SS men and female overseers.)

Thousands of civilians living in the German town lost their lives when the allies fire-bombed Dresden completely destroying the city. The retelling of the history is a small but major part of the book which is named “Slaughterhouse-Five, or, The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death.”

Vonnegut tells about the bombing through the eyes of his main character, a young soldier named Billy Pilgrim who is freed from the camp and returned home to be initially treated in a hospital for something which will later be called PTSD.

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The young man is transported to the planet Tralfamadoria where he is placed in a caged dome in a zoo for the Tralfamadorians to view and study. They abduct an American porn star and place her with Billy to mate when he is automatically transferred back to Earth in a time warp to relive past and future events of his life. Billy travels in the past, the present, and the future becoming “unstuck in time.”

The book deals a lot with death and how we humans can embrace it and not be afraid of something that all of us will someday face. The most famous quote from the book is actually about death and what should be our view of it: “So It Goes!”

3 comments on “‘So It Goes’ for Kurt Vonnegut Jr, anti-war veteran author, and former POW

  1. cabrogal says:

    Vonnegut would probably tell you “So It Goes!”

    Yeah, he definitely understood anicca.

    Like

  2. cabrogal says:

    Yeah, Vonnegut was one of my favorites. As a teenager I sent him fan mail and got a brief reply. Unfortunately it was among my treasured possessions that went missing when my family moved to Kempsey while I was in Melbourne working and couldn’t pack away my stuff. (All the crap I didn’t care about, such as sports and academic trophies, ended up in a display case in the new living room though.)

    There were a lot of things that distinguished Vonnegut from the other sci-fi writers of his day, but probably the most notable was he actually served in combat and, like Joseph Heller, became ardently anti-war with a keen eye for the tragic absurdity of military life. Contemporaries like L Ron Hubbard and Robert Heinlein, OTOH, never saw action (despite Hubbard’s BS to the contrary) and spent their writing careers glorifying militarism and hierarchical command while pretending to be anti-authoritarian.

    All of Vonnegut’s stuff is worth reading, but for me the strongest impact came from the first one I read, Sirens of Titan, which is anti-war, anti-government, anti-religion, darkly humorous, utterly absurd and deeply compassionate.

    But there’s one of his stories that seemed completely ridiculous when I read it that now seems uncannily prophetic. Gotta wonder if Jeff Bezos read it before he built Blue Origin. Maybe space flight while the earth dies is all just a colossally expensive, puerile, macabre joke.

    Liked by 1 person

    • contoveros says:

      Yeah, you understand what it’s like to have served in combat and then write about something you never want another living person to go through.
      Hemingway was also anti-war having been wounded while serving as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross in Italy and wounded by Austrian mortar fire in the First World War.
      He detested war and wrote that it was “nothing more than the dark, murderous extension of a world that refuses to acknowledge, protect, or preserve true love,” in his book, A Farewell to Arms.
      I will check out the Sirens of Titan, based on your recommendation. My heart goes out to you for the loss of the letter you actually got from the great author. However, Vonnegut would probably tell you “So It Goes!”

      Liked by 2 people

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